Based on the recent comments from Stowe and Justin, the idea of a Physics of People is both valuable and represents something potentially unique. Given that the idea has the potential to transform business, the following post outlines the five criteria by which any transformation might take place.
A Starting Assumption
Although there is no shortage of models, assessments, psychometrics and techniques that help raise self awareness and provide insights, none offer predictions about people that are either regular or reliable enough to be used on a widespread basis.
The large number of tests, models and approaches is evidence of this. If a particular tool did provide useful and reliable predictions that improved understanding and decision making, then it's usage and popularity would increase over time. Given that the vast majority of techniques and approaches have been on the market for 20 or 30 years plus, this is ample time for a consensus or market leader to have emerged with these qualities.
The other example that illustrates this assumption is the perception that HR doesn't add value to the business. There is no shortage of commentary around this and in many cases, this line of reasoning has persisted since the Personnel Department was renamed Human Resources. The fact that HR can't call on any widely used method or approach that offers reliable and actionable predictions and insights about people is probably one of the reason's for this current perception of HR.
In summary, if one looks at the market structure for tools, tests and techniques, or the perceptions of the HR department, there doesn't seem to be anything that might come close to offering a 'Physics of People'.
The 5 Criteria for Transformation
When thinking about business transformation and what qualifies as an example of genuine transformation, as opposed to rhetoric, there are five criteria that provide a good test.
- Simple to Explain - Can the benefits be communicated and understood quickly and easily?
- Scalable and Predictable - Can the approach and it's recommended actions be repeated with reliable results?
- Changes to People’s Jobs - Do people learn new processes or new methods of working?
- A Return on Investment - Does the approach help make or save money?
- External Validation - Are there endorsements from researchers, professional bodies or other companies?
Hopefully, the list above is simple and straightforward. Further information and detailed examples applied to 6 innovations can be found here. To summarise, of the 6 innovations, 3 met all 5 criteria and could be considered transformative, namely Containerisation, ERP and Six Sigma. Of the other 3, Knowledge Management and Competency Frameworks, despite having 20 or more years to do so, don't meet all of the criteria and are not considered transformative. Finally, the jury is out on Social Business, partly because it is a new technology or series of technologies and partly because case studies and client side applications are still new, as illustrated in this review of Gartner's Hype Cycle.
The 5 Criteria as Applied to a Physics of People
With the above examples in mind, it is proposed that the 5 criteria outlined are a useful way to analyse new technologies and innovations and their potential for transformation. The following sets out the attributes that a Physics of People would need to have in order to have the best chance at transforming business.
1. Simple to Explain
A 'Physics of People' should provide reliable predictions about people's behaviour, relationships and group values that are simple and actionable.
2. Scalable & Predictable
Consistent predictions should be accurate and reliable in multiple scenarios and contexts. In other words, the predictions should be generalisable.
3. Changes to People's Jobs
New processes, particularly around team creation, organisational design, paths of communication and hiring introduce new ways of working and changes to people's jobs.
4. Return on Investment
The predictions and decisions taken as a result of a 'Physics of People' approach help raise people's own levels of engagement and satisfaction, along with improving business and group performance and productivity.
5. External Validation
Any 'Physics of People' model or approach should have appropriate recognition from professional bodies, other companies or academic researchers.
What a Physics of People is Not
While the criteria arguably do a good job of defining what a 'Physics of People' is, it's also worth noting what it isn't. Firstly, a Physics of People doesn't disregard the essential nature of people's free will, neither does it limit people in any way. In addition, the idea doesn't incorporate moral judgements about people, for example, that one person is better or worse than the other or that certain groups of people are favoured over other groups.
As technology, research and innovation progress, it will be interesting to see how the analysis above shapes up, both in terms of other examples of business transformation but also as a way to assess any likely approaches for a Physics of People.