Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance

Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance

Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance

Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance


It is taken for granted in the knowledge economy that companies must employ the most talented performers to compete and succeed. Many firms try to buy stars by luring them away from competitors. But Boris Groysberg shows what an uncertain and disastrous practice this can be.

After examining the careers of more than a thousand star analysts at Wall Street investment banks, and conducting more than two hundred frank interviews, Groysberg comes to a striking conclusion: star analysts who change firms suffer an immediate and lasting decline in performance. Their earlier excellence appears to have depended heavily on their former firms' general and proprietary resources, organizational cultures, networks, and colleagues. There are a few exceptions, such as stars who move with their teams and stars who switch to better firms. Female stars also perform better after changing jobs than their male counterparts do. But most stars who switch firms turn out to be meteors, quickly losing luster in their new settings.

Groysberg also explores how some Wall Street research departments are successfully growing, retaining, and deploying their own stars. Finally, the book examines how its findings apply to many other occupations, from general managers to football players.

Chasing Stars offers profound insights into the fundamental nature of outstanding performance. It also offers practical guidance to individuals on how to manage their careers strategically, and to companies on how to identify, develop, and keep talent.


Many knowledge-based firms view their employees as their most valuable resource. At such companies, where it is virtually an article of faith that settling for “B” players is a recipe for mediocrity, managers work hard to attract the best and the brightest. When companies do find first-rate talent, they're often willing to offer those stars huge salaries, signing bonuses, stock options—in short, whatever it takes. the value of stars is a powerful idea, one that numerous books and management gurus have popularized over the past decade by invoking a so-called war for talent. This assumption is the cornerstone of many companies' people-management strategies. On its face, the star hypothesis makes sense. After all, a firm can sustain a competitive advantage only if its strategic resources are valuable, rare, lacking substitutes, and difficult to duplicate.

But reliance on stars is a highly speculative managerial policy because we don't really know very much about what drives outstanding individual performance. Little clear-cut evidence supports or refutes prevailing beliefs about why some people excel. Both stars and their employers often assume that outstanding performance is the result of a combination of innate talent and good educational preparation. But is this the entire story? and if not, what is missing?

Another hazard of an unexamined reliance on stars is that the portability of talent—or, more accurately, the prevailing belief in such portability—cuts two ways. a prize-winning scientist may be a unique resource, for instance . . .

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