The Nerdification of Nearly Everything


NERDS (Photo credit: MacQ)

Strange and nerdy times we live in.  If you don’t believe me, here are the top 20 signs you might have missed:

1. People camp out overnight to get Apple products as soon as they are put on sale, and others pay other people to do that for them.

2. Fast Company names Nate Silver, a statistician, as the most creative person in business.

3. The Big Bang Theory, a show about Physicists, enters it’s 7th season, after being the highest-rated comedy on US TV in the 2012-2013 season.

4. Four out of the top five most watched shows in the USA are either Nerdy (NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles – Law Enforcement and Counterintelligence in the Navy) or Very Nerdy (Big Bang Theory, and Person of Interest, a drama about a machine that analyses big data to predict who’s going to die in a violent crime).  Sunday Night Football at #2 is the only non-nerdy show in the top 5.

5. In 2011, Barack Obama invites some of the most influential people in the tech industry to dinner.  These include the (then) CEO’s of Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Cisco Systems, Twitter, Oracle, and NetFlix; the president of Stanford University; the chairman and former CEO of Genentec; and the managing partner and founder of Venture Capital fund the Westly Group.  The New York Magazine reports it in a piece headlined “The World’s Most Powerful Man Meets President Obama“.  They were referring to Mark Zuckerberg…

6. …who was Time Magazine’s person of the year 2010.

7. The top grossing movie this year so far is Iron Man 3, which has the double nerd distinction of being based on a comic book and having the main character modelled on Elon Musk, a Silicon Valley Tech Founder.

8. In a life-imitates-art-imitates-life twist, Musk is building real life technology used by the fictional character he was the inspiration for.  (Source: His Twitter)

9. The top grossing movie for each year since 1999 has either been based on a comic book; is a Pixar, Harry Potter, Pirate, or Star Wars movie; or is set on another planet (Avatar).

10. The odds-on favourite for the top-grossing movie of 2014 is the Godzilla remake. (source)

11. Google is a verb now.

12. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple gets a(nother) bio-pic.

13. This follows the success of Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network about Facebook.  

14. Sorkin, king of nerd pop culture, also wrote the screenplays for Moneyball, a film about analytics in baseball, and The Newsroom, a TV series about – perhaps not surprisingly – a newsroom

15. Speaking of Jobs, the JOBS Act is passed into legislation in the USA.  It isn’t named after Steve Jobs, but may as well have been – it stands for Jumpstart Our Business Startups, and at the heart of it, makes it easier for “moms and dads” to invest in startups via crowdfunding.

16. Apple has the highest market cap of any company in the world.  Google and Microsoft are in the top 10.

17. Twitter and Facebook are cited by many as key tools in the Arab Spring.  Vodafone is named as a key to inspiration in the Arab Spring by… well, only by Vodafone themselves actually.

18. Harvard Business Review dedicates an entire edition to Big Data (It’s THE management revolution, don’t you know?)

19. Eric Schmidt, (former) CEO at Google, famously uses the line “In God we trust, all others bring data” (source).

20. This week British Airways set up a seriously nerdy billboard advertising campaign, and Both Virgin America and Air New Zealand (here and here) nerdified their in-flight safety videos earlier this year.

The nerds are taking over everything, and HR isn’t exempt… more on that next post.  If you have any more examples of the nerdification of nearly everything, please share in the comments!

Steve Carell as Michael Scott on 'The Office', victim of the Peter Principle

Michael Scott and The Peter Principle

Steve Carell as Michael Scott on 'The Office', victim of the Peter Principle

Michael Scott, manager in “The Office” and victim of the Peter Principle

The “Peter Principle” is the idea that when promotions are made on the basis of prior performance, everyone will eventually be promoted to their own level of incompetence.  It still has resonance some 40 years after is was first proposed, and it has an enormous impact on productivity, engagement, and retention in organisations today.

Perhaps one of the most recent high-profile embodiments of the Peter Principle is Michael Scott from the TV Comedy “The Office”.  A great salesman before he was promoted to Regional Manager, Scott can’t seem to cut it in a management position.  He is allergic to conflict, provides cliches in place of leadership, and haplessly implements one half-baked strategy after another – all to hilarious effect.  We laugh along because most of us, at some point in our careers, have known a manager like Michael.

The skills to excel in a technical area are not the same as the skills to manage or lead a workforce.  Many organisations fail to recognise this, or are unable to support employees transitioning into a management role.

Project Oxygen was Google’s quest to use Data Analytics to find a better manager, based on the premise that people leave companies for three main reasons:

1. They don’t feel a connection to the mission of the company, or have a sense that their work matters;

2. They don’t really like or respect their co-workers; and/or

3. They have a terrible boss.

Given the last of these points is arguably the easiest to control, Google sought to find out what actually makes a good manager, and found that  it comes down to these attributes and behaviors, in order of importance:

1. Being a good coach;

2. Empowering their team and not micromanaging;

3. Expressing interest in team members’ success and personal well-being;

4. Being productive and results-oriented;

5. Being a good communicator and listening to their team;

6. Helping their employees with career development;

7. Having a clear vision and strategy for the team; and

8. Having key technical skills so they can help advise the team.

What’s telling about this list that the least important trait of the manager is usually the main reason why people are promoted to technical management roles in the first place.  Without coaching or transition support into management roles, it’s no wonder the Peter Principle is still alive and well today.

Leadership positions (and done well, a management position is one of those) can have a disproportionate impact on the ability of the organization to execute strategy, but what makes a great technician is not what makes a great leader.  How do you support people transitioning to leadership positions in your organisation?

What Google can teach you about Talent Brand

Google 貼牌冰箱(Google Refrigerator)

Free food and drink – just one of the many employee benefits at Google (Photo credit: Aray Chen)

Talent Brand, why it matters, and what Google can teach you about how to improve yours…

Late last year, LinkedIn released the Talent Brand Index, along with a list of the most “InDemand” employers.  According to this whitepaper, The Talent Brand index ranks each company by the number of people interested in engaging with the company (researching your company and career pages, following your company, and viewing your jobs and applying), divided by the number of people who are aware of your company as an employer (by viewing company profiles, and being connected to your employees).

This matters to employers competing for top talent in a competitive industry, because if you have a strong Talent Brand, it’s easier to attract and retain top talent.

As you might expect, Google’s one of the stand-outs.  Google is ranked #1 overall in all geographies and functions; as well as being ranked:


  • #1 in the United States
  • #1 in the United Kingdom
  • #2 in Canada
  • #2 in Australia
  • #3 in France
  • #10 in India
  • not in the top 20 in Brazil
  • not in the top 20 in the Netherlands

By Industry:

  • #1 in Software Engineering;
  • #1 in Marketing;
  • #1 amongst students & recent graduates; and
  • #10 in Finance and Accounting

To me, the most impressive statistic here is this last one – Google has a talent brand in the top 10  for a very competitive industry that’s not its’ core business.

Google are renowned for some of their incredible perks, but they’re also a very data-driven organization, including in HR.  They don’t give people free food and valet parking without crunching the data to know that those things work for their organisation.  Laszlo Bock is the SVP of People Operations at Google, and in this interview, explains that all of the perks Google offers its’ employees achieve one or more of the following:

  • Creating a Community; 
  • Driving Innovation; and/or
  • Driving Efficiency.

More importantly, he feels that the company would be the same without the perks, because people don’t want to work for Google because of the perks – they want to work there because of the culture.

And how do Google gauge which programs will appeal to their employees and which ones won’t?  They ask them.

Some things to consider for employers:

  1. If you’re not already thinking about Talent Brand, you should.
  2. Your talent brand is not the same as your company brand, because the workforce you’re competing for is not the consumer you’re competing for.
  3. Ensure all your talent management strategies align to business objectives, and you can clearly articulate their benefit – even better if you can use workforce analytics to demonstrate their benefit.
  4. Ensure that the “benefits” you offer employees will actually attract and retain top employees; and
  5. Point 4 is much easier if you actually gauge what your employees and potential employees want, rather than relying on “best practice”.