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About this Video


John Sumser cautions us to beware of certainty as he reviews key organizational changes emerging during the pandemic and some dramatic data from Humanyze on how working relationships have experienced seismic shifts. This is an excerpt of John Sumser’s popular keynote presentation at The HR Tech Conference & Exposition in the Fall of 2020.


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Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused (or extremely confused) and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation and let us know if you find something wrong and we’ll get it fixed right away. Thank you for your understanding.



JS – John Sumser, Principal Analyst, HRExaminer


[00:00:04] I want to tell you a little bit about some work that they’re doing at Humanyze, a company I know pretty well. Before March 11th, in an average company, an average employee had 2.9 close relationships. That’s people they spent an hour or more a week with, 2.9 of them. And 40 2nd order relationships, which is people that they spent 15 minutes or less a month with. Since everybody changed the way that they work, people are up to seven close relationships and down to 15 2nd order relationships. Long-term consequences are unclear.


[00:00:46] But if you look at this Armadillo, when the Armadillo is threatened, it tucks into itself and reduces its exposure to the outside world. And that’s exactly what you see happening with the changes in the way the network functions. I want you to think about what happens when the edges of the network don’t work.


[00:01:07] There’s an argument here that says, all work happens at the edges of the organization and the people who are at the heart of it, just think that they’re at the heart of it. It’s really mostly done by people who have 15 and 20 minute relationships with you.


[00:01:25] So what that means is, we’re in a time where none of the old rules make sense. And the quickest, fastest way to get into trouble is to act as if what we’re going to do is re-institute the old rules. The way that we’re working is different. Every single job description in the world is wrong because we don’t work like that anymore. And so it’s up to us to figure out how to navigate it.


[00:01:56] But now we’re faced with things that it used to be only our leaders faced, and that is, lots and lots of ambiguity and uncertainty, no clear answers, an abundance of ambiguity, uncertainty. That’s what we’re driving into right now.


[00:02:15] Want to talk to you a little bit more about certainty. I’m sure that most of you have heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a way of describing what confidence means over the course of working in a field. So this graph shows you that when you’re very early to something, it is easy to have supreme confidence. And there’s a period early on in the careers of people in any field where they have a very assertive view of how much they know and understand about the work. And then what happens over time is one becomes increasingly aware of how little one knows until at the peak of expertise.


[00:03:08] You don’t have the confidence of a new person. You have, kind of a jaded eye about what might be right and what might be wrong. And so I want to tell you that when you hear people who are very certain that they know how things are going and they know what you should do, beware because certainty is that early stage overconfidence that comes from not knowing what you’re talking about. This is what it means when you say, well, I may not be a brain surgeon, but I spent last night in a Holiday Inn Express.



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