Friday, September 21, 2012

Strengths and Weaknesses as characteristics for selection

I have been considering the issue of identity by catalogs of strengths and weaknesses.

I have come to the conclusion that the strengths/virtues/assets are only interesting when they are in some fashion Unique.  Rather, its the weaknesses/ failings / lacks that characterise people much more interstingly.

Here is the train of thought:

In a workplace where most people are able to "do" the items of work that they are collectivly engaged in... its the inability to do the work that marks someone out as different. Similarly, in a workplace where the work is unusually challenging, there may only be a few people who can do that work.  However,  the recruitment process will select for those people with capacity (hopefully) so the population should remain generally capable.  (Yes there are situations out in the tails of the bell curve that will always be exceptions... missing the point)

First assumption: More of the population can do the "thing" than cannot.  This makes the "weakness" (inability to do that thing) the exception rather than the rule.  Being able to do the "thing" becomes convention, assumed... etc.  Its the "norm".

However, the "abnormal" is a noteworthy characteristic.  Inability to satisfy the norm is "different", while ability to "over-satisfy" the norm critieria is a bit interesting but generally not "big news". 

My point being that apart from people who are super heros at stuff, its those who are "less than" or weak at being "normal" that get commented apon. 

Assumption 2:  Normal is a spectrum with a fairly well determined center. 
I think there has to be a "satisfactory" point on the normal spectrum above which you are "normal" and below which you are "abnormal". Its probably got a reasonable grey zone around it, as all things to do with human judgement have... but its there in some form.  And its only those who fall behind that will be commented upon. 

My takeaway is essentially, its nice to be normal or a super-normal person... but it doesn't really get you much (in comparison)  while its pretty bad to be below the "satisfactory" point as that probably gets you a whole lotta pain.  You are essentially "out". 

So to round this train of thought out... its probably not worth the effort to catalog people's traits where they fall above the "satisfactory" line and only keep track of those who fall below the line. Simply because its less data to keep track of in your head. 

If you have watched any reality televison where the participants are actually challenged (not the ones that sit around in a big pathetic goldfish bowl) then its more often a case of understanding the participants weaknesses in any given scenario than it is to keep track of their strengths. 

Again, as I said earlier... strengths are only interesting when they are "Unique" or rare in some fashion and so are not "normal". (Topic for a different ramble)

(Can you tell I have been reading "The Theory of Evolution" again...)

How can this be used to create efficient selection algorithms?  Well that depends on the application and the assumptions about the task I guess.

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