In A Complex World, Humans Are Slaves To The Exact

Do you know what product managers do? Do you know what startup founders do?

In my view, the skill set for each of the above is pretty much the same. Product managers need to have the skill set to manage envisioning a product from inception to launch and beyond. The same for startup founders. But, unless you know exactly what the skills required for each of those roles, you might not think that a startup founder might make a good product manager or vice versa. This is a problem: both humans and computers use TEXT in order to distill a concept down, then match that text to find similarities between concepts.

We humans use job titles as shorthand to identify a set of individual skills. In fact, we use all kinds of shorthand terms to identify all sorts of bundles of things. If I threw out a few terms, you could imagine the person based on the term itself. For example,

  1. CEO
  2. Developer
  3. Janitor

We all have pre-conceptions of what each of those terms means. We even have visual representations of each of those in our heads when we read them. We can picture the clothing, the attitude, the skills they must have, even their level of hygiene. Even though many of us may have a specific concept, there are some common things that map perfectly to those terms.

The world is complicated. We use these terms to simplify and categorize things, so they can be understood, by ourselves and others. The problem is that these words do not describe the full breadth of what the term implies, and can also be misinterpreted.

If you really think about it, the core of all products needs matching. We match buyers and sellers, we match people who date each other, we match employers to employees. Matching is at the core of almost every product. Poor matching makes for a poor product, and good matching makes for a good product. Do you think that Google would be the top search engine if they didn’t do a really good job of matching what you enter in that search box and what you are looking for?

The problem is that we don’t have the ability to match on concepts, we can only match on terms, which are distillations of the concepts. This is why a recruiter wouldn’t put a resume of a startup founder on the desk of a hiring manager who is looking for a product manager. The recruiter is more likely looking at matching the “product manager” title on a resume to the “product manager” title on the job description. Since the recruiter may not know anything about the role other than the term, they may be bypassing excellent candidates who don’t use the specific term “product manager” on their resume.

How to combat this? All matching engines MUST go beyond the words and be conceptual. All matching humans must also go beyond the word and be conceptual. but since its much harder for humans to know all things, my money is on AI to run with this.

We need to create the optimal matching engine – and it’s likely that us puny humans won’t be able to have the ability to do it right.