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    Monday
    Mar052012

    A Tax on Old Technology

    This little piece in Engadget caught my attention yesterday - AT&T urging customers to upgrade to 3G, possibly killing off 2G. The main takeaway from the piece is that for several technical and financial reasons AT&T wants to migrate users of older technology, (phones, network protocols), to newer 3G or 4G communications networks.Rocking the 2G

    For the moment let's put aside the question, (that I personally think is pretty relevant), that AT&T and many other mobile providers do more to confuse their customers and the general public with all the references to 3G and 4G and LTE and HSPA+, than they do to educate and inform (and sell), about the real value proposition to the customer of upgrading. Does anyone really understand all the little acronyms and symbols and little indicators framing a mobile phone display? Save for 'How many bars?' But, I digress.

    Why I really took notice of the Engadget piece was how it reinforces the costs, or as the writer expressed it, the 'tax' that is more and more frequently being levied on users of old technology, or in the form of a kind of opportunity cost, (and sometimes real cost), for those among us who for various reasons have decided against the adoption of new technology. Think about most examples of older technology that you still may possess and use - an old TV in the spare room or in your office, a coffee maker you have had for 10 years, maybe an old truck you keep around to use in the winter, (really common where I live). While these examples, (and many others), might offer fewer features and less capability than the latest LCD flat screen, or high-end espresso-cappuccino-single cup mega-machine, they still function, they still get the job done, and (at least for now), whomever sold them to you isn't turning up at your house to let you know you need to upgrade pretty soon or they won't work any more.

    And beyond that, think about how many of us, (me included), sometimes feel about those late or never-adopters. While most of the rest of the world has moved to debit and credit cards, you get stuck behind the guy in the grocery check out line who is paying with a paper check. Or maybe you're waiting at the airport stuck in a queue because some passengers can't quite grasp the nuances of the mandatory check-in kiosks. Or possibly you're starting to get frustrated with a co-worker or business associate that has yet to upgrade off of their 2G phone so they can get mobile E-mail access, and thus be available to respond immediately to all of your 1:30AM on Saturday missives. We seethe at those people, smug in our technological superiority.

    The one general law of technology is that it always advances. Faster, better, more amazing all the time. And the rate of that acceleration is only well, accelerating.  Making it really easy to be left behind. Making the cost or tax or missed opportunities only larger.

    Mostly, we are ok with that. We usually, eventually see the benefits of the new technologies as greater than the monetary, psychological, and emotional switching costs. We pay out for the flat screen, the iPhone, the GPS for the car, even if we don't really have to. We still have a choice, though.

    But as the AT&T example shows, sometimes we don't have a choice, sometimes the technology drags us along regardless. And again, mostly we are ok with that too.

    Until the day when 'Big Coffee' figures out a way to render all those old drip coffee makers useless. 

    Then we might see a revolt.

    Friday
    Mar022012

    Off Topic - Shut it. Shut your trap I said.

    Did you have to endure a meeting this week where someone just would not let go of a topic and kept blathering on and on endlessly?

    Did you find yourself stuck on a commuter train or bus or maybe waiting on a plane when Mr. or Ms. Big Shot Important Person could not get off their mobile phones for one second, subjecting you and everyone else around them to the intimate details of their (boring) lives?

    Or maybe, just maybe, that significant other in your life has been on your case about something you sort-of-but-not-really promised you'd do and have not managed to get around to it yet?

    Well I just might have a solution for you - get yourself one of these cool Speech-Jamming guns, direct it towards the person you'd like to silence, and suddenly.... Shut it!

    The details of this awesome new invention come courtesy of the MIT Technology Review's Physics Blog with this piece - How to Build a Speech-Jamming Gun

    From the MIT piece:

    The drone of speakers who won't stop is an inevitable experience at conferences, meetings, cinemas, and public libraries. 

    Today, Kazutaka Kurihara at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tskuba and Koji Tsukada at Ochanomizu University, both in Japan, present a radical solution: a speech-jamming device that forces recalcitrant speakers into submission. 

    The idea is simple. Psychologists have known for some years that it is almost impossible to speak when your words are replayed to you with a delay of a fraction of a second. 

    Kurihara and Tsukada have simply built a handheld device consisting of a microphone and a  speaker that does just that: it records a person's voice and replays it to them with a delay of about 0.2 seconds. The microphone and speaker are directional so the device can be aimed at a speaker from a distance, like a gun. 

    In tests, Kurihara and Tsukada say their speech jamming gun works well: "The system can disturb remote people's speech without any physical discomfort."

    Money. Shut up that person who needs, (at least in your mind), shutting up with the added bit of awesomeness in using their own words fired back at them. I'd love to try one of these out sometime.

    What do you think - did you find yourself looking around for a Speech-Jamming gun this week?

    Have a Great Weekend!

    Thursday
    Mar012012

    Before You Know You Want One

    Did you catch this fantastic piece from the New York Times last week - 'How Companies Learn Your Secrets', an inside look at how the major retailer Target has combined it's extensive data collection efforts with insight into shopper's tendencies and habits in order to better tailor promotions and outreach efforts, and match them more accurately with with what products that shoppers are likely to want? The focus of the Times article was Target's work around using data and analytics to attempt to predict which shoppers might be pregnant, and with that knowledge, send them more focused ads and offers for things like prenatal vitamins and maternity clothing.

    It is an incredibly interesting piece, and I'd encourage everyone to read it, as it offers not just a peek behind the curtain at a multi-billion dollar merchandising machine, but also suggests other ways that the ability to capture, analyze, interpret, and make actionable copious amounts of data presents an area of opportunity for organizations and disciplines of all kinds. A quick read provides three important takeaways from the piece that are worth remembering:

    1. Timing is everything. From the Times

    Consumers going through major life events often don’t notice, or care, that their shopping habits have shifted, but retailers notice, and they care quite a bit. At those unique moments, Andreasen wrote, customers are “vulnerable to intervention by marketers.” In other words, a precisely timed advertisement, sent to a recent divorcee or new homebuyer, can change someone’s shopping patterns for years.

    2. If you're not thinking about how to manage and derive value out of all this data, you might be already a step behind your competition.

    Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a “predictive analytics” department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them. “But Target has always been one of the smartest at this,” says Eric Siegel, a consultant and the chairman of a conference called Predictive Analytics World. “We’re living through a golden age of behavioral research. It’s amazing how much we can figure out about how people think now.”

    3. But having all this data, and ability to extract meaning and opportunity from the data, doesn't absolve an organization of thinking hard about how it has collected the data, and the expectations and possible reactions of the consumers, (or candidates), about how the data is used.

    At which point someone asked an important question: How are women going to react when they figure out how much Target knows?

    “If we send someone a catalog and say, ‘Congratulations on your first child!’ and they’ve never told us they’re pregnant, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable,” Pole told me. “We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.”

    Is there an equivalent or at least approximate set of takeaways for the HR and Talent professional?

    Definitely. Hitting a top performer with a high-profile and challenging assignment before they drop their two-weeks on your desk, understanding where the next set of company stars and leaders are likely to come from based on your assessment of the data on the current team, while making sure the data you're digging up on employee, candidates, and competitors doesn't make you too uncomfortable are all applicable takes from the Times story on Target.

    It's all Predictive Analytics these days. Maybe you need a refresher course.

    It's only the next big thing if you've never thought about it much. Then it might be the latest thing you just missed.

    Wednesday
    Feb292012

    Anticipated Regret and Chasing a Sure Thing

    Finally, the 24/7 Jeremy Lin is dying down somewhat. A combination of LeBron, Dwayne and the rest of the Miami Heat laying a bit of a smackdown and sending a message to Lin and the Knicks, along with the mid-season All Star break, have combined to (mercifully), let the #Linsanity fall off the radar in the last few days. It is hard to know how the rest of the season will play out for Lin; the Miami game showed opposing teams are now well aware of his game, his tendencies, and have adapted their strategies to counter the elements that Lin has brought to the Knicks in the last few weeks. Lin is a smart and talented player though, and most observers think that while he is unlikely to continue scoring 20 or 25 points a night, he should continue to develop into a quality starting point guard, hopefully filling a glaring hole in the Knicks lineup.The next sure thing

    But over 100 words in, this post isn't actually about Lin, at least not directly. As I spent some time this weekend reading many of the articles and posts about #Linsanity that I had bookmarked during the last two weeks, this piece from Wired, 'What Jeremy Lin Teaches Us About Talent' stuck out, not so much for the origniality of the take - that often we aren't very good at recognizing talent when it is right under our noses, but rather for one of the references in the piece, to a 2010 paper called 'The Loser's Curse: Overconfidence vs. Market Efficiency in the National Football League', by Cade Massey and Richard Thaler.

    The Massey/Thaler paper examines over two decades of National Football League draft results, compares player draft position to demonstrated performance once the drafted players enter the league, and eventually makes several interesting conclusions about the success in evaluation of potential players by NFL talent evaluators. Chief among these conclusions is that despite ridiculous amounts of easily discoverable demonstrated performance results, (video of draft candidate's college games), detailed and specific pre-draft assessment testing, and years of experience at their jobs, that NFL talent professionals are only slightly better at choosing between any two players than simply flipping a coin - higher drafted players outperform lower drafted players only 52% of the time.

    The paper goes on to recommend that based on analysis of the performance of players selected in the draft that 'trading down', e.g. swapping say a team's 1st round selection in the draft, for multiple lower round selections, perhaps for additional 2nd and 3rd round picks, is usually a better strategy than holding on to that high pick, particularly when, as the authors contend, the likelihood of superior outcomes produced by multiple lower round picks is quite high. Essentially, they argue, that NFL teams overvalue high draft picks, a condition only exacerbated by the fact that these high draft picks usually are well known players, and fan and media pressure for teams to select these known quantity 'sure thing' players is really high.

    Why do teams often hold on to these high picks, and irrationally chase these sure things? The paper offers the concept of 'anticipated regret', or the idea that missing out on a player, that they had a chance to select, only to see him succeed with another team, is just too painful for teams to stomach, and they feel they have to exercise draft rights on such a player, even when the data suggest that, over time, they'd probably be better off passing, and trading down to accumulate more lower picks.

    In the NFL and other sports, anticipated regret is all too real, since the actual performance of players not selected by a given team is all to available. Deciding not to select a highly touted player that turns out to be a star for another team, can often become an albatross, weighing a team down for years, (see Trail Blazers, Portland).

    Back in the real world though, anticipated regret does not play into corporate talent evaluation and recruiting all that much. Candidates that we pass on usually head off to parts unknown, and if we do know what becomes of them, we rarely have insight into performance details at whatever endeavor they pursue. We know how the person we did select worked out of course, but that extra bit of information, how the person(s) we passed on turned out, well we can only guess at that.

    Which is kind of too bad I think. Because I think we would all get better at evaluating talent if we could see the full picture, not just how the person we hired worked out, but how the ones we didn't hire ended up. Because if we keep missing, well then maybe we'd change our approach, maybe we'd be willing to trade down from time to time, instead of always chasing the sure thing.

     

    Tuesday
    Feb282012

    I do not think it means what you think it means

    Very random and kind of funny tweet that I spotted in my quest to maintain constant vigilance on all things related to the Talent Management systems space, this one from a random Twitter user in an unknown role at an undetermined company:

     

    Kind of funny, and I suppose not terribly unfair. Now I realize that our friend Sally here might not represent the majority of individuals at his or any organization that is considering or actively working on Talent Management technology projects, and I also realize that no matter how well planned, how perfectly aligned, and how well the value is communicated to the team that there are always going to be some detractors or nay-sayers in any big tech project. And it could be that for this organization, this opinion and reaction is in the decided minority and the folks driving the talent project would do well to push forward with their plans and not let this kind of thing slow them down.

    I don't really highlight this amusing tweet to make a case that everyone in an organization needs to be on board with big changes and major HR technology initiatives, because that simply is not possible. Why the tweet was interesting to me though is how it actually called out the specific terminology used by his organization's HR team - 'Talent Management System' as being almost laughable. And that I think might be a fair point.

    While the term might make perfect sense to vendors to describe what they are building and marketing, and resonate with an organization's business and HR leaders as what they need to focus on, I wonder for the average person, (like I am assuming the author of this tweet to be), the terminology at best means almost nothing, and at worst is a little insulting.

    I can imagine our friend Sally thinking, 'Wait a minute here. I am the talent. I am not at all sure that I want HR to install a big, new system to manage me.'

    I don't know anything about this specific project, but I do know this - if what you decide to call your project, system, initiative - whatever, repels and possibly insults the very people whose buy-in you need to make the entire thing work, well then you are probably in some trouble.

    What do you think? Is it time to re-think the phrase 'Talent Management Systems?'

    Have a better idea?