Friday, August 17, 2018

The Beginning of The End of The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative


The Table of Content
The Beginning of The End of 
The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative
Recently I applied for a position at the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (the fact irrelevant to the substance of this post, but was simply the seed of the story).
Don’t get me wrong, I love my current work, but I don’t mind an idea of moving to a slightly different climate, and I also don’t mind to try an opportunity to expand my current professional experience. This is what I write in my generic Cover Letter: “My professional goal is very clear – I work hard to maximize my professional output by applying all my skills and experience.”
That is why when I see an interesting opportunity I send an application.
But I also use this opportunity as my own personal experiment I conduct on HR people in different institutions.
The position I applied for is titled “Content Strategists” who “will be responsible for deeply understanding … students, teachers, school leaders and parents, … and developing guidelines, conventions and approaches for communicating to these audiences.”; and also “for managing all written material across key products.”
I know how to do it because I’ve done it before – in a different country, but that may be seen as my professional advantage (a broader experience). Plus, the fact that I have “deep understanding of students and teachers and school leaders” is supported in my resume by the feedback from my students (with elements unparalleled to some other faculty) and by my experience in the field of teacher professional development (with elements unparalleled to many existing teacher professional development programs). Plus, I have a very developed and unorthodox (perpendicular to the mainstream views) philosophy of education as a human practice.
Naturally, if I would have any doubts that I would not be able to excel on this job I would not apply.
Naturally, two days later I got a polite “thanks, but no thanks”.
I knew that would happen, but I was curious about how much time would it take. I provided many links to the relative materials which demonstrate my teaching philosophy, my general views on education, multiple examples of content development and writing on the content development – to study all that content would take some time. And the fact of the matter is that no one did even try it.
When I send an application to a college or to a publishing company or another regular institution, I know that the form of my resume is way too unusual for a regular HR person (I have developed my resume in that specific form with a specific purpose).
When I just moved to the U.S. and was looking for my first job – any job (!) – my friend told me to hide my PhD, and even my Masters. He told me that in order to get hired I would have to be seen as a bolt with the exactly right thread which would be a perfect fit into the functioning mechanism. So, to get hired to a Shaw’s Supermarket as a janitor I only presented my high school diploma (and invented several simple jobs I “had” in Russia) – and it worked. I only got some suspicions looks when I was conducting some simple test math calculations without using a calculator (like other candidates did). Eventually I learned English, and, long story short – got there where I am now (BTW: an example of a professional character and history which HR should have noticed at least for its broadness and the demonstration of ability to rebuild it from a square one).
I know as an experimental fact that when HR tell us that “our missions is to find the best talent”, they lie – to themselves. What HR does is filtering out people who don’t fit within a set of several standard parameters – talent or no talent (the latter is even better) – there is an empty cell which needs to be fit. One does not have to be a “rocket scientists” to do this type of a job. Very soon a trained AI can (and will) do the same. All the stories about HR hiring talented misfits are myths or bluffs, because there is no single HR unit in the world which would regularly assess its own effectiveness and efficiency, because they simply don't know how to do it, because they don't want to know, because they don't want to do it.
It would be an interesting experiment to ask some HR people about their criteria for selecting applicants, and then give them as a “blind test” resumes of various people, including HR from other companies, CEOs from their own and other companies, even their own resume – in a standard and in an unusual form, and see what would really happen. 
Would FB HR hire Mark Zuckerberg, who said once that “the "single most important thing" when it comes to scaling into a massively successful business is having founders surround themselves with the best people they can find.”? How did Mark Zuckerberg propel this rule to his HR? How does he know if the HR is good at following this rule? Does he even want to know if his HRs at FB or the Initiative are following this rule? 
There is one fundamental question I would ask every CEO, a founder, a top administrator: “Do you believe that someone who has never been known for any talent, who didn’t know challenges or breakthroughs, whose career was a steady smooth path up a professional ladder can recognize and embrace someone who has a talent, and capable of breakthroughs, and can face challenges? Think about it.”

There are people who deliberately search for talented people – for example, baseball scouts. They know what specific talent they need and when they find a person with that talent they start working on the personal perks one may have (or not).
I would expect that any institution which claims “to push the boundaries of how great a human life can be”, which hints some “innovation”, or “disruption”, should adopt the “baseball scouts” approach. 
Evidently, that is not a case at the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative.
Now you think – “They didn’t hire him, and because of that he is trashing them.”
And you are wrong.
Hiring or not hiring is just the final step in the process of searching for a talent.
One of the common traits of a talented person is being different from many others. I deliberately presented myself as a different person, and as a different type of a professional. This presentation may result in only two major reactions:
1. Self-defense: “What the heck does he think about himself”?
2. Curiosity: “What if everything he said in his resume is true”?
The former reaction is evident when one sends a resume, it takes at least a day to process it and to deliver it to a living person, who spends 5 minutes on checking the form of the application and general parameters of the applicant, and sends back “thanks, but no thanks”.
The latter reaction would lead to (at the minimum) spending some extra time on digging into the professional experience of the applicant, specifically, into the outcomes of his/her productive actions (some of those outcomes, though, like “Seven Reasons Why Rich Philanthropists Fail at Making Systemic Changes in Education” or “The Degradation of The White Male American Elite” could backfire, but at least could also provoke some thinking). The next step could be “this guy looks strange; on one hand, he seems having a very broad and successful experience in the field, but on another hand, the way he presents himself is odd, weird, strange. Maybe I should have a face-to-face? It does not cost me anything, and does not promise a thing, and I may have an interesting experience for myself”.
But we know what happened: “Curiosity killed the cat”, “I’m not a cat, but I have no curiosity”.
And that is the issue for any HR of any organization which poses itself as “innovative”, or “disruptive”.
The HR people at CZI do not know how to deal with unusual professionals, and do not want to deal with unusual professionals, they have no curiosity (hence – no imagination), and hence no ability to build a “Team of Rivals”. 
The HR people at CZI fit a vary regular format, and see only people who also fit a very regular format, and build a team which can function only within a very regular format. 
No risks. No unexpected outcomes. Easy to manage (!) –  the fallout from the Newark disaster.
But also – no vision, and no breakthroughs.
That is why we are observing today the beginning of the end of the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative as an innovative disruptive breakthrough organization.
The Initiative will function, of course, will be humming on the path to helping students and educators, and without any doubt will help many students and educators to make their learning and teaching experience better – like the hundreds of other similar foundations and philanthropic organizations.
But “to push the boundaries”?
Please.
Don’t make me laugh (but thank you for the material for this post).
With best wishes,
Dr. Valentin Voroshilov

P.S. It is interesting to see the actual gap between the general claim "we embrace competition" and the reality "we don't like anyone who is different". Remember numerous movies where a team of talented misfits makes miracles? Just movies. Has nothing to do with the real life. Because the majority of HRs do not hire misfits. They just don't.


P.P.S. An old linkedin post on the matter.

I am thinking about relocating.
I sent my resume to several colleges which are seeking to find a "highly experience physics instructor". 
I am a highly-experienced physics instructor.  Definitely above the average level. With a solid formal proof of that fact in the form of my student evaluations: http://www.teachology.xyz/evvv.html.
With a strong conceptual view on what teaching is and how to teach physics effectively, efficiently, and sufficiently: http://www.cognisity.how/2016/10/book.html.
With a strong experience in teacher professional development: http://www.cognisity.how/2016/10/facilitating.html.
But evidently, the hiring committees have some other criteria which trump the need for a highly-experienced instructor. 
I find this observation interesting.
And also consistent with my previous experience. http://www.cognisity.how/2018/03/conformity.html.
I know I will find a way to achieve my next goal, I always do.
I have more options than some people in similar circumstance. But I find the reaction of many hiring committees telling, or reviling. 
The tale about "team of rivals" is just a tale.

P.P.P.S. If you are an administrator who would like to assess the innovativeness of your HR, please, feel free to contact me (www.GoMars.xyz). BTW: want to x-ray your employees? See how they react to a challenge (special applications for educators).


Thank you for visiting,
Dr. Valentin Voroshilov
Education Advancement Professionals

To learn more about my professional experience: