Changing jobs? Why accuracy is more important than precision.
Updated: Sep 7, 2022
In our article, They kept asking about what I wanted to do with my life, but what if I don't know?, we suggest that skills are related to precision. This means that the more skilled you are, the more precisely a job-related task will be completed. A more precise outcome occurs because of a less noisy skill-building process. In this context, a precise educational process helps you effectively build skills. As we discuss in The benefits and risks of college – An employer's and risk manager's perspective article, most U.S. colleges and universities provide a reasonably precise educational environment. It is up to the learner to achieve a precise outcome, regardless of the college chosen. In almost all cases, it is the learner that ultimately achieves a good education and a good job outcome. The college was along for the ride. Think of the college like a car. As an example, let's say you are ready for a big road trip. You have saved your money and made your plans to be away. In any long journey, like driving across the United States from New York to Los Angeles, a capable car will come in handy. But whether you choose a brand new luxury vehicle or an older, less expensive but tuned-up jalopy, both will serve the purpose of getting you from New York to LA. The outcome is all but certain, it is more a matter of how much you want to pay for the same outcome. As long as your travel mission has been accurately planned, your precision to make the trip will be reasonably assured. Alternatively, if you do not finish your trip, it is much more likely the cause of not completing the trip is related to something other than car trouble.
We also suggest that mission alignment with your employer relates to accuracy. Meaning that the more your mission is aligned to your employer’s, the more accurate is your mission. A more accurate outcome occurs because of a less biased, alignment-enabled mission determination.
Many people confuse bias and noise, especially as they respectively relate to a) mission alignment and b) skill. It is worth the time to learn the difference, because you can have one without the other, neither, or both. Mission alignment, because it is emotion-based, is generally more challenging to understand or change. Whereas skill, because it uses higher language mental processes, can be efficiently built. The following graphic demonstrates the relationship. We use a dartboard metaphor:
The bulls-eye represents the prospective employer's mission standard. The closer your Xs are to the bulls-eye, the more your mission is aligned with the employer's mission.
The Xs represent skills. If the Xs are close together, that means you are more consistently skilled, if they are farther apart, that means you are less consistently skilled.
The "teams" represent different representative choices (A, B, C, or D) for employment. More specifically, "teams" represent a collection of your skills (the "X's") and how aligned you are with the employers mission (how close the X's are to the bulls-eye).
Your goal is to be in the highly precise AND highly accurate Team A group. This team is both skilled and mission-aligned. Given the accuracy or skill tradeoff choice between Team B or Team C groups, I would choose Team C. While you still need to build skills, you will receive positive affirmation given the aligned mission. With that positive feedback, it makes it easier to then build skills to transition from Team C to Team A. Team B suggests you are consistently skilled, but not bought into your employer’s mission. This may cause stress and unhappiness. Also, most companies have the training and related continuing education to help you upskill to Team A. As a prospective new employee, do your best to avoid Team D altogether.
Daniel Kahneman, Cass Sunstein, and Olivier Sibony provide a great explanation of the intricacies of bias and noise in their book. [i]
Skills and abilities have a specific meaning. Generally, we think of skills more like tools we can put in our tool bag. They are generally based on rote learning from school or practice from work. It may include analytical skills, software knowledge, writing proficiency, knowledge about history, science, etc. Skills are generally inward-focused. Abilities are generally more linked to our personality. They will include leadership abilities, collaboration abilities, team-building abilities, etc. Abilities are generally outward-focused. Our mission alignment is related to our abilities.
Skills can generally be taught quickly, abilities take longer to develop, and may even not be possible to develop without a willingness to change personality. Ray Dalio does a commendable job describing this dynamic in his book Principles.
[i] Kahneman, Sibony, Sunstein, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, 2021