Human Resources at work
Date: Fri, 27 Sep 91 09:16:39 PDT
Subject: Human Resources at work
"Tell the King that he's as safe as a fox being hunted by a pack of one-legged
hunting tortoises." -- Lord Edmund Blackadder, loyalist
PACHYDERMIC PERSONNEL PREDICTION
by Peter C. Olsen
A bold new proposal for matching
high-technology people and professions
Over the years, the problem of finding the right person for the
right job has consumed thousands of worker-years of research and
millions of dollars in funding. This is particularly true for
high-technology organizations where talent is scarce and
expensive. Recently, however, years of detailed study by the
finest minds in the field of psychoindustrial interpersonnel
optimization have resulted in the development of a simple and
foolproof test to determine the best match between personality
and profession. Now, at last, people can be infallibly assigned
to the jobs for which they are truly best suited.
The procedure is simple: Each subject is sent to Africa to hunt
elephants. The subsequent elephant-hunting behavior is then
categorized by comparison to the classification rules outlined
below. The subject should be assigned to the general job
classification that best matches the observed behavior.
Mathematicians hunt elephants by going to Africa, throwing out
everything that is not an elephant, and catching one of whatever
is left. Experienced mathematicians will attempt to prove the
existence of at least one unique elephant before proceeding to
step 1 as a subordinate excercise. Professors of mathematics
will prove the existence of at least one unique elephant and then
leave the detection and capture of an actual elephant as an
excercise for their graduate students.
Computer scientists hunt elephants by excercising Algorithm A:
1. Go to Africa.
2. Start at the Cape of Good Hope.
3. Work northward in an orderly manner, traversing the continent
alternately east and west.
4. During each traverse pass,
a. Catch each animl seen.
b. Compare each animal caught to a known elephant.
c. Stop when a match is detected.
Experienced computer programmers modify Algorithm A by placing a
known elephant in Cairo to ensure that the algorithm will
terminate. Assembly language programmers prefer to execute
Algorithm A on their hands and knees.
Engineers hunt elephants by going to Africa, catching gray
animals at random, and stopping when any one of them weighs
within plus or minus 15 percent of any previously observed
Economists don't hunt elephants, but they believe that if
elephants are paid enough, they will hunt themselves.
Statisticians hunt the first animal they see N times and call it
Consultants don't hunt elephants, and many have never hunted
anything at all, but they can be hired by the hour to advise
those people who do. Operations research consultants can also
measure the correlation of hat size and bullet color to the
efficiency of elephant-hunting strategies, if someone else will
only identify the elephants.
Politicians don't hunt elephants, but they will share the
elephants you catch with the people who voted for them.
Lawyers don't hunt elephants, but they do follow the herds around
arguing about who owns the droppings. Software lawyers will
claim that they own an entire herd based on the look and feel of
Vice presidents of engineering, research, and development try
hard to hunt elephants, but their staffs are designed to prevent
it. When the vice president does get to hunt elephants, the
staff will try to ensure that all possible elephants are
completely prehunted before the vice president sees them. If the
vice president does see a nonprehunted elephant, the staff will
(1) compliment the vice president's keen eyesight and (2) enlarge
itself to prevent any recurrence.
Senior managers set broad elephant-hunting policy based on the
assumption that elephants are just like field mice, but with
Quality assurance inspectors ignore the elephants and look for
mistakes the other hunters made when they were packing the jeep.
Salespeople don't hunt elephants but spend their time selling
elephants they haven't caught, for delivery two days before the
season opens. Software salespeople ship the first thing they
catch and write up an invoice for an elephant. Hardware
salespeople catch rabbits, paint them gray, and sell them as
A validation survey was conducted about these rules. Almost all
the people surveyed about these rules were valid. A few were
invalid, but they expected to recover soon. Based on the survey,
a statistical confidence level was determined. Ninety-five
percent of the people surveyed have at least 67 percent
confidence in statistics.
This study has benefited from the suggestions and observations of
many people, all of whom would prefer not to be mentioned by
© 1991 Peter Langston