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Would 47 and Never Been Kissed Scare You Off?

April 15, 2009
by Gwen Darling
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It’s human nature to size up an individual upon introduction

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made snap hiring judgments based solely on a person’s outward appearance and speech. Anyone who claims that they’ve never done so is delusional (aka lying). It’s simply human nature to size up an individual upon introduction, and to make certain first impressions.

Why do we do this? Mainstream collective stereotypes take their toll: She’s obese (must be lazy), he’s short (betcha he has a little man’s complex), she’s blonde and attractive (cute but dumb). And then we layer those with our own personal prejudices: He walks with a swagger (just like that self-important prig who lives next door and never waves in the morning), she’s got a Michigan accent (ugh – reminds me of that highly irritating girl who sat behind me in Trig class in the 11th grade), or he speaks in acronymese (flashbacks of my Navy pilot ex who (seriously) listed “FUBAR” as the reason for our split). It’s impossible to remain unbiased, uncolored, and unmoved by these sometimes invisible forces that weave their way into our psyches as our lives unfold.

Are these stereotypes always inaccurate and harmful? Of course not. My guess is that as an intelligent, discerning CIO you have often relied on your past experiences and gut instinct to size up people and situations, and done so with pinpoint accuracy. My Healthcare Informatics blogger colleague Tim Tolan and I both feel very strongly that it is acceptable and advisable to accurately judge a candidate based on learned behaviors such as table manners, attention to detail, or choice of interview attire.

Where the danger lies, and the opportunities are missed, though, is when we make false assumptions about a potential colleague’s value based purely on their physical looks -- before we give them a chance to shine. Nothing illustrates this idea more strongly than the transformation Simon Cowell underwent when 47-year-old, never-been-kissed, frumpy, unemployed Susan Boyle took the stage to audition for “Britain’s Got Talent.” I urge you to take three minutes to watch Simon’s face as he realizes just how much he’s underestimated this candidate:

Susan Boyle Sings on Britain's Got Talent 2009 Episode 1 @ Yahoo! Video

In a society like ours that places so much value on a very narrow definition of what constitutes “beauty,” it’s very easy to fall into the trap of instantly sizing up a candidate based on how s/he looks. It’s my suspicion that there are many exceptionally qualified Healthcare IT “Susan Boyles” out there, waiting to make a difference. Let’s find them.


Wonderful post Joe. I had not seen that exchange, thanks for sharing it.


I just KNEW one of our bloggers would pick up the Susan Boyle phenomenonindeed, I was tempted myself...! -) I'm glad you did, though, and you did a great job in using that popular culture moment as a good jumping-off point for a thoughtful post. I loved Susan Boyle and her shining moment, and I agree completely with you. I myself had a moment at the HIMSS Conference last week in which I made a judgment about a person based on appearance (sorry, can't get any further detailed than that!!), and was later compelled to revise that judgment (though, I will add, it wasn't based on judging a person unattractivethat's all I'll say!!). So your core point is extremely well-taken. And, yes, I think everyone should see the Susan Boyle video clip, it's sensational in its own right.

Gwen. Thanks for that. I had heard of it but never saw it. I think people connect with Susan on a very deep level, thinking of all the slights and sadness that can be attendant with not fitting into the "norm." To see someone, who we imagine had a lonely Prom Night, shine like that is wonderful. Everyone we will meet in our lives has something they can do at that level. It may not be something as dramatic as singing, it could be something more pedestrian. It's the job of everyone in a position of influence to make sure we help those under our purview have their Susan Boyle moments.

I strongly agree with Anthony's point. Following some coaching from Tim, it's important to remember to 'ask' for contributions, rather than 'tell'. Not natural for a high D!

[From the longer version of the video clip]

Simon: "What's your dream?"

Susan: "To be a professional singer."

Simon: "Why hasn't it worked out so far, Susan?"

Susan: "I haven't been given the chance before. Here's hoping that will change."

Thanks Mark!

I've watched the clip a half a dozen times, and I still get a little choked up thinking about what a moment that was for her, and (by the amazing viral spread of her video) obviously for so many others who can relate to her "Everywoman/Everyperson" role. I'll bet I'm not the only one who plans to follow her journey! :)