“Normal person” is an oxymoron, welcome uniqueness!

Nonlinear dynamical system

“Normal person” is an oxymoron, welcome uniqueness!

Organizations have had the tendency to see humans as predictable, measurable, controllable resources that can be somehow categorized into personalities, profiles, capabilities and whose behavior we can exert Gaussian statistics, normal distributions and deviation thinking on.

Sorry guys. Old school!

Studying neuroanatomy and neurophysiology reveals that

a)   We have a long way to go to understand our brains fully. It is a complex adaptive system. (Kelso, 1995)

b)   Neuroplasticity is a condition spanning over a lifetime (Kempermann et al. 2002), our brains (i.e. the system) constantly change, regenerate, degenerate, and create new connections.

c)    The outcome, your behavior, can be seen as an expression of this complex adaptive system’s state.

Everything depends. Everyone is unique. Everything impacts the system. The system itself is under constant change, which, again impacts the system’s possible states (Juarrero, 2010). It is crazy! So all in all, the brain and our behaviours are dependent of a beautiful enormous complex entity.

Organizing people-related functions by the notion that behavior can be normalized or standardized, and expecting and pursuing stability of the system is doomed to fail.

HR departments are facing the biggest mind shift in a century. HR needs to let go of Gaussian curves, reporting mostly self-reported (subjective) compartmentalized people measures (reaching targets, engagement, leadership etc.) gathered retrospectively by occasional snapshots (i.e. twice a year by questionnaire), and trying to impact the complex people system with standardized methods or levers (let’s roll out this method to everyone, let’s have this incentive system to motivate everyone…).

Where to, then?

Towards systems thinking, big data on the people side with predictive analytics mining real behavior and/or narrative data, towards uniqueness of individuals. Towards personified information, performance metrics, feedback, incentives, and benefits. Towards impacting the system creating an overall healthy work environment (system conditions, levers, catalysts). Towards embedding brain friendly values and respect into all processes, levering trust and freedom through brain-friendly practices and policies, and towards experimental development of the system. Towards expecting performance, healthy leadership, ownership and results to come out of the system.

It’s a long way, and I don’t know a fraction of it, but I have started walking.

Thanks for reading!



Juarrero, A. (2010). Complex Dynamical Systems Theory. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://cognitive-edge.com/uploads/articles/100608%20Complex_Dynamical_Systems_Theory.pdf

Kelso, J.A.S. (1995). Dynamic Patterns: The Self-Organization of Brain and Behavior (Complex Adaptive Systems). Massachussetts Institute of Technology. P. 257-283.

Kempermann, G., Gast, D., Gage, F.H. (2002, August). Neuroplasticity in old age: Sustained fivefold induction of hippocampal neurogenesis by long-term environmental enrichment. Annals of Neurology, Vol 52 (2), p.135–143.

Photo credit: kevin dooley / Foter / CC BY

An agile recruitment process or just a interestingly executed normal one?


I was not looking for a job. Out of nowhere, a job posting appeared and it seemed to be connecting all of the dots, including a larger appealing meaning though the company’s mission & tech. I could not resist applying. I really wanted to see if that job was a fit as it was presented in the ad and through preliminary discussions.

First, an interview with two professional HR persons, who had done their homework and were interested in getting to know me. Great interview, mostly going through my work history, giving them the “story”. Good energy, common respect, checking that mutual thinking exists, checking that the story is coherent and getting a gut feeling of me/each other as persons.

Second, one hour interview with a CEO. I had asked to have a discussion about the company’s business and requirements for the role I was applying for, asked them to prepare for a discussion rather than “an interview”. Unfortunately the CEO had not spent time going through my CV, so the framing in the beginning of the 1 h interview was “Go through your story with the CEO”. (Really? …Bummer. Well maybe a force majeure hindered him from doing that. So, CV, again, then? Well, fine..). So I went through my story, they asked some additional questions. There was very little relevant professional discussion about the actual job, the objectives, the business, the challenges they face, what I’d do about it all if I worked there. Mostly chatting about what I have done so far. The following sentences were heard from the CEO during the interview “We are not so sure what we really need this role for” and “I’m not sure what you would do the 40 hours a week here”. (Umm? What? And another ummm…what?! It was you posting the ad, right?) It took 50 minutes to have a chat about my profile and my past. I had asked for a little time to discuss business and see if our thoughts and values align with the CEO. Ten minutes remained for this kind of a discussion and it is very important to me checking that the values align. I thought we’d continue with relevant interviews later on. So, I checked that we both live on the agile, self-directed, modern work centric spectrum, and not on the old-school, top-down, command-control hierarchical one. (Great! We all had the same thinking of agile, self-directed organizations.)

Time was up.

Well, maybe we could continue talking about the actual business, maybe we could get to discuss the expected value added of the role. Maybe we could discuss the strengths and weaknesses. Maybe they could test applicants with a real task of some kind. I clarified my suggestion of what they could be looking for in the role the day after the interview by e-mail and asked them to clarify the role if we meet again. I clarified that I had expectations of people to prepare for the discussions and added some of my relevant discussion topics for a possible follow-up interview. (Darn, I am a terribly difficult person to recruit! I was asking for them to do their homework!)

Yesterday I got a call that they would not continue the recruitment process with me. Reasons: “your thinking about agile values & HR does not bring anything new to us” (Yes. Exactly that was the point, to assure to myself that the CEO builds on common ground) and “we will continue with applicants who have done this job before”.

I’m just left with one semi-important question: What was the job then? (…and when did you figure it out?)

I find it rather hilarious. I’m thinking both parties’ gut feeling was the real no go. I’m not sure if the recruitment process was a new application of scrum/agile (as in “we don’t know exactly what we are looking for, but will iterate and  find out during the process”, which is a very intriguing thought actually!!) or just badly executed (as in “we haven’t really had time to think about this and want someone who can tell us what to do”). I’m guessing the second, but I like the first a lot.

What I learnt as an applicant:

  • Always ask what the purpose of the specific interview is. I.e. which decisions are made after this interview?
  • Always ask the company to clarify the business objectives of the role so there is mutual understanding of what you should be talking about.
  • I would like to have tailored my own recruitment process. Which gives me a totally new idea of Agile HR, which I like a lot. Why not turn the ownership around when you have 4-6 applicants remaining? The more I think about it, the more I like that idea.
  • I am immensely intrigued by the idea of starting a “matching” process without knowing exactly what you are looking for. As in using scrum type of thinking for recruitment. This is the kind of cognitive dissonance that my brain loves! I have no idea why or how to execute that in a graceful manner (yet) but will let my unconscious work on that until it is sorted.

Suggestions to any hiring CEO:

  1. Do your homework
    Read CV, LinkedIn, blog, twitter etc. of the applicant. (in Finland: if the applicant has given you permission to do that). Don’t waste precious interview time on this
  2. Do your homework
    Clarify to yourself what need the new person or role should fulfill, the need of the organization, your customers, your employees, your needs, your management team’s needs. Prepare to explicitly say these expectations out loud in an interview. Talk about the important stuff! You should be sure the pre-work has been done well, and people who you interview should have the necessary skill set for the job.
  3. Do your homework
    Prepare to talk about the job, objectives, business, and challenges and ask the applicant of their view, opinions, and thinking – this is basically free consulting work from certainly capable people on your most important needs. You can even prepare the applicant with material about your company (such as balance sheets, customer data, project profitability/scrum charts, people data…), if you want to pick their brains.
  4. Trust your gut feeling
    When you’ve done your homework and you have gained understanding of the person’s thinking and actions connected to the job, your mind should have gathered enough data about the applicant. If you need to work with this person side by side, it needs to feel right. There are numerous research results that suggest we are terrible at judging people’s potential for a job on gut feeling, that algorithms are better at it than us. I believe our internal algorithm, developed by our nervous system over hundreds of thousands of years, tells us a lot about whether or not there is a natural kind of immediate trust between the two of you or not.

I really want this company to succeed, and cheer for whoever they will choose for the role (because clearly, it was not a fit for me). These two recruitment ideas and the experience I got from this process are worth a lot. All of my jobs so far have been gained through my network. By connecting with people, hearing about openings through common contacts and applying, being asked to help. As a consultant the same – mostly I work with customers who contact me because they heard about me through the grapevine. So the experience of actually cold applying for a job is new to me!

Ps. Watch out if you’d like to recruit me, I might ask for permission to design my own recruitment process next…


Photo credit: WaywardShinobi / Foter / CC BY-SA