090630 Dissonance

On June 30, 2009, in Futures, Industry Analysis, John Sumser, Recruiting Wisdom, by John Sumser


People have maps of the world that they carry around in their heads.

Accumulated experience, conventional wisdom and the insight of the people and institutions that influence us shape our worldview. Certain that we have a handle on the truth, we move through our reality as if we had a clear picture.

We make assumptions about the world we live in as a way of reducing the overheads in decision making.

Our nervous systems are constructed to filter information flow from our senses. Our brains make a map of the world as a part of the organization of our minds.

It’s just simpler to rely on assumptions than it is to constantly reevaluate the fundamentals. The people who spend their time doing heavy reconsideration and recalibration are poets, artists and philosophers. The rest of us get along with minor tweaks and updates to our worldview.

We’re hardwired to believe our maps of the world.

In the mid 20th Century, there was a movement known as “General Semantics” (not to be confused with the subset of linguistics known as semantics). Advocates believed that it was “a form of mental hygiene that enables practitioners to avoid ideational traps built into natural language and “common sense” assumptions, thereby enabling practitioners to think more clearly and effectively.” (from Wikipedia)

The leading thinker in General Semantics, Alfred Korzybski, is famous for saying that “the map is not the territory.” Manny thinkers in the late 20th Century adopted aspects of the idea. It means that the way we think about a thing is not the thing. In the early germination of the idea, it  was a brilliant but subtle insight.

General Semantics provided a framework for mental clarity. Knowing that your fundamental view of reality is flawed can be enough to keep you correcting for the bias.

The information explosion forces us all to specialize. It’s just not possible to wade through everything you’d like to read, watch, discuss or think about. The fundamental defense against information overload is to narrow your focus. The net result is that we live in an increasingly fragmented world… lots of pockets of excellence and no big picture.

The more we specialize, the more we leave areas of our map to assumption or the expertise of others. As long as big media remained intact, the fact that we shared a set of bad assumptions was culturally good enough to get by. The smart people in the media were in charge of managing the big picture.

Today, the big picture is that there’s no big picture. The gap between what we think we know and what’s actually there is getting wider every day.

I’m sure this seems very remotely  related to the world of HR-Recruiting. If you’ll bear with me for a couple of starter pieces, I think we can get down to business. Competitive advantage can come from having a better grasp of the realities of the marketplace. A good hard look at the things we think are true in our discipline should yield a bounty of wisdom.


This is the first piece in a series that try to get at the difference between our broad generalizations and the specifics. The starting point is demographics. The world is very different than we think it is. The demographic story showcases the gap.

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