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Thank God for affirmative action

  • By Alan Knott-Craig
  • January 26, 2012

26 January 2012

I was at Exclusive Books the other day, killing an hour whilst looking after my kids. During the random wandering amongst the shelves something caught my eye. It was a book, surprise surprise. It was not a book about business, tech, history or psychology, my usual favourites. It was a book about girls.


I read the back sleeve and decided to buy it. I read it that night and it opened my eyes even more to how different guys and gals are (seriously, its like we’re a different species of mammal!)


My point? If not for the potential of serendipitous discovery offered by bookstores I would never have bought this book. I love my Kindle, and I think Amazon is really awesome in how it guides me towards books I will probably enjoy. But. Amazon would never have recommended I read a book about girls.


The great irony of Amazon is that it guided me towards a book called the Filter Bubble, which argues that invisible choices are being made for us by Google algorithms, the Facebook social graph, and Amazon social recommendations, thereby eliminating serendipity from our individual quests for knowledge.


Thank God for bookstores.


Upon reflection I realize the importance of serendipity also applies to recruiting people.  Most of us will only recruit people via personal reference, which by definition means that most people we recruit will be like ourselves. Also, we are naturally attracted people of the same race, language, religion, profession, sex, whatever.


Whilst the insertion of people that are radically different to the majority is risky and can end in tears, it can also be the catalyst for massive innovation simply through the power of looking at things from a different perspective.


So it’s important to force serendipity into your company’s recruitment process.


Thank God for affirmative action.