February 22, 2011

Skimboarding Physics for Recruiters (Part II)

“There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch”— title of 1977 book by Milton Friedman, Nobel prize-winning economist


A handbook of “Skimboarding Physics for Recruiters” would be quite thick.

It would have to include applications to recruiting of the key physics principles that make all of the following and other skimboarding orientations, techniques and maneuvers (quasi-scientifically speaking, “phenomenal phenomena”) possible:

Aerial, Backside, Barrel, Body Varial, Down The Line, Fistral Turn, Flatland, Flyaway, Frontside, Hydrant, Induvit (variation on a “shove-it”, below), Nollie, Ollie (“switch”, “hippy jump”, “fakie”, “Chinese”, “north”, “south”, “half-cab”, “full-cab”, “boned”, “ghost”, etc.), Pop, Sex change, Shorebreak, Sidewash, Shove-it/Shuv it, Side Slipping, Speed Run, Spin, Wrap, Widdly/ Westy Loop

“Flatlanders” and Small-Scale Recruiters

Capitalizing on physical properties and principles such as “conservation of angular momentum” and “friction/traction”, discussed in “Skimboarding Physics for Recruiters, Part I”, skimboarders—comprising “flatlanders” and shorebreak surfers—perform seemingly magical aquabatic feats of near-levitation and falling-cat complexity.

“Flatlanders”, aptly named in virtue of not only where they practice and perform—on pools, streams, puddles, etc.—but possibly also for how they hope to land after a maneuver (instead of as “Splatlanders”), are also known as “Inlanders”.  Their counterparts in recruiting are smaller-scale recruiters who, although possessing a skill set and responsibilities comparable to big corporate recruiters, have only one cell phone.

The skimboarders who take on shorebreak ocean waves confront the kinds of challenges conventional deeper water surfers face, such as “tubing”—riding into a wave, then veering to surf parallel to the overhanging wave crest, and “wrapping”—riding directly into a wave and then reversing course to be propelled back to the shore by the wave’s power.

Recruiters whose job postings trigger a tsunami of resumes they have to glide over, skim through or haplessly drown in may legitimately describe themselves as “tubing” through the wave of applicants. Likewise, a recruiter who goes out to a job expo and returns empty-handed will, if the outing was on a client’s dime, perfectly replicate the “wrap”, which is, from the standpoint of the physics involved, also essentially a free ride, despite the recruiter’s also ending up “beached”.

Just as the several physics principles and techniques of skimboarding examined in Part I have demonstrable relevance to recruiting, it is a safe bet that they all do. But since examining each would indeed require the writing of the aforementioned handbook, of necessity this discussion must be much more limited.

Before examining the physics of one of the most visually engaging of all skimboarding techniques, the “Ollie” (transparently named after its inventor, Alan “Ollie” Gelfand, who introduced it to skateboarding in 1978), it will prove enormously useful to examine what is perhaps the single most motivating as well as explanatory concept in all of the physics that connects skimboarding and recruiting. That concept is “energy”.

Energy Interactions

Without getting into the recondite mathematical details, it can easily and intuitively be understood that there are only a handful of ways in which skimboarders and recruiters can interact with and utilize energy. These include energy (with examples)

  • Expenditure (discharge/spending): smashing your computer because of Microsoft Windows problems
  • Investment: expending energy, as a software engineer, to design those problems at Microsoft
  • Redirection: the reversal of the direction of the kinetic energy of your computer after it bounces off the wall
  • Redistribution: switching from attacking your computer with a knife to a mallet, which spreads the kinetic energy of your blow more evenly over the laptop’s surface
  • Conservation: thinking twice before undertaking the aforementioned energy redistribution, or having your computer turned off—of course, without warning—by Microsoft for one of its frequent and annoying updates
  • Extraction: using your smashed laptop’s remaining and fading thermal energy to warm your cat
  • Storage: keeping your fully-charged computer off, lest the gremlins at Microsoft attempt another update
  • Transformation: conversion of the electrical energy of current into the light energy of your LED screen just before the transformation of your sputtering, energetic complaints into futile and pointlessly wasted attempts to reach Microsoft tech support;

Chosen to illustrate the universality of these energy concepts, these computer examples are perfectly mirrored in both skimboarding and recruiting. However, prior to demonstrating that in a few selected illustrations, the logical starting point of an examination of the role of energy in both of the latter is energy’s connection with the motivation to do either.

Why does anyone skimboard or recruit? Answer: to manipulate energy to personal advantage and enjoyment. Start with the skimboarder: Like a kid skipping a stone on the same pool to be skimmed, a skimboarder is delighting in the sensation of having a free ride as he races toward and jumps on his board to glide forward. The skipping stone and the gliding board-plus-rider seem to be magical to the extent that, after the initial energy expended (“invested”, if you think skimboarding is cool; “spent”, otherwise) in throwing and running, the rest seems like self-propulsion.

A Free Energy Lunch?

Approximately and in these two specific instances, it is true that there is kind of “free ride”. That’s because of the relative absence of friction between board and water, and because of the parts played by elasticity and surface tension of water and the flat bottom of the tossed stone. If friction did not exist, the skimboarder could theoretically and effortlessly glide forever, after the tiniest initial nudge.  If none of the kinetic energy of the stone were dissipated as irrecoverably lost energy degraded by its entropy, the stone could likewise skip forever. Psychologically, this “getting-something-for-nothing” sensation is irresistible for kids and everyone older.

It’s no different in recruiting. The ideal job expo is one in which after an initial jump onto a bus or into a taxi, the recruiter can just slide in, sit back and let applicants wash over him and his booth. Like a dew-dappled Amazonian butterfly briefly flapping its wings while winging it to the job fair, the recruiter can seemingly create effects that vastly dwarf their causes in both scope and energy.

Gullible Kids and Helpful Dads

This compelling attraction of free or conserved energy is also what underlies the scripting of opening scenes in a huge proportion of big-budget Hollywood movies. Can you remember not having a bird’s-eye view of a car racing across the Golden Gate bridge as the opening credits roll? If not the bridge, then the Grand Canyon, or an aerial tour of a city or Central Park, before entering a hotel window, e.g., in Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. It’s a free ride!

“Something-for-nothing” is seemingly also at the Newtonian heart of the “Ollie” skimboarding maneuver (in which the board and rider take flight in a “pop”) and in the recruiter’s stacking and sorting hundreds of resumes. In both the skimboarding and recruiting cases, there is a powerful illusion among spectators as well as participants of getting something for nothing, for saving more energy than is expended—much as kids delight in climbing up a playground slide’s steps to revel in the “free” ride down. This is also the source of amusement in some of Charlie Chaplin’s sight gags, as he or his hat seem to effortless slide along a sidewalk and up a wall, respectively.

Clearly, in the case of the children’s slide, that “free ride” is an illusion, unlike the much freer ride of a skimboard glide across a pool. As the child climbs the steps, it is (from its enthusiastic standpoint) “investing” energy and increasing its tiny body’s “potential energy”. On the ideally frictionless ride down, that potential energy is merely being transformed into “kinetic energy”, which, again ideally, would exactly equal the energy cost on the way up.  Given more friction, the illusion vanishes, as the child expends even more energy to make it to the bottom.

Otherwise the psychological thrill will occur, despite the break-even energetics of the experience—but only because kids have such short attention spans and instantly forget the hassle of the climb (or because their parents lift them, to give them a truly free-ride, both ways.) Note: being lifted by parents is exactly the same as being pushed back to shore by a wave when a skimboarder executes a “wrap”. It is truly free because of an external infusion of energy, imparted by a wave rather than a waving dad.

The correlative “wrap” phenomenon in recruiting occurs, for example, when the recruiter gets to send an assistant to the job expo instead of himself.

As for the Ollie, a closer investigation will reveal that it has much more in common with the kid’s slide and recruiter’s stack-and-sort than with the slimboarder’s glide or wrap. That’s because the kinetic energy of the skimboarder’s forward motion is redirected upward, thereby increasing his potential energy and that of his board, which is then virtually completely and identically transformed into the kinetic energy of his fall back to the ground.

“Labor-saving” Recruitment and Skimboarding Strategies

The recruiter’s sort-and-stack—depending on his efficiency—is also very likely to merely trade energy benefits for equivalent costs. Someone marveling at a well-organized recruiter’s sorted stack of resumes without having seen the effort required succumbs to the same illusion that grips spectators watching an Ollie.

Depending on the sorting efficiency of the recruiter, some time may have been saved, but not without an energy cost that theoretically could exceed the energy savings gained (e.g., if the recruiter is really bad at sorting). This critical perspective is the same as that underlying time-and-energy-based critiques of “labor-saving appliances” assessed in terms of their true global environmental, labor, natural resource and other costs.

Until a detailed macro-analysis is undertaken, such presumed saving of labor may be rightly viewed with suspicion as being nothing more than a micro-illusion. This caution applies to all of your “labor-saving” recruiting steps and processes as well.

A key lesson in this for kids, skimboarders and recruiters is that it is very important to identify which of your exertions will best approximate a real free ride, e.g., like that of the “wrap”, and to distinguish them from those that merely convert your efforts into an outcome with no net gain from the energy standpoint, despite whatever gleeful illusions that may accompany the process, e.g., like the “Ollie”.

From a recruiting and purely physical standpoint, there is not much point in climbing stairs to a job-related meeting just so you can enjoy the comparatively effortless walk down them.

Similarly, and in more psychological and strategic than purely physical terms, there’s equally little point in addressing a group of applicants or clients all at once if the format will force you to spend more time with them individually to get past the generalities and to address their specific questions at length. Call this the “kid’s slide in reverse” and try to avoid it.

Your Homework

Identifying how each of the energy concepts in the master list above applies to both skimboarding and recruiting would require another article of comparable length. However, on reflection, it should be clear that they do.

For example, when a skimboarder patches “dings” in her board, she is investing energy;  when she falls, she is uselessly discharging it (as the kinetic energy of the fall and as ineffective cursing, should that occur too). When a recruiter posts a clear and effective job ad, he’s investing energy; if that ad is seriously flawed he is merely discharging and wasting it, subject to the real likelihood of having to invest and waste even more cleaning up the mess.

As a constructive exercise, it may be very fruitful to map each of the energy concepts into your own recruitment activities and approaches, to determine how best to maximize your chances of a free energy ride and of making the most of looking into and utilizing each form of energy interaction.

In particular, I recommend that the skimboarders among you consider writing the definitive recruiter handbook, Skimboarder Physics for Recruiters, to see where being nudged to do that propels you….

….besides into court and plagiarism litigation with me.

Read more in Recruitment Strategies

Michael Moffa, writer for Recruiter.com, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).