The Puzzle of Potential: Aligning Talent for Future Success

5 years ago, we set out to solve the puzzle of potential in the modern workplace. In this blog, we reveal the hidden patterns that lead to leadership success.

One of the greatest challenges people leaders face is building, nurturing and developing their talent for individual and team success. Everyone has their own theory, but proving it in practice is tricky, to say the least. 

And the fact is, it’s only getting harder. 

Recognising potential in an individual and supporting their growth is one thing. But doing that with the onslaught of tech, social, cultural, economic and generational curveballs to manage is a whole different story. The modern workplace is more diverse and multifaceted than ever – and leaders need to be prepared for that. 

5 years ago, we set out to solve the puzzle of potential with a company of global recognition. Together, we wanted to reveal the pattern of attributes shared by their high-performing future leaders, and we needed to recognise them at entry level. 

Today, we’re sharing those insights with you. Combining our research with findings from the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Future of Jobs Report, we’ll unveil a comprehensive blueprint for aligning talent to the ever-evolving demands of the modern workplace. By sharing this, we hope you too can optimise team success and individual growth. Let’s dive in!

The puzzle of potential: aligning talent for team success

The challenge of the modern workplace

What does the term “modern workplace” mean to you? Images of remote workers, hot-desking, mindfulness sessions and pizza parties may well emerge. 


But from our perspective, we see a traditional model buckling at its foundations. 


A system set in the 1980’s, and tweaked continuously to meet the shifting demands of the modern world. We see opportunity, of course, but also, serious challenge. Here are a few to keep you up at night…

1. The AI avalanche


Could we start anywhere but AI? One of the most controversial workplace trends of 2023, AI’s streamlining powers has called into question the need for many day-to-day activities of teams. Taking away many time-consuming tasks and replacing them with new, evolving activities has highlighted a need for a more fluid and adaptive workplace…something that the traditional model simply isn’t built for. 

2. Generational diversity  


The average workplace now includes not 1, not 2…but 4 generations. That’s 4 age groups with the potential for significantly different values, cultural experiences, skills and expectations. Understanding the dynamics of your teams not only includes understanding and supporting their intrinsic attributes, but also the risks that come with these differences. 

3. Normalised globalisation

And if those challenges aren’t enough, the introduction of
remote work as a norm has unlocked a new potential for a globalised workplace – being in a different part of the world to your teammates is a very real possibility in 2023! Recognising potential in person is difficult enough…doing it virtually is even harder.

4. Job hopping


Young people are no longer looking internally for growth opportunities. If you see potential in someone, a charming LinkedIn headhunter probably does too. Over 22% of workers aged 20+ spent just only a year at their jobs in 2022. Employee turnover is a huge expense – both to resources and morale. 

But how would solving the puzzle of potential resolve these challenges? 


By understanding the attributes that link people to career progression and retention in today’s world, you can better prepare for the obstacles highlighted above.


Utilising the cognitive dynamics of your people, you can nurture and develop potential as well as spot future leaders. Now it’s time for the big reveal…

Unveiling the blueprint: the cognitive dynamics of future leaders

Our journey to uncovering the cognitive dynamics for successful leaders started over 5 years ago. We partnered with a globally-renowned company, to conduct long-term research on their graduate scheme…one of the most coveted and competitive fast-track executive programmes in the world. 

The company, which remains anonymous, employs around 170,000 people worldwide. This programme does 1 intake per year for graduates from the world’s top universities.   

A gruelling process? Absolutely. But worth it? Well…successful participants earn six-figure salaries quickly and are set up for a life in top-tier management roles.  So, you could say that, yes!

We undertook a unique study to identify the attributes that successfully led to career progression and retention. Here’s what we found...

The power of fluid intelligence

In any form of graduate scheme, we’re always focused on the individual’s ability to progress. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, but what do those who get ahead quickly have in common? One thing in particular: fluid intelligence.

Wait, what’s fluid intelligence? 


It’s the ability to think abstractly, reason quickly and problem-solve independently of acquired knowledge. 

It’s a combination of analytical and creative thinking that exists away from book learning. An innate way of thinking that links speedy progressors together.  And it isn’t just something we uncovered from our research. WEF’s report on the future of jobs found that analytical and creative thinking were the 2 most sought-after skills by employers in 2023. But why is that? 

The challenges of the modern workplace call for innovative solutions. Here are some of the ways fluid intelligence can be of service. 

1. Natural problem solvers

The ability to think logically and find creative solutions is an incredible asset to businesses navigating the onslaught of tech, societal and economic developments we’re experiencing at the moment.

2. Flexible thinkers

It’s becoming increasingly clear that adaptability among teams is key to success. Individuals with fluid intelligence are more likely to be able to flexibly learn and adapt to new situations and requirements. 

3. Decision makers

The innate ability to analyse, evaluate and make decisions is a coveted skill for leadership. So it’s no surprise that those who have this rise quickly. 

4. Creative crafters

Those with fluid intelligence have a different way of looking at things. This outside-the-box approach to life is perfect for businesses that require innovative solutions. 

5. Fast learners

Fluid intelligence helps people learn new skills quickly. The ability to grasp new concepts and acquire new skills efficiently can only help on the career climb.

6. Multi-taskers

Modern work often requires individuals to juggle multiple tasks and responsibilities. Fluid intelligence can help people manage these demands, switching between tasks and maintaining focus on various aspects of work.

Can you measure fluid intelligence?


Yes. And we’ll do you 1 better, we have a game that does just that. Gyrate is a mental rotation challenge that tests spatial thinking and abstract problem-solving capabilities.

During our research, we found that top scorers in our Gyrate game demonstrated speedy career progression. It’s actually the most challenging game on our platform – so it’s hardly surprising that people who excel in this do so too in their jobs!

Want to try Gyrate for free? 

A member of our team will provide exclusive access to the game, and explain the mechanics and science behind it.

As the workplace continues to develop, it’s clear that those with fluid intelligence will continue to thrive and grow into those high-level positions. 

The hidden patterns of potential leaders

So, we’ve established fluid intelligence as a key marker for the fast-track high rollers. But that isn’t all that links these individuals together. Over the 5 years of research, we discovered that those who performed the best during the scheme scored highly for: 

  • Extraversion
  • Emotional wellbeing
  • Compassion

For us, it was the final one in particular that stood out.

People with great interpersonal skills excelled far more than those without. This lovely bit of information goes directly against the cut-throat, competitive ideals often *perhaps unfairly* paired with high achievers. And here at Cognisess, we can’t say we’re surprised. 

And it’s not just a finding from our research, WEF ranked empathy and active listening in the top 10 most desirable skills in 2023. 

As with fluid intelligence, it’s great news that we’re seeing this focus on human connection manifest in the real world, with compassionate people rising to the top. The world of work is fundamentally favouring more human skills, and this is more proof that we are no longer just talking about it – it’s taking effect.

The secret to staying power

It’s one thing to find a candidate with fluid intelligence, who has great interpersonal skills…but how do you make them stay? While there are obvious steps you can take internally to improve retention rates, it’s not always about the workplace – as we discovered in our research!

So, what attributes give an individual staying power? In short, it comes down to innovative longevity. 

Those who scored highly in creativity and innovation were shown to have greater retention rates than their counterparts. Here’s a few thoughts on why this might be: 

1. Intrinsically motivated

Creativity and innovation are often intrinsically rewarding. Employees who are passionate about their work are more likely to stay with a company that allows them to express their creativity – and allow for personal fulfillment. They see their role as an opportunity for personal growth and are more committed to improving processes and products.

2. Sense of ownership

These employees tend to take ownership of their work. This mentality extends to the desire to improve existing processes and products continually. They become invested in the company’s success and actively contribute to making it better.

3. Collaboration and idea-sharing

Creative individuals tend to be open to collaboration and idea-sharing. They thrive in environments that encourage brainstorming, feedback, and the exchange of innovative ideas. This collaborative spirit not only contributes to a culture of continuous improvement but also makes the workplace more appealing.

4. Problem-solving skills

These skills often go hand in hand with strong problem-solving skills. Employees who can identify and address issues thrive in a culture of continuous improvement. 

5. Adaptability

They are more likely to stay with a company as it evolves and adopts new methods and technologies. Their adaptability contributes to the company’s resilience and ability to embrace continuous improvement.

So, that’s one thing our research revealed… but that wasn’t all we learned about staying power. 

We discovered that those with the trait known as Openness to Experience were the biggest flight risks!

We’ll elaborate…

Openness to Experience is an overall personality trait. People with this trait tend to have high levels of inquisitiveness, thoughtfulness, and interest in intellectually challenging tasks.

Despite their potential for fickle flights, curiosity and life-long learning (two attributes under this trait’s umbrella) were ranked as highly desirable skills. Now, we love a good paradox, and we feel one forming right here…

Openness to Experience is clearly a desirable quality in today’s world of work. As the world rapidly changes – job requirements and ways of working naturally evolve too. So, it makes sense that those who are curious, embrace change, and relish the opportunity to learn new ways of doing things would thrive. 

And yet, by its very nature having someone with Openness to Experience also makes them a flight risk. 

It’s not that you should avoid hiring people who show signs of Openness to Experience…but instead, plan ahead for it. People with this trait (if they can stay) could make exceptional managers and leaders. So give them a reason to stick around. 

In their roles and your development schemes, find ways to stimulate their natural curiosity, imagination, and desire for change, so they don’t leave when you need them most.

Challenging convention: attributes defying traditional expectations

Here’s a shocker: WEF found that management skills are less desirable in today’s world. And they weren’t alone here.

In our study, we uncovered that those with high levels of assertiveness, a traditional “management skill”,  were less likely to rapidly progress.

So, why could this be? 

First, let’s address the business connotations with assertiveness. It has for a long time been a key characteristic for success. There are lots of reasons for this, but here are some of the biggest ones…

1. Conflict resolution

Assertiveness is often tied to addressing issues head-on. This is ideal in conflict situations, to mediate disputes, and find practical solutions. Instead of avoiding confrontation, assertive individuals can help resolve conflicts more quickly and effectively.

2. Setting boundaries

It’s often assumed that those with a more assertive nature have an easier time maintaining a healthy work environment and prevent overstepping or exploitation.

3. Decision-making

Assertive people make (or at least, convey) decisions confidently and implement them, naturally an ideal skill for leadership positions. 

4. Delegating tasks

Assertive people tend to have no problem delegating tasks and responsibilities. Whereas submissive individuals may avoid the direct questions and passing on of tasks. 

5. Leadership effectiveness

Assertiveness is often associated with strong leadership. Managers who are assertive tend to inspire confidence in their team members, which can contribute to better team cohesion and overall effectiveness.

Despite these points, assertiveness seems to be no longer desirable, or a predictor of success.

Is this a sign we’re moving towards a more collaborative team model? Or is it simply that the harshness often tied in with assertiveness clashes with the modern focus on empathy and compassion? It’s certainly food for thought! 

Extroversion and social influence: a delicate balance

Did you know, extroverts are 25% more likely to get a job? And that success carries through to the job too, as our results showed, this trait does indeed correlate with career progression.

But while extroversion can boost communication and team energy, it’s not actually a great predictor of leadership success or team synergy. Here’s a question to think about…

Are extroverts performing well because of their nature, or because the system is built for them?

There’s a common fallacy that extroversion is needed for jobs requiring communication or leadership. And yet it’s been proven that introverts can be just as good at these jobs – (our own managing partner is an Introvert!). 

In our opinion, these traits shouldn’t be used to determine whether you can do a job…and it seems most companies in 2023 agree. WEF’s results didn’t rank extroversion as a desirable trait at all. 

In general, the world of work favours extroverts – but if you really want a leadership culture that avoids dangerous groupthink and instead embodies innovation, creativity, and productivity, then having people who think and behave differently is key.

Want to learn more about the dangers of groupthink?


We recently published an article on the importance of cognitive diversity. Check it out now. 


Read now

WeForum found that social influence is a key desirable trait among businesses in 2023, but our data suggests otherwise. Both leadership and acting with influence negatively affected career speed. So, why could this be? 

These results could be an indicator that the traits that make for an effective leader are changing. Are our future leaders ruling with empathy and compassion rather than assertiveness and social influence? Or, is it just that the teams within this particular company are built that way…

At any rate, it’s clear that the demands and expectations of management roles are changing with the times – and if you haven’t prepared your business for it, now is the time to start! 

To sum up

So, what are the key takeaways here? Let’s run through the highlights…

  1. Fluid intelligence is the secret sauce to finding success in the modern workplace


  2. Innovation and creativity are key traits linked to staying power


  3. Beware of those with openness to experience – they may be a flight risk if not managed effectively


  4. Assertiveness and social influence aren’t what they used to be – could this be a sign that the expectations of our managers are shifting?


  5. Extroverts continue to thrive. But is it the system’s bias, or their ability? You may need to take action if you don’t want a groupthink culture.

We hope you found this article helpful. All insights discussed here can be found in our case study…Read now.

Every day, we empower businesses with the tools to measure what matters to the roles they’re hiring for. Are you ready to be one of them? Get in touch today, to get started.

Kelly Neaves

Kelly Neaves

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