Monday, July 11, 2022

It’s Time to Streamline the Hiring Process. By Atta Tarki, Tyler Cowen, and Alexandra Ham

It’s Time to Streamline the Hiring Process. Atta Tarki, Tyler Cowen, and Alexandra Ham. Harvard Business Review, July 11, 2022.

Some recommendations:

Reduce the number of interviewers in your process. If you have more than four or five interviewers, chances are that the costs associated with the additional complexity in your process have exceeded the benefits they produce.

Be explicit about whose decision it is. Steer your organizational culture away from a consensus-oriented approach. Instead, for each role make it explicit whose decision it is, who else might have veto power, and that other interviewers should not be offended if a candidate is hired despite not getting their approval. And then keep repeating this message until most of your colleagues adapt to this new approach.

Ask interviewers to use numerical ratings when evaluating candidates. We’ve experienced that doing so helps hiring committees focus on the holistic view rather than on one-off negative comments. Having interviewers submit their ratings before getting input from their colleagues will have the further benefit of reducing the chance of groupthink in your evaluations.

Remove the “Dr. Deaths” from your hiring committee. Track which interviewers turn down the most candidates, and if they are not better at picking good hires, communicate with them that they will be removed from the hiring committee if they don’t correct their behavior.

Change your culture to reward those who spot great hires, not penalizing those who end up with an occasional poor performer. You can further do this by emphasizing the difference between good decisions and good outcomes. Sometimes a fully logical bet will result in a poor outcome. If needs be, call out those spreading negativism.

When the data-generating processes for scarce and ambiguous observations are complex and opaque, a naive observer can improve a bias-variance tradeoff by starting with a simple, underspecified explanation that can be seen as "supernatural"

Lightner, Aaron, and Edward H. Hagen. 2022. “All Models Are Wrong, and Some Are Religious: Supernatural Explanations as Abstract and Useful Falsehoods About Complex Realities.” PsyArXiv. July 11. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Many cognitive and evolutionary theories of religion argue that supernatural explanations are byproducts of our cognitive adaptations. An influential argument states that our supernatural explanations result from a tendency to generate anthropomorphic explanations, and that this tendency is a byproduct of an error management strategy because agents tend to be associated with especially high fitness costs. We propose instead that anthropomorphic and other supernatural explanations result as features of a broader toolkit of well-designed cognitive adaptations, which are designed for explaining the abstract and causal structure of complex, unobservable, and uncertain phenomena that have substantial impacts on fitness. Specifically, we argue that (1) mental representations about the abstract vs. the supernatural are largely overlapping, if not identical, and (2) when the data-generating processes for scarce and ambiguous observations are complex and opaque, a naive observer can improve a bias-variance tradeoff by starting with a simple, underspecified explanation that Western observers readily interpret as "supernatural." We then argue that (3) in many cases, knowledge specialists across cultures offer pragmatic services that involve apparently supernatural explanations, and their clients are frequently willing to pay them in a market for useful and effective services. We propose that at least some ethnographic descriptions of religion might actually reflect ordinary and adaptive responses to novel problems such as illnesses and natural disasters, where knowledge specialists possess and apply the best available explanations about phenomena that would otherwise be completely mysterious and unpredictable.

Unionization increases firms’ costs and operating leverage and, consequently, crowds out investments that potentially impact quality; unions may compromise quality by hurting employee morale and by resisting technological upgrades in the firm

Labor Unions and Product Quality Failures. Omesh Kini, Mo Shen, Jaideep Shenoy, Venkat Subramaniam. Management Science, Aug 27 2021.

Abstract: In this paper, we study the impact of labor unions on product quality failures. We use a product recall as our measure of quality failure because it is an objective metric that is applicable to a broad cross-section of industries. Our analysis employs a union panel setting and close union elections in a regression discontinuity design framework to overcome identification issues. In the panel regressions, we find that firms that are unionized and those that have higher unionization rates experience a greater frequency of quality failures. The results obtain even at a more granular establishment level in a subsample in which we can identify the manufacturing establishment associated with the recalled product. When comparing firms in close elections, we find that firms with close union wins are followed by significantly worse product quality outcomes than those with close union losses. These results are amplified in non–right-to-work states, where unions have a relatively greater influence on the workforce. We find that unionization increases firms’ costs and operating leverage and, consequently, crowds out investments that potentially impact quality. We also find some suggestive evidence that unions may compromise quality by hurting employee morale and by resisting technological upgrades in the firm. Overall, our results suggest that unions have an adverse impact on product recalls, and thus, product quality is an important dimension along which unions impact businesses


Comments by Alex Tabarrok Labor Unions Reduce Product Quality - Marginal REVOLUTION: Two strengths of the paper. First, the authors have relatively objective measures of product quality from thousands of product recalls mandated by the FDA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration covering many different industries. Second the authors use 3 different methods. First, they find that unionized firms are more likely to have recalls than non-unionized firms (a simple difference in means subject to many potential cofounds but I still like to see the raw data), second they find that in a panel model with industry and year fixed effects and other controls that firms which are more unionized have a greater frequency of product recalls. Finally they find that firms where the union just barely won the vote are more likely to have subsequent product recalls than firms for which the union just barely lost the vote--a regression discontinuity study.

The authors put more weight on financial strains caused by unionization as a mechanism whereas my story would be that unionization prevents firms from disciplining shoddy workers and that leads to lower product quality. Note that my theory would also cover teachers unions which the author’s mechanism would not.

The erotic appeal of the human-typical face-to-face posture during sex may related to the fact that human faces have evolved to become more behind-like

From 2016... Kret ME, Tomonaga M (2016) Getting to the Bottom of Face Processing. Species-Specific Inversion Effects for Faces and Behinds in Humans and Chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes). PLoS ONE 11(11): e0165357.

Abstract: For social species such as primates, the recognition of conspecifics is crucial for their survival. As demonstrated by the ‘face inversion effect’, humans are experts in recognizing faces and unlike objects, recognize their identity by processing it configurally. The human face, with its distinct features such as eye-whites, eyebrows, red lips and cheeks signals emotions, intentions, health and sexual attraction and, as we will show here, shares important features with the primate behind. Chimpanzee females show a swelling and reddening of the anogenital region around the time of ovulation. This provides an important socio-sexual signal for group members, who can identify individuals by their behinds. We hypothesized that chimpanzees process behinds configurally in a way humans process faces. In four different delayed matching-to-sample tasks with upright and inverted body parts, we show that humans demonstrate a face, but not a behind inversion effect and that chimpanzees show a behind, but no clear face inversion effect. The findings suggest an evolutionary shift in socio-sexual signalling function from behinds to faces, two hairless, symmetrical and attractive body parts, which might have attuned the human brain to process faces, and the human face to become more behind-like.


The current study shows chimpanzee’s expertise in recognizing behinds and suggests they process the bright pink sex swellings of female chimpanzees configurally and in a similar way as humans process faces. The female chimpanzee’s behind has a very high socio-sexual signaling function and the changes in size and color over the menstrual cycle reflect fertility. For that reason, it is important for conspecifics to be able to quickly detect this signal in the environment, but at the same time, it is vital to know who the behind belongs to[19]. For male chimpanzees this is relevant to prevent inbreeding. In turn, for female chimpanzees it is relevant to be aware of competing females to protect their own mating success.

The current study replicates previous research on the face inversion effect in humans, demonstrating that they process faces configurally[2]. In line with our hypothesis, the face inversion effect was dampened when faces were turned into greyscale, but still strongly significant, which is in line with previous research in humans showing that orientation is more important than color when it comes to processing human faces[31]. Also without color, the human face contains many high contrasting features such as eye whites, a prominent nose and lips and eyebrows. Although facial color can provide important social information, such as about emotions and health, there are also minor alterations over the menstrual cycle [40]. However, these small changes are beyond any comparison with the rich coloration of the chimpanzee behind where the alterations are much more obvious. In chimpanzees, the relevance of color for processing behinds is reflected in the absence of the behind inversion effect when pictures of behinds were presented in greyscale. In real life, the size and color of the swelling change in synchrony over the menstrual cycle. Thus, a full swelling around estrus is always redder than the female behind half a cycle later. It is therefore possible that due to the un-naturalistic mismatch between color (grey) and size (full swelling), these behinds were processed as objects, i.e., identified by the parts rather than as a whole.

Like humans, great apes are optimally equipped to process color and the spectral sensitivity of the cones in their retinas is ideal for discriminating both density of hemoglobin and oxygen saturation of the blood[30]. Also, the brain areas specialized in processing faces and bodies possess unique neural wiring to effectively process color[3233]. Once developed over the course of evolution, color vision (and especially trichromatic color perception) proceeded to impose a selective pressure on certain external traits such as the pink female sexual swelling in chimpanzees and the red lips and cheeks in humans.

A limitation of this study is the low number of individuals in the chimpanzee sample. Although this is common in most primate research and is largely compensated for by the large number of trials per individual, it is possible that effects would have been stronger had we been able to test a larger sample. Moreover, the chimpanzees in our sample were adolescents and adults and we can therefore only speculate about whether this specialization in processing behinds is inborn or related to expertise and emerged sometime during the developmental trajectory. In humans, the specialization for faces occurs already in the first couple of months of life[41]. In fact, already from birth, infants are interested in other people’s faces and eyes and make eye-contact[42]. The making of eye-contact is also facilitated in our species as walking upright freed the hands of parents, allowing them to carry their babies in their arms more often[43]. In contrast, chimpanzees are knuckle-walkers and carry their infants on their belly or back. For them, the swellings become particularly relevant only around puberty. The swellings also appear around that time, i.e., around the age of 10, and at that age, the color of the face changes from pink to a permanent black tint, reducing the contrast with the rest of the body[20]. The swellings stand out enormously in terms of color, size, smoothness and shininess and have a much stronger socio-sexual signaling function in the chimpanzee than the face. Future experiments with larger sample sizes are needed to test for sex differences and could also benefit from including male behinds as a control condition. In addition, it might be valuable to repeat this experiment in the bonobo (Pan Paniscus), as this species is as closely related to us as the chimpanzee but uses sex as a way to prevent and solve conflicts, has an alpha female rather than an alpha male[44] and is known to be highly attentive towards pictures showing genitals and even pay more attention to this category than to images showing threat displays[45].

In sum, applying well-established psychological paradigms to our closest relatives represents a promising approach to providing insight into the evolution of behavior. For primates, being able to recognize each other is necessary for detecting mates. Yin’s(1969) landmark article about the ‘face inversion effect’ turned the face-literature upside-down and hundreds of articles since describe that humans process faces unlike objects. But how faces compare to another body part similar in shape, size, color and attractiveness was thus far unknown. The present study demonstrates that chimpanzees, unlike humans, show a ‘behind inversion effect’ and suggests that identity recognition ‘moved up’ from the bottom to the face in our uprightly walking species. The findings of our study suggest that over human evolution the face took over important properties shared with the primate behind and largely replaced its socio-sexual signaling function, making our species attuned to faces.