I enjoy all the clever comments, but the problem of selecting appropriate students is real. My experience, after having taught in a post doctoral program for over 25 years, is that the challenge is not selecting candidates that are talented, brilliant, inquisitive, it is selecting candidates that are suited to the path they have chosen.. If they get far enough to be individually examined or interviewed all the above has been more then adequately proven. I have seen too many people struggle to be happy and productive in life, however, because they were not suited for they aspired. Programs shouldn’t concentrate on one more clever way of letting candidates show their brilliance, they should concentrate on getting brilliant candidates in the programs for which they are suited.
Use your best judgment on who you decide to ask - there is no set formula for who should be your recommenders. We know it is not always possible to have a direct supervisor write your recommendation – we would not want you to jeopardize your current position for the application process. Look at the questions we are asking recommenders to complete. Find people who know you well enough to answer them. This can be a former supervisor, a colleague, someone you collaborate on an activity outside of work. How well a person knows you should take priority over level of seniority or HBS alumni status.