(ig)Nobel Prizes


My husband listens to a podcast called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

I can’t do math and I don’t know anything about science (which is why I work in HR) but last week’s episode was interesting because I learned about an organization called Improbable Research. It’s a group of smart people who conduct weird scientific experiments (or report on them) and administer something called The Ig Nobel Prizes. From the website:

The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.

This year’s Ig Nobel Management Prize was awarded to Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo of the University of Catania, Italy. They demonstrated (through math) that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.

Without reading the study or understanding the math, I totally love this conclusion. First of all, it helps me to justify my own conclusion that the much of the science behind “management theory” is psuedo-science and pop psychology used to push both a political and economic agenda in the workplace. More importantly, I really love the Ig Nobel conclusion because it’s so much more interesting than the real 2010 Nobel Prize for Economics.

Peter A. Diamond, Dale T. Mortensen and Christopher A. Pissarides [won the award] for their research on “markets with search frictions,” which means any setting where buyers and sellers don’t automatically find each other. Search models are relevant in many settings, including dating, used cars and housing, but above all, these models help us make sense of unemployment.

Hm. Companies have many open requisitions and (claim that) they can’t find the right people with the right skills — but I also know that companies keep positions open for far too long because they don’t know how to hire. It’s not always a market problem rooted in skills/supply/demand. It’s often an assessment or selection problem….

…but there’s no room for this discussion on my blog. And frankly, people will tell me that I’m wrong and that technical and scientific jobs in America go unfilled because of the friction in the market and the insane H1B Visa process.

Fine, go have this discussion on HBR.

I want to go back to the Ig Nobel prize and hear from HR practitioners, I-O psychologists, professors, and employees. (You.) Would love your answers to the following questions.

  • How does your company promote people?
  • Is there a fair and transparent method to select the right people?
  • Does it seem as if people are promoted fairly in your office?

Give me the scoop.

Just don’t talk about math.



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