Archive for February, 2014

The Seven Habits Versus Effective Data

The entire professional landscape is about to be turned on its ear. We all know that the role of colleges has changed — diminished. The curated processes, despite all of the inherent biases contained in a college education, have historically formed a useful measure of potential. It’s a specific look at one thing a person is good at: attending college.

What other things trigger assessments about an employee’s potential? Who should get hired? And once hired who should get the most/best resources to help with advancement? Volumes have been written about how fraught with problems our methods are. And it’s not just the biases. Biases are often helpful, when you listen to the right ones. There are lots of things that appear to correlate, but only certain of those really matter. As advanced as we are in some ways, our methods of evaluating and nurturing talent have pretty much sucked. And we wonder why people switch jobs so much.

Moreover, we’ve created in the process a sort of mythical tower of characteristics and achievements to aspire to. Hold these basic characterizations and distinctions and you will succeed…as if what it fundamentally takes to be a great game programmer is in many consequential ways similar to what it takes to be a great nurse. It’s comforting to think we know the select set of things they must and must not have in common, but it turns out we are often wrong.

Enter big data. Our ability to analyze in useful ways large volumes of data is exploding. And it is just because there is SO much data that it can work. Each of us is now leaving a sort of data exhaust of everything we do in our wake. Sophisticated algorithms can make use of that, and by comparing actual outcomes it is possible to accurately predict what we will do, as well has how well we are suited for various activities. This is truly scary stuff.


Google no longer factors GPA in for anyone more than two years out of school. Data has shown it is not a viable predictor of success in their organization. Xerox (old, staunch company set in its ways?) determined that the ideal employee participates (is not just a member) in at least one but not more than four social networks. Bear in mind this is just one, small data point amidst many, but it is weighed as a factor. You can’t argue with the data. The results are clear and getting clearer. In fact, many of their hiring managers don’t even want to take the time to do interviews anymore because the assessments made therein aren’t as reliable at predicting success as the scores of their sophisticated battery of tests and accompanying research. Anecdotally you can say they may miss a gem in the rough, or that the tests create their own, self-fulfilling prophesy (valid points), but this type of thing is being systematically studied by many firms and the results are clear. In a world where results drive the bottom line certain mistakes or some slop around the edges can be deemed acceptable.

Once a person is at work in a firm it is even easier to collect volumes of data about everything she does. Once you have enough, and have taken the time to compare it to results…the picture comes in to focus.

Scary? Bad? There is certainly a philosophical gray area here. Privacy is quickly becoming a thing of the past as we volunteer more information in widely distributed form than ever before. It’s what people and organizations might DO with all that data that scares us (yet we put it out there anyway). Something you wrote or did years ago could come back to haunt you. Or maybe not. Maybe the thing you think would be bad for others to know might actually help you. It depends on the outcomes of others who did similar things.

Consider all the research showing that happiness at work depends greatly on feeling a sense of agency. If these new tools get people into better fitting jobs where they will tend to succeed more it’s probably a good thing for them, not to mention the companies they work for. Further, the tools can be used to clue people in on their own data that they are generating, which could enable them to better guide themselves in developing their personal effectiveness. If you could look at the data results from the person who got the job you’d like, and compare it to your own, you might be able to make some changes that would help. Can this data be manipulated to fake something about yourself? It’s possible, but there is so much of it, and it can be acquired from so many facets of what you do that you’d practically have to change your behavior through virtually every waking moment of your life…at which point it could be argued you now are that new person you set out to be.

Scary, but think of the possibilities. Then juxtapose it all on to other endeavors such as dating. It’s a big opportunity fraught with big problems. One way or the other mouths must be watering in the law firms!


Those Shoes


Those shoes over there aren’t yours. You can only understand through the sum of your own experiences, which are not the same. Is this who you are? Some sweet or violent urge. A weak fallen human. With a promise at the end? I do not judge you.

Relative Size


Humans engage with the world according to size and scope. In other words, we tend to have relationships with elements that are roughly the same physical size as us. When you drill down to the microbe or sub-atomic (or smaller) level we progressively don’t understand it all that well. When you zoom out to the universe we are again out of our element and have many blind spots.

Consider how much of our ongoing perception of the universe is formed by the parts we can more readily interact with and observe. At these other sizes the universe as we understand it begins to break down. And that’s just the part we can see and guess about. If we were there, how much farther into the abyss could we see?

So much we don’t know.

Flowers in the Desert

N0nTeIt’s hard to distinguish dormant from dead. When it rains things will grow. Often times life, or things in life, just need a little bit of something to cling to. Do you want to create the conditions for things to grow and happen, or do you want to suffocate them until they eventually do expire?


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