Thinking the Unthinkable

On July 9, 2013, in Analytics, Big Data, HRExaminer, John Sumser, by John Sumser

We're at the place where things start to go crazy. The dramatic acceleration of technical change coupled with the data explosion puts us at a precipice. Everywhere I look, people are scratching their heads.

We’re at the place where things start to go crazy. The dramatic acceleration of technical change coupled with the data explosion puts us at a precipice. Everywhere I look, people are scratching their heads.

It’s weird to be sitting at an inflection point. The dramatic acceleration of technical change coupled with the data explosion puts us at a precipice. Everywhere I look, people are scratching their heads.

We’re at the place where things start to go crazy.

Practitioners are about to be showered with an abundance of data and metrics. For the most part, the first round will be limited by their imaginations. Sadly, that’s a really big limiter.

HR and its processes are going to be automated in the immediate future. The admisnistrative crap is more or less finished (which explains the lack of innovation in most HR software companes). Now, the more thoughtful parts of the business will come under the dome of digitization.

The first wave will be data visualization tools that expose the massive inefficiencies in our processes.

Take the “cost to hire” or “time to hire” statistics. To date, they’ve been presented as averages that can be disected to see departmental averages and even job specific averages.

The problem is that they are all averages. Anyone who has been following our growing statistical literacy understands that averages hide as much as they disclose. For the state of the art to involve the recounting of averages is a sad commentary on how far behind our profession has fallen.

Rather than a sea of averages, we need to be looking at the value creation. A position (say agile programmer) that generates five times the value of a retail clerk ought to be a bargain at four times the cost and three times the schedule. And, the outliers that drive the average may well be the best (or worst) spent money in the budget.

The C Suite is going to hunt for and embrace data visualization companies who can help see what we’ve refused to see: HR builds processes that emphasize sameness. The business requires processes that produce differences. It’s actually that simple.

Most HR processes are like any production system. Work goes into the queue and comes out the other side. Work gets started and work gets finished.

This means that we should be using Kanban tools to track the work, identify the bottlenecks and maintain a smooth flow. Performance management, learning, recruiting, succession planning are all candidates for the sorts of tracking that everyone else statrted using in the 80s.


Meanwhile, out in the rest of the world, people are starting to realize that we’re entering a new era. Where text based (pencil and paer) literacy characterized the 20th century, our era will involve the use of complex multidimensional imagery to understand things.

Our media are our tools for thinking.The dawn of the social era is also the earliest taste of what transparency in a world of graphics look like.

The one thing we know for sure is that we have no idea what the most important thing will be in 2020 (only 6.5 years from now). Somehow, we have to imagine and prepare for that world.

There’s some cool stuff happening beyond the horizons of HR. Take alook at this video – Media for Thinking the Unthinkable. It’s a 45 minute talk given by one of the geniuses at MIT’s media lab. You don’t have to understand everything he’s saying. Mostly, the video shows how the boundaries of science and engineering are being stretched.

The same thing is starting to happen in HR. It’s happening everywhere.

Media for Thinking the Unthinkable from Bret Victor on Vimeo.



 
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