What’s the People Version of “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover” and “You Pay More for Higher Quality”?

Blind Date with a Book

Elizabeth Books is a bookshop in Western Australia. The self-proclaimed home of the blind date with a book. Blind tasting for books is the opposite of using differentiation in look to stand out. With the added benefit that you could discover an amazing writer you would have never considered otherwise.

What happens if you take away differentiation in look? The idea of judging a book from its cover falls apart. See what peaks your curiosity from a short summary instead. You might pick up a topic or subject that could surprise and delight you. This is also marketing, only counter-cultural to the industry.

Don't judge a book by its cover

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These are playful examples of creating possibility. By removing information that could bias you create a blank slate and reset expectations.

Other interesting application of this idea include blind music auditions to reduce sex-biased hiring and increase the number of female musicians, and blind hiring practices in general. Starting with the words you use in job descriptions.

For example, if you want to attract a more diverse pool of candidates, swap words like drive with energy, guide, steer, inspire and strong with adjectives like sound, steady, solid. Analytical could become systematic, thoughtful, deductive and proven (overused), established, known, reliable.

Your added bonus is that your job description would not read like you've done a copy and paste of hundreds of others.


Subjective nature of experience

Like books, wines are an “experience good.” You need to taste it before you can evaluate it. This often involves purchasing to consume. Studies on the relationship between pricing and quality for wines are mixed. Some found that better quality sells for higher prices, others have not.

There are statistical models that help explain the ratio of quality and price in wines. Hedonic price functions determine how price is the result of a wine's quality, reputation, variety, region, vintage, and other factors. You might also look at ratings.

Chris Doucouliagos and Eddie Oczkowski conducted a meta-analysis of the relation between wine prices and quality ratings. They found a positive and statistically significant correlation in about 90 percent of cases. It's not perfect. Some wines are over-priced, some under-priced. Oczkowski developed a Wine Price Calculator for Australia.

The statistical approach reminds me of the testing and assessments in hiring processes. They attempt to eliminate subjectivity by injecting a measure of statistical analysis. But, many of the tools companies are using are not perfect. There's still the potential of belief and the opinion of experts weighing on the making of the assessment.

Statistics and the opinion of experts could still let you down. So for wines, as for books, you could follow the “preferences and prejudices” of a critic and connoisseur you know and trust. We've done that for people long before we started weighing and measuring everything to try to get it perfect.


What's the people version?

Work and hiring have been broken for a while. What do current hiring practices mean for people and companies? Context is a big one few think about. Examples of context include supply and demand for the role, company culture, the experience and knowledge of your recruiter and hiring manager, industry competition… and the role of luck.

Quality thinking and doing still matter. But as Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo of the University of Catania, Italy demonstrated mathematically, organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random. For that they won the IG Nobel prize 2010 for Management.

Perhaps then we could go back to the tabula rasa or blank slate approach in hiring, mindful that, as Johann Hari put so well,

“The truth is that you are living in a system

that is pouring acid on your attention every day,

and then you are being told to blame yourself

and to fiddle with your own habits

while the world's attention burns.”


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