E is for Energy! S is for Success!

MIT Professor Sandy Pentland says it’s possible to predict who is likely to succeed in business based on the social signals they send, and he discusses how he is measuring the power of charisma in the newest edition of Harvard Business Review.

In one experiment, says Pentland, executives at a party were outfitted with elaborate sensors that gathered data on their tone of voice, how they used their hands, and how closely they stood to other people, among other things.

Pentland — who directs the MIT Human Dynamics Lab — was looking for cues predictive of which executives at the party would win a business plan competition later that same week. He calculated, correctly, that it would be the most energetic executives of the group.

Energetic people don’t just talk more, says Pentland; they listen more, too. “They spend more face-to-face time with others. They pick up cues from others, draw people out, and get them to be more outgoing. It’s not just what they project that makes them charismatic; it’s what they elicit.”

Among what they often draw out are more prosperous prospects than their chillier or more reserved peers. In fact, says Pentland, the more that his lab conducts experiments on the power of charisma, the more precise the science is becoming. Pointing to a salary-negotiation study at MIT in which the conversational dynamics of the participants were observed but not heard, Pentland says that he and his colleagues were accurate to within $1,000 in guessing what salary would be offered.

So how important is turning on the charm? “Over the long term, the content matters more to success, obviously,” Pentland says in HBR.  He uses VCs as an example, saying that they look for buzz but “also need to understand the substance of the pitch and not be swayed by charisma alone.”

Still, he argues, both substance and style are important. “Positive, energetic people have higher performance. We’re proving that.”

(H/T: Tom Forenski, via Steve Rubel)