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Archive for the ‘predictions’ Category

Can we ever be objective?

Posted by Mark Bennett on November 6, 2012


Indeed, it is a strange-disposed time;
But men may construe things after their fashion,
Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.
Come Caesar to the Capitol tomorrow?

– from Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III by William Shakespeare

During this presidential campaign, we’ve been treated to many interpretations of the data provided by a multitude of polls. It’s been Big Data meets Big Auguries.

What can we learn from the ongoing debate about whether poll and their analyses are biased or not and therefore whether they are accurate predictors of events? How can this debate benefit not just how we govern ourselves, but also how we run our organizations?

The point isn’t that polls and their analyses aren’t biased – they are. So are customer or employee surveys. So is the interpretation of sales data. What matters is what are you doing about it. How are you finding out how to correct for the inevitable bias so as to mitigate its distortive effects? How do you pursue objectivity, rather than just dig into your position as the truth or just give up and say objective truth doesn’t exist?

It wasn’t that I didn’t know enough; I just knew too much

Like any other observations, what we construe from polls is influenced by what we already know (or don’t know) and what we believe. To hammer the point home, we see only what we choose to see, consciously or not. Sometimes, there’s simply nothing there; it’s just noise and what you see is an illusion.

Does having more knowledge of the subject help? Knowing more doesn’t necessarily solve the problem – it matters more what it is you do know and that’s hard to know, you know? If that extra knowledge simply aligns with and confirms your prior knowledge and/or beliefs, it just reinforces a possibly misplaced confidence and takes your further from the objective findings.

So, like any other science, we have to understand this problem going in and have a process to gradually reveal what is really going on; i.e. the purpose of the things themselves.

Think twice; that’s my only advice

A good way to do that is to always poke holes in your thinking and the data you gathered. How might your thinking be based on false assumptions? How might the gathered data be misrepresentative? You have to test your assumptions and your data gathering methods continuously.

Thinking twice helps you get out of the cognitive trap our brains are wired for – to go with the first story that fits the facts. Jumping to conclusions is a species survival trait that served us well when we didn’t have time to mull over whether our clan should go out and hunt a mastodon.

Today’s world is infinitely more complex than arranging a hunt for food. So rethink and rethink again as much as you can before making the call. And if you have to make the call before you have sufficiently tested your data and thinking, then look for ways to structure your actions so they both move you torward your goal as well as gather more data and test your thinking. “Continuous Beta” is an example of this.

Bless your soul; to think that you’re in control

Finally, why are you relying on just your view or the “inside view” of your group to question your assumptions and data? As much as you’d like to think you can control you own biases, you and your team’s vested interests, sunk costs, etc. will always influence your objectivity in subtle and not so subtle ways.

As uncomfortable as it can make you or your team, get the “outside view” from other people and teams who will give you unfiltered feedback on your assumptions and evidence. The idea is about improving your pursuit of objectivity.

Get their thinking as well. They may not know as much as you do about the data, or have your level of experience and expertise in ways to interpret it. But they may know things that you don’t that could help you see things in a new, less biased way.


Whatever your political leanings, it’s worth it to check out “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t” by Nate Silver.

Photo by Crouchy69

Posted in analytics, Big Data, predictions, survey, thinking | 2 Comments »

Feb 21, 2012 – Are you ready?

Posted by Anders Northeved on January 26, 2011

According to phonecount.com on Feb 21, 2012 (give or take a couple of days I guess…) the number of connected phones will surpass the number of people living on Earth. For everyone that doesn’t have a phone, someone will have two.
Just think about what people would have said if you predicted this 10 or 20 years ago!
I’m sure this already has a profound impact on most people’s life in many ways, but let me just focus on the possibilities for corporate HR programs.

Self Service
Lots of organizations have ripped the benefits of Self Service in their HCM program.
The administrative work has gone down; the HR data are more accurate; it’s easier for the users to get access to information; the user acceptance has gone up and the cost has come down – all well and good if the employees have access to a computer…
But with more and more people having a mobile, we will see the benefits of Self Service come to a lot of areas where people do not have access to computers like retail, production and transport.

With the widespread availability of phones the management has got a new direct communication line to all of their employees.
Want your employees to know about a new product; a new initiative; reward someone; tell everyone how it’s going… a message on the mobile is the answer. 

It’s now possible to get feedback from your entire workforce whether they have access to a computer or not.

Using mobiles for education for people who would otherwise not have access to education has enormous potential.
I would even go so far as to say that the right use of mobiles for education for organizations with employees without access to a computer could be THE competitive advantage that would define whether an organization would be successful or not!

Even if I find these possibilities very exciting, I’m sure there are other areas that could be added to this list.
I would love to see your comments on what other topics within HCM that could be helped or advanced using mobile devices!

 (Photo by Brandon Hall)

Posted in communication, global, hr, HR Technology, learning, predictions | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Is it Time to be Optimistic Yet?

Posted by Mark Bennett on December 18, 2009

Again, a trick question. At the end of the year, especially ones that have had so much turmoil, uncertainty, and economic pain, thoughts turn to whether the next year will be any better. It’s the same psychology behind setting resolutions and so forth, i.e. January 1 presents a “new beginning” or a “fresh start.”

People generally like to know what the future holds so they can either look forward to the good things that will happen or do something to avoid the bad things.* Businesses are the same. We then look at the past to try to spot trends, check what the experts say, do “wisdom of the crowds” investigation, etc. As always, the rule about everyone’s opinions still applies.

At Steve Boese’s HR Happy Hour last night, the topic was “2010: Looking Ahead” and some prognostications were thrown around. Naturally, whether to be optimistic or not also came up and it was interesting to see the different reactions to that. On one end, some folks want proof that it was time to feel good about the future. On the other end, some folks see optimism as the driving force to making things turn out good no matter what. The real answer to the question comes from taking a bit of both and understanding how an optimistic outlook coupled with an acknowledgment of harsh reality is key.**

In other words, realize that there are no guarantees about what the future holds and that waiting until everything is proven is a recipe for constant disappointment and/or missing out. However, also realize that things won’t always just get better on their own either (at least not for you or in the way that you had hoped), so you need to be taking conscious actions that weigh the risks and rewards. This includes the conscious decision to take no action (as described so well by Mark Stelzner.)

These decisions and actions are not always as simple as we’d like them to be and that’s also behind why we always wish for exact predictions. We say, “Tell me what the right move is so I get the most benefit without making any mistakes!” A short reflection on where unemployment is today shows how well predictions have worked out so far.

So now, companies are looking ahead and asking what to do when the day does come that hiring picks up and they worry they’ll lose their top talent. Point solutions like “do more training”, etc. are suggested, but more integrative solutions are called for that take into account the complex interplay of turnover, career development, engagement, talent inventory, and business strategy.

No one really knows what 2010 will hold, so there is no “perfect play.” Instead, companies need to think through the different ways that things are likely to go and take proactive steps today that will leave them options to take when it becomes more clear what conditions really are.

So the real answer perhaps is that there isn’t necessarily a “right time” to be optimistic so much as it benefits you to have an optimistic outlook both to keep yourself going (i.e. believe in yourself and you can prevail) as well as to keep your mind tuned to spotting opportunities (i.e. take prudent risks). At the same time, you need to confront the facts as they stand today and the very real possibility that conditions won’t get better for everybody in the near future.

*”Flash Forward” presents the interesting prospect of what would happen if people really did have a glimpse of what their situation would be in six month’s time. It addresses the classic issues around prophecy without context, determinism, destiny, and free will.

**see the “Stockdale Paradox” as described in Jim Collins’ “Good to Great“:

“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” – Jim Stockdale

Photo by allieosmar

Posted in predictions, risk, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 8 Comments »