Archive for June, 2012
Brad Feld put up an great blog post (here) discussing the role of “The Formula” in guiding organisational and individual decision-making. The Formula is a beguiling notion, the idea that sticking to what you know works and has been successful in the past holds deep appeal. For example think Hollywood’s interminable sequels and rejigging of former hits (Feld uses Aaron Sorkin’s TV dramas as to illustrate his point). The trouble with The Formula is that with constant repetition, it becomes commoditised, losing effectiveness and the introduction of new players and copy cats signifies the relentless drop to the lowest common denominator.
The Formula is everywhere, it is not just organisations that refine and perfect an approach to the market, repeatedly returning to what has been effective in the past both for themselves and their competitors. As individuals we constantly revert to what has worked in the past and delivered success, in part this is because we are programmed to replicate successful endeavours. For example, when given a new promotion, many individuals will continue with the behaviour that got them the promotion in the first place, when in reality, their new role calls for a completely different set of behaviours.
The Formula appeals to our desire to simplify and control the complex world around us. However, whilst it can deliver results in the short and medium term, in the long-run it inevitably paves the way for steady yet noticeable decline. This is the problem that organisation’s big and small have the face up to and deal with if they want to really innovate.
Over at HBR (here), Bill Taylor hits the nail on the head regarding the current obsession with innovation. Much like the focus on engagement a couple of years ago, innovation is the current area of focus. Business leaders have co-opted the phrase to launch a number of top down programmes focusing on championing innovation. The advent of the Chief Innovation Officer and innovation teams shows an element of misunderstanding of what is actually required.
Taylor argues that the problem is one of language, the overt use of the word innovation actually hides the fact that very little innovation is actually taking place. Whereas, the companies that really are truly innovative hardly ever, if at all describe what they do as innovative. Instead it comes from passion and purpose, a need to have innovation is a by-product of curiosity
Now, I’m all for leaders who want to ramp up the energy of their colleagues to take more chances and challenge conventional wisdom. But what strikes me about the organizations I’ve encountered that are genuinely innovative is that they rarely use the language of innovation to describe what they do or why they do it.
For me, this comes down to culture, if your organisation doesn’t have a culture of innovation it is almost impossible to artificially create.
I’ve been doing some reading about the online dating industry recently and in particular looking to whether there is a potential use for 4G as a means to predict relationship outcomes. This was kicked off by an article earlier this year in the Association for Psychological Science by Eli J. Finkel, Paul W. Eastwick, Benjamin R. Karney, Harry T. Reis, and Susan Sprecher (here) who raised some interesting questions about the effectiveness of methods used by operators in the booming online dating sector.
In an exhaustive study of what is still a relatively new area of research, the authors examine whether the internet has enabled a better way to find a romantic partner. Undoubtedly the past 15 years has brought a paradigm shift in social attitudes to dating and at first glance it would appear that this has been a boon for lonely hearts. However, as with most things the reality is a little more complex.
Historically, online dating has been based on a number of simple and seemingly sensible assumptions about how best to leverage the scalability of the internet to help people more effectively find long-term partners. Key components are the searchable online personal profile and the proprietary matching algorithms developed by onlines sites that claim to help identify compatibility. This would seem to be a simple and sensible approach, letting people to take control and manage their own introductions.
However, the paper concludes there is no evidence to support the claims to the efficacy of matching algorithms. Furthermore, being faced with a huge number of potential matches does not necessarily make for good decision making. This is no great surprise given the lack of transparency within the online dating industry. The authors also raise another interesting point, that when faced with a large number of profiles to peruse on the web, our decision-making processes are different to situations when we are meeting people face to face. Huge choice has the effect of commoditising the the process and in the majority of cases leads us to self-selecting for individuals most like ourselves. Again, this appears sensible yet may not lead to the best relationships. Unfortunately, online dating sites and other social media are heavily geared towards enabling us to find people who share our interests, in effect using a very simple denominator to make connections. As the authors state;
On the other hand, the heavy emphasis on profile browsing at most dating sites has considerable downsides, and there is little reason to believe that current compatibility algorithms are especially effective.
The more I read about dating, the more it strikes me that direct parallels can be drawn between online dating and recruitment. For personal profiles see online CVs, for matching algorithms see psychometric and other selection tools. Because we now have access to potentially a far large pool of talent through the web, the assumption is that organisations can make better choices when it comes to recruitment. As with dating, I reckon a greater quantity of choices doesn’t necessarily equate to greater quality of decision making.