One systemic failure in particular

by MoritzG5 min read28th May 20208 comments

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World Optimization
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I think there are areas of major systematic failure:

  • Human Resources (including Bull-Shit-Jobs as defined by David Graeber)
  • Education [A], [B], [C]
  • Population control
  • Market failure: military Industrial complex [D], Medical sector pricing and treatment selection
  • Democracy and Voting
  • Financial sector
  • Inter-/Super-national regulations and taxation (Heavens for tax-evasion, money-laundering, pollution, work-safety)
  • Inheritance and long term resource distribution both of production and natural
  • Media/Press [E], [F]

Next is a List of areas that are not made up (imaginary) and filled with Quacks, Con-men, Oracles, Fortunetellers and False-Experts (as defined by N.N. Taleb):

  • Nutrition & "Health/fitness"
  • Economics
  • Medicine
  • Consulting and Training
  • HR

A correlation with the list of areas of human societies biggest failures is evident.

Why are there such massive systemic failures? That is a massive generic question that this thread will not be about or able to answer.
In short mentioning some reasons: People are lazy thinkers and see the world form their perspective instead of a global/birds view. Because it is hard to impossible. Because it is done unscientifically. Because costs can be externalized and companies have become more than just used to it, they have come to expect others to pay. Because the personal is unqualified, because there is no one answer but people “refuse” to accept it, because there is no convenient solution, there are bad incentives, because of poor intuition/bias, because innovation and especially social change is hard, because of ideology, deep seated and institutional historical misconceptions, All the usual stuff: fallacies, biases, bad incentive structure, incomplete information.

HR is important because it is a consequence, a cause, and a solution. Change has positive feedback. We know that good people attract more good people and bad people draw in bad people.
The big issue of un(der)employment is in part because of failures in HR. I am certain that plenty very capable and trustworthy people are underemployed.
I find the issue of HR similar to population control in that it is not talked about even though it is very consequential.
I chose HR as an example because I think it has the highest product of consequence and neglect and it is personal to all of us who have to play along every few years. It is not rational to fail so widely at an issue of such magnitude without at least trying to talk about how it could be improved.

Human Resources:
Assuming that you think that work is about outcome and education an investment that needs a return, you might agree that:
Every person should have the job that uses the persons talents, intellect, education to the maximum
without running into the Peter-Principle. It is much harder to formulate the conditions from the perspective of the job: No position should be held by someone who is not the best available in that place and time who should not be doing something different.
Also we shouldn't have our smartest people model randomness.
Obviously that is an impossible ideal, nothing but a fantasy useful to guide thinking. That ideal opens the perspective that people might be too „good“ for their position or their potential wasted, a view rarely taken by others than those stuck in an organization that has lost it’s dynamic and meritocracy.
Looking at the tasks that STEM college master graduates actually perform one can not help but think that we are so far from the optimum that getting closer must be possible. The sheer magnitude of the issue makes it important, there is so much room for improvement and so much to be gained that we need to do better.
Many in HR are young females who have no formal education in HR nor psychology. Most do have a high university education, just not in anything with business or STEM. Thus their formal qualification and lack of specific experience is in sharp contrast to that of the people who they are supposed to help to hire. At best they have a high degree of openness to experience, curiosity, urge to truly understand others and possibly traveled the world to understand just how very different people can be.
This is in sharp contrast to how they work themselves. Being largely incompetent all they do is to match words, often the names of software tools specific to the company, in job postings to resumes, a task easily automated.
It is one thing to assume that if someone has done something in the past they will be able to do it in the future, but to take that further and make prior experience a requirement is not practical in the long run. To assume that because someone has never been asked to do something, means they can't do it in the future, has become the operating assumption.
There was a time when gifted technicians became leading engineers and you could get ahead inside a company by taking responsibility and being loyal. Today companies look for "talent" at other companies, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. CxOs are often stage personalities that switched in-between big name companies. Companies seem to prefer to hire unknown applicants over their own HR product.
(The best way to get more money is to switch the company to do the same for +15% wage every three years. Using the time to learn as many SW tools as possible.)

Unlike today's companies who live under the illusion that they can get any staff delivered at no cost to their front steps like stuff off amazon. The military has long figured out that it has to make the most of what is available and that not every G.I. pawn can be an athletic genius. Research into the g-factor was funded by the US military after realizing that some soldiers should not be handed any weapon due to them being more danger to themselves and their brothers in arms than to the enemy.
Consequentially the military invests heavily into education and training. Producing standard procedures, check-lists, training films, hand books, manuals, developing a deep system of qualification specializations. (United States military occupation designator code and Joint Qualification System)

Companies should focus to hire "good" people who seem to have potential, instead of seeking specific experience and know-how to solve short term needs that exist because of management failure. Their hiring process is too short sighted and at the same time too specific and too general. Too specific in the SW tool experience they ask (A clear case of overemphasis on easy/available information.) and too general/brought in what they ask for in the number of areas of competence. I find it lazy to ask for a wool-milk-pig that lays eggs with the company logo and is used to eating a very specific diet of plants only prevalent in the valley that the company is located in.
Now you might mistake me to be arguing for hiring unqualified personal, but that is not my point. My point is that companies are overestimating their capability to recognize qualified personal and their capability to even tell what they need. The specificity of their requirements is superficial, shows either a lack of reality or unjustified entitlement / right to be demanding. The companies fail to develop and keep their personal and/or feel like it is not their responsibility to train their employees for their specific environment.

There might be awareness of the dangers of having people in positions beyond their competence, but what about the problem of having people do jobs that are below their level of competence? I see two adverse effects. It demoralizes the person and it costs another person their job.
If we let high potential people occupy the remaining simple jobs then we will have social unrest as especially men who could not get a job in the social nor service sector will turn their frustration into hate targeting what ever otherness they feel most responsible.
Many might be satisfied by rising in whatever system they are part of. Some of us can see beyond that and have a need to do good beyond their family. After they fed themselves other needs must be satisfied.

Knowledge is inherently asymmetric: We do not know what we do not know, but that which we do is our entire reality/world. We can only disprove, but only get more confident over time about things we do not understand deeply. There is no insight without failures.
When it comes to making impossible choices, let us avoid the delusion of being able to make the best choice, instead focus on keeping the damage low by avoiding that known to be wrong/bad. In the presence of unknowns, chaos, complexity, randomness and lack of time let us strive to be less wrong. Hence when it comes to searching for the best person to fill a given job let us stop trying to get the perfect candidate but rather, let us focus on not choosing poor candidates since that is all we can achieve by competence. With some luck we even get the best, but how would you even know?
It might be hard to anticipate the best way to heat your house over the next 30 years, but we can be sure that setting it on fire will not be it.
If everyone is looking for A*B then I must seek C*(A+B) at a lower cost. C would likely be a greater number of rejection than selection criteria. The point is not to try to be better at establishing that A*B is true for a candidate and compete for it.

If we want to stay ahead of the spiraling complexity of the world we create and let people be less wrong then we have to do better at matching people and jobs.

This post is similar to: [G]

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8 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 2:46 PM
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It's hard to decompose this into pieces small enough to comment on, and I'm not sure what your overall thesis is. Which makes it hard to explain why this strikes me as incorrect framing of causes, and incorrect identification of problem patterns.

Your statement that " Many in HR are young females who have no formal education in HR nor psychology. " is offputting enough (both in implication that young women are not competent, and the generalization overall, and the unstated implication that HR has anywhere near the power that you ascribe to it) that I have trouble taking any of it seriously.

Thank you for commenting.

"is offputting enough" That would be a sensibility of yours and not a rational argument.

"implication that young women are not competent, and the generalization overall, and the unstated implication that HR has anywhere near the power that you ascribe to it" I made no such statements. "Many" is not the same as "all". I include employees of headhunting companies as HR workers and these do have power when it comes to early screening including the assessment of qualification. I had plenty such talks where I could not even make the other understand what I do. Also I do use the term HR in a broader sense meaning the entire system only including those who work in the HR department, but not restricted to them.

I agree with Dagon's criticism elsewhere in the thread. However, I would add another criticism. You're confusing the surface purpose of HR with its actual purpose.

The surface purpose of HR is to efficiently match people with jobs. The actual purpose of HR is to ensure that the company can efficiently navigate the byzantine thicket of laws and regulations concerning hiring, employment and firing without getting sued, ensuring that benefits for current employees are well managed, and finally when an employee is involuntarily let go (either fired or laid off) that the letting go is once again done in a manner that will minimize the company's exposure to legal liability.

Every so often, you hear of various start-ups (usually in Silicon Valley, but sometimes elsewhere) getting pilloried for making absolutely basic mistakes when hiring. Things like asking candidates their age, or questions clearly correlated with age. Asking (female) candidates about their plans for a family. Etc. Basic errors that a large corporation with a functioning HR department wouldn't even dream of making. That is the true purpose of HR. It's ensuring that your interviewers aren't doing clearly illegal things. It's giving the appearance of fairness (even if actual fairness is difficult to achieve).

And that's all prior to hiring. After hiring, HR becomes even more important. Do you know all the tax forms that have to be filled out when you hire a new employee? What about if that employee is remote? What about if that employee is remote but moves from a state with no income tax to a state with income tax (as I did, once). What forms do you need to give the employee to allow him or her to file his or her taxes when you've issued them with stock options or RSUs? What about health insurance. Are you qualified to choose between health insurance plans for a company of 50 employees? 500 employees? 5000 employees? What about 401(k)s? A well qualified HR department knows the answers to all that and a lot more besides.

Finally, let's say you have to let some people go (as so many companies are having to do, during these economically troubled times). Do you know how to administer severance packages? Can you get COBRA forms to everyone efficiently? If it's an individual being fired for cause, rather than a mass layoff, have you collected data to show that the individual was underperforming and was not fired because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc. etc?

HR is infrastructure. The fact that you don't notice what it's doing is a feature. That means it's working well. People notice HR when it fails. When the company gets sued for discrimination. When they don't get the right tax forms in a timely manner. When there's a benefits snafu that leads them to have to wait an extra month before their health insurance kicks in. Matching people with jobs is the tiniest part of what HR does on a day-to-day basis, so I would expect them to be not very good at it.

Styling:

HR is important because it is a consequence, a cause[,] and a solution.

without to at least talk about it.

without at least trying to talk about it/how it could be fixed/improved.


SW tool names

?


stuff of[f] amazon

I find it lazy to ask for a wool-milk-pig that lays eggs with the company logo and is used to eating a very specific diet of plants only prevalent in the valley that the company is located in.

This sounds like parody.


If we let high potential people occupy the remaining simple jobs then we will have social unrest

Sounded more reasonable than the attributed cause. (And seems more like a morale issue than a cause of social unrest.)


[a] There is no insight without failures.
[b] let us strive to be less wrong.

[b] seems, if not in conflict with [a], then not the best way of saying it.


If everyone is looking for A*B then I must seek C*(A+B) at a lower cost. C would likely be a greater number of rejection than selection criteria. The point is not to try to be better at establishing that A*B is true for a candidate and compete for it.

?

"Styling" I will (and can) make the edits.

"parody" I call it a polemic analogy.

"seems, if not in conflict with" I think you noticed that there is no contradiction, but I agree that I need to clarify. Faced with a massive lack of information and the task to predict the future it is clear that it would be pure luck to make the best decision. Operating with that mindset might even be hindering.

" I must seek C*(A+B) at a lower cost." I was trying to get into what to choose / look for in a finite set with competition. A B C ... are terms of criteria that I estimate to be fulfilled to some degree. For simplicity they shall be binary logic terms. Every option that I have has more properties than I even know about and those I do know and find relevant, I either seek or avoid. Any term might contain many such properties. Knowing what others are looking and paying for and that the world is very complicated, I find it more sensible to intentionally not use the same function to assess options. Instead I must design my net to "fish" in other areas of the choice property space. This applies to HR or any other investment.

Every person should have the job that uses the persons talents, intellect, education to the maximum without running into the Peter-Principle.

That's not something you can optimise without optimising a bunch of other things. A lot of talent goes wasted in mostly-substistence econonomies, for instance. An if you education system doens't suit the job market, you are going to need jobs for the people with degrees is underwater basket weaving.

Unlike today’s companies who live under the illusion that they can get any staff delivered at no cost to their front steps like stuff off amazon.

Even the ones who are grumbling about the minimum wage?

I recommend adding spacing*. For instance, a space before the start of the list (below), and after the end

I think there are areas of major systematic failure:

*And indentation

I lost the formatting when I pasted the text. I managed to switch to the Markdown interpretation and bring the list back.