Hiring is Everything, Even at the White House


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

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Any leader of a growing company knows that hiring is crucial, and hiring is hard. You need to move fast or you can’t meet goals. But you need to move carefully because the wrong people will run your organization aground.

So far, the new Trump administration, despite its business background, has flunked the hiring test: It has moved slowly, yet it has failed to properly vet its picks, and it now faces a “personnel crisis” (The New York Times). Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Sharon LaFraniere write: “Many federal agencies and offices are in states of suspended animation, their career civil servants answering to temporary bosses whose influence and staying power are unclear, and who are sometimes awaiting policy direction from appointees whose arrival may be weeks or months away.”

One hurdle has been a loyalty test that rules out many candidates. Another: A feedback loop in which White House disarray discourages qualified applicants and then vacancies lead to more disarray. Precipitous firings — like Friday’s clean-out-your-desks dismissal of 46 U.S. attorneys — only add to the mess.

Now, maybe if you’re a small-government Republican you’re OK with all this; it’s one way to shrink the federal payroll, after all. But if you’re a new president with goals to accomplish, crises to manage, and services to deliver, it helps to have people at the barricades. Otherwise, instead of executing your plans, you’re stuck — as Trump has been — blaming holdovers for sabotaging those plans.

A different way of looking at this personnel crisis, in other words, is that it’s simply bad management. “Exclusive trust in a small, insular team” worked for Trump the candidate, but it’s hobbling his presidency. It just doesn’t scale.

How AI Will Reshape Your Next Job

Outside of government, back in the trenches of real businesses, the rise of artificial intelligence is already reshaping the hiring process (Jared Lindzon in Fast Company). According to Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Trends Report, AI-driven automation isn’t eliminating jobs, as is so widely feared. But it’s rearranging the hiring landscape, leading companies to emphasize “more human jobs” — “those that require traits robots haven’t yet mastered, like empathy, communication, and interdisciplinary problem solving.”

In other words, if a job involves a simple, repetitive task, it’s likely to be automated, if it hasn’t been already. Meanwhile, companies looking to expand their workforces will assume that every role is a work-in-progress. Instead of basing hires on specific skill-sets, they’ll emphasize “cultural fit and adaptability,” and they’ll opt for more multidisciplinary teams and less top-down hierarchy. Over time, the manager’s job will become looking at a project and figuring out which part is best handled by machine and which by human beings.

Tangling It Up With Quantum Computing

When tech people talk about “scale” they usually mean “large scale”: companies with billions of customers, databases with petabytes of entries. But innovation is accelerating at the other, tiny end of the “scale” scale: Quantum computing is getting realer all the time. If you are among the vast majority of readers for whom “quantum computing” still represents a blank space of uncertainty and ignorance, we can recommend The Economist’s lengthy, deep survey of the state of the field.

Quantum computing is the effort to build new kinds of computers and devices based on the behavior of particles at the subatomic level, where it’s possible for them to be in two states at once, and to become “entangled” at a distance so that each reflects the state of the other. The abstraction here can be daunting, but they’re already beginning to find applications in finance, energy, and aerospace, thanks to research led by Google, Microsoft, and IBM, and innovations being introduced by a new generation of startups.

Quantum devices range from the familiar atomic clock to the more exotic quantum gravity sensor that can scan below the earth’s surface. They often depend on new kinds of materials science — like diamonds created to have “nitrogen vacancies,” flaws that make them great sensors.

Quantum computers aren’t exactly faster than traditional computers; they’re deeply different — they’re good at different things. They’re already showing their chops in fields like quantum cryptography and quantum simulators that mimic natural systems. And of course they need their own kind of software. The technology’s future is still uncertain, but it has the potential to change the world as broadly as the transistor did. And if you read far enough in the Economist piece, you will eventually encounter the word “teleportation.”

Local Tax Breaks Don’t Get Companies to Add Jobs

State and local governments give away $45 billion annually in tax breaks to corporations offered as incentives for job creation. But a new report from the Upjohn Institute suggests these tax breaks don’t work (Henry Grabar in Slate).

The theory is that states and cities that offer job-creation incentives will get more companies to locate there and bring jobs with them. But that simply doesn’t happen a lot. To the extent that jobs are created at all thanks to the tax breaks, they’re in low-wage businesses. And yet governments keep these incentives on the books, mostly because it’s politically easier than ditching them. If governors, mayors and legislators want to keep jobs growing, they’d do better to fund “incentives as a service”: Instead of tax-break giveaways, they could try programs like customized job training.


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