Last week we had our annual treemagineers gathering in Müllheim, up the road from here. As always, the days passed in a blur, spent bouncing around ideas, concepts and plans for things to come. All very enjoyable and inspiring.
One thing we were discussing is how to assess competence in a person and came up with a list of questions you can ask of someone when attempting to determine this. The process of then running people through this filter flagged up some interesting results and highlighted biases I had not been aware of…
Zeitgeist… we are surrounded and suffused with it, yet often as not hardly aware of it. It can cause us to see things in a distorted fashion – as though we were looking through a magnifying lens.
This reminded me of the distorted world maps sometimes used to portray information linked to geographic reference, a fine example for such graphics can be found in Danny Dorling, Mark Newman and Anna Barford’s book, The Atlas of the Real World – Mapping the Way We Live , which I can highly recommend.
The map below, for example, represents relative projected wealth distribution over the world for 2015.
Upon reflection I believe we filter and sort information in very much this way, in front of the backdrop of the zeitgeist of the age we live in. Our fast-twitch, just in time delivery, digital era puts a strong emphasis on the visual and the immediate. Hence when we were running people through our filter described above, individuals were falling short that surprised me, until I realized that I was falling prey to this very bias: a person who is very present in written or visual form, usually via on-line media, automatically gains a disproportionate amount of credibility and relevance. When actually it is only when you weigh up these properties against others that might serve as an indicators of competence that you realize the way perception is constantly being subtly – or sometimes not so subtly – influenced and colored by the lens of the age we live in, causing us to over-emphasis certain traits.
The exposure offered by social media presents a totally new challenge when it comes to assessing competence, as it allows people to by very present and massively blow up their profile– without actually having to back up their apparent expertise, albeit with fairly shallow placebos for competence.
So I would suggest not to believe the hype, to recognize this selective magnification of properties for what it is and to take it all with a pinch of salt.
Let’s do some real-world talking and keep it real!