Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hoffman Misses Key Asset of Current Diploma System

Reid Hoffman pens an interesting piece on how the diploma needs an upgrade.  Though I agree wholeheartedly with his premise, he misses one critical point that enables the current system to thrive - the value of fuzziness.

The root of any economic system is information - who has it and how good is it.  The value of a diploma from a 4-year institution is no different.  Hoffman describes well the pains some people have in clearly articulating the value of their education beyond the blunt instrument that is the diploma (the "sell" side of diploma value), and the tactics employers use to reduce their pools to the most likely candidates (the "buy" side).

However, he neglects the fact that this system provides access that otherwise would not be available for many, given the fuzzy reality of a given person's credentials due to this bluntness.  Think of the kid that skated by without going to class, or the one who only took the "easy" courses.  Would they have had the same opportunities if the system of measurement had been more fine-grained?  Will they engage in a system that penalizes them?

There is another similar issue with fuzziness that will stifle the embrace of a more modular system by the employer  - the fact that most employers do not have the information they need to hire well for a given role.  There is so much bias and prejudice that clouds the current hiring process in most firms that more information could hinder an already clunky process, rather than help. More information generated by a fine-grained system will take more effort from the hiring manager to sift and understand as well.  Roles will have to be broken down in more detail, and more time may be required to assess potential fits.

A critical key to any system that attempts to improve an imperfect but functioning system is to ensure these fuzziness issues are addressed on both the buy and sell sides.  Failure to address them adequately will stop any potential replacement of an archaic yet functioning economic system.