The Jurassic Park Problem – Part 2, HR, Data and Tech

Hello again. It’s time for more on raptors and HR.

I got to see Jurassic World on Sunday (finally) and it prompted me to write a follow up on my original blog on the Jurassic Park problem and HR’s approach to data and technology. To summarise – I’m not afraid of the technology, I’m afraid of what people do without thinking. They are different things, but hopelessly intertwined.

When I first posted a couple of people made contact to point out there was another key incident in the story that highlights our inability to use data and information prudently. It is to do with how we evaluate our expectations and is reasonably well linked to the concept of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to interpret information in a way that is beneficial to our current way of thinking. We look at data and we pull out the elements that support our world view.

The information in your favour is seen as useful, any information that is seen as ambiguous is interpreted in your favour and finally the information that doesn’t support your case is given less weight..

In the book of Jurassic Park the dinosaurs have started to reproduce and nobody has noticed. The reason is that nobody expected them to reproduce – and consequently the only check in place is through sensors to check that the population doesn’t fall.  Because the system is set up to search for and confirm a number rather than calculate the number there is no flag raised to suggest anything is wrong. The system is designed around confirming an optimal expected outcome.

In real life? You set a target for ’employee attrition’ and you are delighted that you are beating it whenever you get a report – and then you realise that the reason is nobody is prepared to effectively manage performance anymore.

Or you want to increase diversity and you are delighted when you recruitment reporting suggests you are increasing the attraction of applicants from minority groups in percentage terms – only to realise that it is only the fact that you have fallen behind market rate on salary and your traditional attraction methods have just stopped attracting from your normal hiring pool

We live in world where we are steadily reducing things to numbers, to strings of data, to attempt to solve puzzles by being told whether the answer is right or not by a machine. We lock into assumptions about people and organisations and then find supporting evidence. We read the latest report from a large consultancy and find the fact that it confirms what we thought reassuring – without pausing to consider that it also confirms their services as being of value. We look for individuals who are a cultural fit – without pausing to think what just adding more of the same robs us of.  We don’t look for the counterpoint, for the evidence that suggests we are wasting our time or misdirected, as we don’t have time or inclination.

Generalisations – but a hint of truth in there for most people. That’s the second facet of the Jurassic Park problem – we don’t stop to think about whether we should do activity – and if we do stop we are simply looking for confirmation that we were right in the first place.

We believe what the system tells us.

“We live in a world of frightful givens. It is given that you will behave like this, given that you will care about that. No one thinks about the givens. Isn’t it amazing? In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.” Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

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