Would you hire these people? IBM Watson speaks to personality

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett March 16, 2015
Summary:
IBM Watson's predictive algorithms have been the subject of much discussion. What if they were incorporated into HR pre-selection processes?

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IBM Personality Insights visualization

Predictive analytics is a common talking point among colleagues. HR is one area where it might have useful application. The thinking goes that if you could predict when someone is thinking about leaving (other than when you see their LinkedIn profile being updated) then as a hiring manager you might want to take preventative steps to ensure that person remains with the business.

There are many possible approaches to this problem. But staff churn is only one dimension. What about when hiring or considering for a new team?

IBM's Watson attempts to assess a person through analysis of their writing. This is what it says about Watson Personality Insights:

The Watson Personality Insights service uses linguistic analytics to extract a spectrum of cognitive and social characteristics from the text data that a person generates through blogs, tweets, forum posts, and more.

This is the sort of data that HR managers crave since it can provide a shortcut to understanding personality traits. Here's how it perceives the personality behind some folk you might not otherwise recognize:

You are boisterous, informal and can be perceived as insensitive.

You are laid-back: you appreciate a relaxed pace in life. You are proud: you hold yourself in high regard, satisfied with who you are. And you are calm under pressure: you handle unexpected events calmly and effectively.

Your choices are driven by a desire for efficiency.

You are relatively unconcerned with independence: you welcome when others direct your activities for you. You don't find taking pleasure in life to be particularly motivating for you: you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment.

Is this someone who might fit your team profile? Bit boisterous but relaxed while efficient but willing to be directed. Sounds like a reasonable choice - if that's what you think of Steve Jobs under Watson's analysis of his 'Here's to the crazy ones' speech.

What about:

You are shrewd, skeptical and can be perceived as indirect.

You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are unconcerned with art: you are less concerned with artistic or creative activities than most people who participated in our surveys. And you are unstructured: you do not make a lot of time for organization in your daily life.

Your choices are driven by a desire for belongingness.

You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider helping others to guide a large part of what you do: you think it is important to take care of the people around you.

This sounds like the right balance of skills for a team based upon problem solving for known unknowns. But then would you really want Prof Richard Dawkins on your team? In some circumstances - probably. In many, not so much.

...or how about:

You are inner-directed, skeptical and can be perceived as inconsiderate.

You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. And you are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself.

Your choices are driven by a desire for modernity.

You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider helping others to guide a large part of what you do: you think it is important to take care of the people around you.

A person of contrasts but that is what Watson thinks of yours truly.

Speaking for myself, I see a good deal of truth in these statements as they might be perceived publicly but as I opined on Facebook, they're not necessarily in the order in which I would place them. It missed the most important word - curmudgeon. ;) More to the point, these analyses miss out on the fact that each person is writing in a specific context. In my case, it is the persona of the analyst/commenter. In subsequent analyses, the results, while similar were markedly different in characteristics that might be more important in different contexts.

My take

  1. IBM's predictive analysis is an interesting experiment providing plenty of food for thought.
  2. Predictive analytics holds tremendous promise for shortcutting or enhancing the decision making power of many managers. HR topics are one such area where psychometric testing for example has been common for many years. But like all such analyses, they need a nuanced and considered approach. Simply inferring from one or more pieces selected for analysis will likely provide skewed or unrepresentative results.
  3. Context is crucial - or, as I've said many time before: content without context in process is meaningless.
  4. Even so, if this is the face of HR's recruiting future then it lends more credence to the maxim: be careful what you Tweet/blog/update on Facebook and other social media.

Featured image credit: © Olivier Le Moal - Fotolia.com