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Enhancing Organizational Performance

Archive for June 2010


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“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”


One of the basic fundamentals in achieving high performance from individuals is to provide them recognition for a job well done, sincere meaningful recognition. Being given recognition becomes part of the equity equation as people consider whether they are being treated fairly by an organization. Recognition can consist of psychological recognition, monetary rewards, advancement, development opportunities as well as a host of other possibilities.

There are two classes of rewards and recognition – those that can be tied to performance, such as merit increases, and those that should be independent of performance – those that are a standard that should be made equally available to all.  For instance, if you were running a mining operation you would not hand out safety equipment as recognition for good performance, rather all miners would be given equal access to the safety equipment available.  The ability to operate safely on the job and access to safety equipment is independent of individual performance.

I had one client that had tied recognition, the score you received on your performance appraisal, to the health care benefits you received. If you scored highly on your performance appraisal and got sick you were flown to Singapore where you received the best medical treatment available. If you did not score highly on your performance appraisal local health care was made available, which was definitely below world-class status. After a few conversations with the management of this organization, I convinced them that these 2 elements should not be tied together.

This was a clear example that recognition on the job (in this case the ratings on your performance appraisal) could have an impact on your life expectancy. But there has come to light additional new evidence. Matthew D. Rablen and Adrew J. Oswald of the University of Warwick, found that winning a Nobel Prize can add as much as 2 years to your life. When candidates are nominated for a Nobel Prize they do not know it, as the lists of nominees are not released for fifty years after the Prize is awarded. This sets up a situation where the winners (who know they won) can be compared against those nominated (who don’t know that they were nominated). Those who won and received the associated recognition lived longer. “The only possible explanation is that the enhanced status conferred by a Nobel somehow improves a person’s health. Walking across the platform in Stockholm does wonders” said Andrew Oswald, one of the authors of the study. Remember that the nominees are no slouches, they are all very well thought of in their respective fields, but the status associated with the Nobel, somehow provides a little bit extra.

Given that many organizations are keen on improving the health of the workforce to reduce health insurance rates and to raise productivity, I wonder if they have ever viewed providing recognition as a health related practice. Also importantly can organizations make their rewards and recognition confer that little something extra? Could the budgets associated with recognition be offset against health insurance increases? Or on the flip side could organizations that provide no recognition be blamed for ill health or hastening the death of an employee?  The human brain’s impact on internal bodily processes is simply not to be underestimated.

Sometimes recognition comes from unexpected sources. Abraham Lincoln when faced with many rivals within his own party for the position of President decided that the best place for them was within his cabinet. By keeping his rivals close to him, he could keep an eye on them but he was also telling them something. He was providing them recognition of their abilities and saying that he wanted them working with him, because he valued their input, rather then being at odds with them.

There is a myth that exists around brilliant people (maybe even just smart people) and recognition. It is that these people are intrinsically motivated and that means that they do not need or desire recognition for a job well done. Doing good work by itself is rewarding enough. (I get this feeling that this myth was developed by people who feel somewhat intimidated by really smart people). While there may be a few people like that out there, my experience is that the vast majority, while they may be intrinsically motivated, like nothing more than a pat on the back and other recognition for doing good work. They, like us, put their pants on one leg at a time in the morning (assuming you are wearing pants) and while they may really like their independence, they really like people recognizing their contributions as well.

Recognition is one of those fundamentals that cut across organizations, cultures, occupations, geographies, generations and genders. It works and has an impact on your work environment as well as in your personal space. The next time you have an opportunity, and want to tell someone that they did a good job and you appreciate them, don’t hold it in, let it out and see what kind of benefits you can spread.

© 2010 by OrgVitality, Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 21, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Employee Attitudes during this Recession

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“When the tide goes out, you can see who’s been swimming naked.”

Warren Buffet on leadership in a recession.

How do employees react during a recessionary period? What happens to their attitudes about work and the work environment? What about their perceptions towards leadership? And most importantly do those attitudes, or shifts in attitudes actually affect organizational performance? The information that has been distributed on this topic over the last couple of years has been somewhat less than clear, or at the very least has been sending mixed interpretive messages. Some of the reported data has indicated that employees on a whole are less positive, less engaged or as some term it actively disengaged. That finding could represent a possible reaction to the somewhat harsh measures that some leaders adopted as they attempted to increase the odds of organizational survival during a deep recession.

Other reported findings strongly affirmed that employees are more positive now than prior to this recessionary period, possibly as a result of realizing how ugly things are on the outside, so the inside is looking pretty good. That would be a result underpinned by both frame of reference comparisons and the notions of cognitive dissonance, the need to resolve conflictual cognitive positions (e.g. even though I used to really hate it here, the place must not be so bad since I am staying). Categorical statements, that something is all one way or the other, black or white, raise my warning antennas and so one is left wondering, is it possible to look across the various reported results, many of them stated in a categorical fashion, and make some sense of it all? Scott Brooks, Walter Reichman and I did just that and here is a summary of some of what we found.

Methodological observations regarding the reviewed reports:

Some of the reports we reviewed1 are based on client data, meaning data that has been collected from clients during the course of a consulting firm running their employee surveys. Client data over the course of a few years can change, depending on which clients the consulting firm happens to have, what survey cycles clients are on etc. One industry for instance that may be well-represented in the norms during normal economic times like retail, and has been hard hit by the recession may cut costs by delaying or canceling their survey, and so their industry may be underrepresented in the data during a recessionary period if the norms are client based. So when examining client data over time you may not be looking at an apples-to-apples comparison even if the data is coming from a single source such as a consulting company.

Additionally, surveys of clients that occur during recessions may represent clients that are weathering the recessionary storm slightly better than most, since the budget for collecting the data has not been axed, or the data may be coming from organizations that are deep adherents (at least more so than others) to the notions of collecting and measuring certain aspects of employee attitudes, employee engagement being one of those. And of course the employees themselves who are being surveyed in client based norms are the survivors, those who have not been laid-off, which may also have an impact on their attitudes, especially when compared to the general population. One approach to correcting some of the issues with client-based research is the use of a standard basket of companies for tracking purposes, similar to the Dow Jones Industrial Average methodology. That could be achieved through a consortium of companies who agree to share their results. That would fix the problem of which companies are included (since it would be standardized) but not who from each company is included (during a recession we would still be surveying only survivors).

Some of the reports that have attempted to shed light on the state of employee attitudes during this recession are based on random sample surveys or stratified random samples (meaning you make sure certain demographic categories, such as senior managers, or females etc. are adequately represented). These data are not client based, but rather are gathered from people who have agreed to complete surveys, usually for some kind of incentive, for instance, a chance to be entered into a lottery for each survey they complete. These surveys include a cross section of people, some employed, some under or unemployed but if sampled correctly are representative of the population as a whole, not necessarily the employed population, or the population from companies that care enough about employee attitudes to be out there measuring it. Depending on how the sample is drawn they may come from private and public sector organizations, government as well as not-for profit. It may include those working full-time as well as part-time. One issue of course here is the motivation that these individuals have for completing the survey. Many of them, we have to assume, are not doing it for the sake of the research, but rather in a fashion to maximize their ability to achieve whatever incentive is being offered. (That is why it is called an incentive.) That creates a question in many minds of just how these people will respond, and will they take the survey seriously.

One conclusion from looking at all of the data that gets put out is that unless it is clearly stated in the report, and often times it is not, and the methodology explicit, you really don’t know who is included in either client-based or in random sample survey reports and hence the conclusions from one report are not all that easily compared against another.

Some broad trends we saw:

  • “Engagement” during this recession has not declined.  With an eyeball meta-analysis, the actual change may be slight improvement, perhaps 2-4 percentage points over the last year.   This “surfs across” potentially meaningful differences in sampling, methodology and varied definitions of how you measure engagement. But those institutions that describe engagement as declining are in the minority.
  • Not all employee opinions act the same way, moving up or down in lockstep.
    • Stress is increasing.
    • Opinions about leaders have fluctuated.
    • US Employee Confidence hit a low 1Q09 and has not returned to the 2Q08 baseline.
    • One conclusion is that “engagement” may not be the best indicator of the strain of the recession on the employee population and hence organizational performance.
    • There is no “overall” recession impact across all survey topics
  • There is evidence of polarization within some organizations. While different across different studies, there seem to be segments (levels, functions, etc.) within the organization showing divergent trends:
    • Perhaps while engagement goes up, there is a growing core of actively disengaged employees.
    • Executives and middle management respond differently, though exactly which layer feels the squeeze most keenly is not clear from the reports (and they likely differ organization-by-organization… as is clear in some cases among our own clients).
  • Increasing frustrations (driven by increasing workload and lowered rewards/benefits) among high performers/high-potentials put them more at-risk for eventual voluntary turnover.

Some More Detail:

One concept created a good number of years ago called Employee Confidence© has been tracked quarterly since June 20083, by asking employees about attitudes towards their company’s internal as well as external performance (organizational performance). Internal covers such areas as business processes and leadership and external covers the attractiveness and value of products and services offered to the market as well as competitive positioning. Also tracked has been people’s perception of their personal situation, again both internally and externally. The internal situation deals with perceptions of job security and future prospects at current employers, and the external with being able to land on their feet elsewhere if necessary by finding another job. (To be part of this tracking study, which cut across the 12 largest economies globally, you needed to be: an over 18, full-time employee in the private sector, in a company with at least 100 employees. Data was collected quarterly on random samples of 5000 in the USA and 1000 in each of the other countries, with the exception of Russia where the number was 500. Incentives were used. The data was compared to known demographic characteristics of the working population in each of those countries.) Taking a step back from all the data, both from this Employee Confidence sample and from client based data, and drawing some insights and overall conclusions, or at least observations what we see as highlights include:

About Employee Engagement:

In 2008/2009 you generally did not see declining employee engagement scores at organizations (there was the occasional exception). The scores were flat at worst but most were actually rising with many hitting heights not seen within the organization prior. This was in spite of the general concern among clients that engagement would decline during the recession. Some of this can be attributed to good management taking action on important issues and some is environmental, a response to the concern that people have about losing their jobs. One notable study had a client with 7 point rise in their employee engagement score across about 25,000 people. A determination was made that 2-3 points of that rise was likely due to management actions and 4-5 points was due to the environment. (Drop me a note if you want to know how that was done

About Employee Satisfaction:

In many cases however, items that were markers of the employee’s current state of satisfaction with their situation declined. By way of explanation, a person can be very unhappy with increased workload and stress, with their 401k losing substantial value, with no company match, no raises, friends being laid off, increased concern about their own job security, perhaps seeing management taking care of themselves before the rank and file, but that person can still be engaged in their work. As an example, a person can be very engaged at their employer making buggy whips as Henry Ford is in the next building figuring out how to mass produce cars. They are engaged, working diligently to produce the best buggy whips in the world, but their level of engagement does not stop the world from changing nor does it assuage increased concern at seeing the world changing with perhaps the employer not changing or not changing fast enough to keep up. A corollary to this is the false notion that employees who complain are not engaged. They in fact may be the most engaged as they are trying to communicate to the organization information to head off a potential disaster as they see it.

While some people/organizations measure satisfaction and engagement with the same items, they are clearly different constructs. (Of course there is no agreed upon set of items in use to measure engagement within the employee survey industry which may account for some of the reported differences).

About Job Prospects and Job Security:

Being able to find other employment if necessary, which is normally very favorably rated, began to decline and has remained at or near the bottom of all the items tracked. Most normal people by nature tend to rate their skill sets highly and see value (beyond what others may see) in what they can do.  This makes them normally very confident in their ability to find another job should the need arise. The precipitous decline in this dimension is a fundamental shift in people’s confidence (it has rocked their world and how they self-perceive) and affects all sorts of behavior including buying patterns and a willingness to tolerate intolerable conditions at an employer. As this score recovers we will see people who had been staying with an employer because of a lack of opportunity elsewhere move on with a corresponding increase in voluntary turnover. This may be starting already as for the last 3 months voluntary quits has surpassed layoffs as why people leave jobs and for the 15 months prior to that layoffs surpassed quits.4 This finding is perhaps giving an inkling of what is to come.

Perceptions of job security at the beginning of the recession when all the layoffs started were understandably in steep decline. This lasted through the first quarter of 2009 and roughly corresponded to when a massive bulge of layoffs occurred with 3979 mass layoff events occurring in 1Q09, a record high affecting 705,000 people5. This also corresponded to the lowest Employee Confidence scores recorded. However, once that bottom was hit there was a rather sharp rebound later in the year. One possible interpretation is that employees felt that the organizations had cut to the bone and could not cut any more. Employees felt that they had survived so far and so where likely to weather the storm. Exceptions to this pattern of decline and then rebound occurred in industries that were weathering the recessionary storm rather well including healthcare, education, government and food service. They did not see nearly as much of a decline. Females were more positive about job security than males, not because they were females, but because of an over-representation in industries that were doing ok. The gap between males and females disappeared when the rebound occurred, possibly due to the males feeling that all the cutting that was to be done had been carried out.

About Business Process:

During this recession it was pretty clear in the data that the majority of employers were trying to cut their way to profitability, rather than innovating with new attractive offerings or by moving into new markets. They were revamping internal processes, laying off people, cutting budgets and benefits. They were looking inward rather than outward to find solutions to their performance problems. And while it is always healthy to improve internal organizational performance, in this case it is a rather risk adverse approach compared to modifying the products and/or services being offered. It is more of a sure thing to cut back on costs rather than create products that people find attractive, even in a recession, as a way to protect margins in the short term. Not every company took that path however and historically companies that have been started in recessionary periods included: HP, GE, Burger King, Fedex, Microsoft, CNN, Trader Joes, and our own OrgVitality. Each one creating a path to success based on offering attractive and valued products and services to the marketplace that were relevant to the economic time period in which they found themselves. In this recession Autodesk, Nucor, Colgate Palmolive, Apple, Coca Cola, Target, McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, and Google among others for instance have done quite well by developing new and innovative products and by moving into new markets.2

About Organizational Effectiveness and Leadership:

At the beginning of the recession, the back-half of 2008, management was given the benefit of the doubt and was given stable or slightly increasing scores from the rank and file regarding their job performance. Of course you need to keep in mind that the rank and file during this period are the survivors, those who had not yet lost their jobs. As it appeared that the recession was going to get really ugly in the first quarter of 2009, the rank and file lost a lot of confidence in management and performance ratings on management plummeted. The realization hit that there was no magic bullet that the recession was going to be painful and deep and of a long duration and the blame, at least partially, was laid at management’s feet.

Ratings of leadership over the last year and a half or so have been very volatile with some organizations reporting extremely favorable ratings on leadership while at the same time others are reporting the poorest scores of recent memory. There has also been more divergent trends within organizations, often with vital groups perhaps feeling more stress than others (e.g., VP levels) declining dramatically while other levels are able to maintain or improve. A sharp recovery was noted in the perceptions of the job being done by management, as rated by employees, during the back half of 2009 as many of the programs designed to temper the recession began to have an effect among those still employed and further draconian layoffs were not as prevalent.

About Geographic differences in the USA:

If you compared the attitudes of employees against the unemployment level at the state level a significant relationship was found. In other words, in general those states that were exhibiting higher levels of unemployment were generally those where employees had the lowest levels of confidence. Some interesting patterns and exceptions to that statement emerged.

Those employees in southern states tended to be more positive than their unemployment level suggested they should be. In general, those in the mid-west were less positive than they should have been with the notable exceptions of Nebraska, the most positive single state and the state with the lowest level of unemployment, and Michigan with the highest level of unemployment and the second lowest level of employee confidence. Those states located in the northeast and west had employee attitudes as predicted by their unemployment levels with the exception of Oregon where employee attitudes were less positive than they should have been. The states that were exceptions certainly had the attitudes going in the predicted direction given their unemployment levels, it is just that the corresponding employee attitudes were more exaggerated than expected in either the positive or negative direction.6


  • The recession has put organizations and employees on edge.  While dealing with the increased stress and load created by aggressive cost-cutting, employees have a heightened sensitivity to leadership messages and missteps and organizational cues regarding the future.  Critically, employees watch how the crisis has revealed the organization’s commitment (or not) to its stated values.
  • As a result of this sensitivity, organizations may experience greater swings in engagement and/or satisfaction through the recession (the two not necessarily being related or moving in the same direction), though the swings may go in either direction and may be concentrated within a specific population. These swings may occur within key segments (e.g., management layers, functional areas or performance levels).
  • But changes in survey results seen across clients lead to a conclusion: the recession isn’t the only cause of changes in employee opinions and engagement in particular; it’s the organization’s response to the recession.
  • In many cases, employees have rallied behind their organizations’ recovery efforts, and are as engaged or more engaged than ever.  In part, they are not simply comparing the “now” to what was.  Clearly they understand that the crisis has demanded dramatic change, and they have hunkered down to help.  To some extent they may compare themselves to other cases of what might be, for example to the failings of other organizations or to their unemployed acquaintances.
  • One way to sum it up is that the recession has become a test of Vitality including strategy, values, behaviors, organizational agility and resiliency.  Organizations are not passive players regarding the degree to which decision-making authority is sucked upwards, open communication is stifled, leadership commitment to values are maintained, or the emphasis on service remains central.  Certainly, it has become harder to invest in employees.  But in many cases, employees understand that and may take even greater pride in how their organizations handle the recession.

1Sources of published findings which were reviewed included: OrgVitality, McKinsey, CLC, Metrus, Valtera, Modern Survey, Kenexa and Towers Perrin among others.

2The Business Week 50, Business Week, March 26, 2009

3The Employee Confidence Framework was developed by Jeffrey M. Saltzman.

4 MSNBC June 9th, 2010

5Bureau of Labor Statistics;

6Saltzman & Brooks, “Strategic Surveying in the Global Marketplace and the Role of Vitality Measures”, appearing in “Going Global” (Kyle Lundby, editor), 2010 Jossey-Bass

© 2010 by OrgVitality, Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Walter Reichman noted educator, researcher and consultant joins OrgVitality

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Dr. Walter Reichman, Professor Emeritus Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, has joined OrgVitality as a Partner and Vice President. Walter chaired the psychology department at Baruch College for 17 years with well over 120 students receiving their Masters and PhDs under his tutelage. During his tenure, the Ph.D program in Industrial/Organizational psychology achieved national recognition as a training ground for exceptional practitioners and researchers who have assumed important positions in universities and in private, public and consulting organizations across the country.

One of Walter’s key interest areas over the years has been substance abuse and its effects on organizational performance. He has been awarded numerous research grants to study substance abuse in industry and has written, presented and consulted to organizations on this topic over the years. As a researcher and practitioner on Employee Assistance Programs, Occupational Alcoholism Programs, and Career Development Programs he has help organization’s impact their performance and has improved the lives of their employees.  Based upon this work, Walter has created an innovative “Executive Assistance Program” line of services for OrgVitality to support senior managers whose personal difficulties detract from optimal organizational performance.

He is an active in the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations representing the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP). His goal is to utilize the science of psychology to improve the deliberations and programs of the United Nations. Walter co-hosts Brown Bag luncheons for the staff of the United Nations Development Program, writes about health, work and opportunities for developing entrepreneurship among disenfranchised women for the Council.

Walter is also working in the area of succession planning and he recently delivered a training program covering the latest research on that topic for the U.S. Department of Defense. Immediately prior to joining OrgVitality, Walter was a Vice President at a survey research firm where he conducted engagement surveys, customer satisfaction surveys, and readiness for change surveys for private, public and government organizations.

Walter is the co- author of “Personal Adjustment and Growth: A Lifespan Approach.” This book emphasizes positive ways of dealing with life events from childhood through old age. It has given rise to courses on the Psychology of Life Experience in many colleges and universities. Walter will be presenting at three symposia of the International Congress of Applied Psychology in Melbourne, Australia in July 2010. The symposia will deal with organizational psychology’s response to world poverty, healthy employees in healthy organizations and how psychology has impacted the United Nations. He has an MBA from City College of the City University of New York and an MA and Ed.D from Teachers College of Columbia University.

Jeffrey Saltzman, CEO of OrgVitality stated, “We are thrilled that Walter had joined us and are extremely excited about the knowledge and skill set that the addition of Walter will make available to our clients. His spirit, experience and knowledge are rare commodities in today’s world and we are excited that we will be able to capitalize on it becoming richer ourselves for the experience.”

Walter, based in New York, is available for speeches, Executive Assistance Program coaching and support, consulting and other thought leadership assignments. He can be reached at

About OrgVitality, LLC:

OrgVitality is a management consulting firm that helps organizations make sustainable improvements in their operations and offerings, increasing their Vitality, allowing them to thrive in varied environments, and empowering them to excel in their unique organizational strategies. The firm consists of highly experienced and respected professionals in Human Resources and Marketing with technical expertise in Industrial Organizational Psychology, Organizational Development and research. Headquartered in Westchester, New York, OrgVitality’s, services include employee surveys, 360 surveys, coaching and executive assistance, customer surveys, brand and market research, and social media consulting and implementation.  For more information, please visit, email contactus@orgvitality or call (914) 747-7736.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 11, 2010 at 4:31 pm

You Neanderthal…What a Relief!

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Myths, misinformation and disinformation are all around us. Being able to sort through and correctly determine which “facts” are mistaken and which real would be a very useful ability. Some are better at it than others, or at least believe they are, but even those who believe they are pretty good at living an evidence-based life cannot possibly have enough knowledge or time to correctly sort through all of it.

Many day-to-day decisions including personal, business, political and sociological ones are based on erroneous yet generally accepted information and beliefs, bias and bigotry on the part of the decision maker, political expediency, or purposely deceptive bits of available/provided information. Other decisions are made in blissful ignorance of the facts, flawed analyses due to information overload or willful disregard of evidence.

Much of this behavior and decision-making skill, or lack thereof, occurs simply because we are all human, with all the limitations that are implied by being imperfect creatures. One saving grace is that many decisions we make do not have a clearly right or wrong answer but multiple pathways to multiply acceptable, if not optimal outcomes. Decision-making is an imperfect art but luckily many imperfect decisions may lead to imperfect but somewhat acceptable outcomes. Sometimes that is true, but there are times when imperfect decisions have tremendously negative impacts.

I have been going to the same dentist now for 22 years. I visited her just a few weeks ago for a cleaning and checkup and as it turned out to replace a filling she had done from 1991 that had deteriorated. Not the filling itself, she had to tell me, the filling itself was fine. It was the tooth around the filling that had deteriorated.

She is a really great dentist, and she makes exquisite jewelry as a hobby. (She once offered to put a row of diamonds across my front teeth. I declined the offer as it just did not fit my public persona). She takes great pride in her work, as she should, and in some respects I feel like I am borrowing the fillings that she puts into my mouth. They are her fine works of art that she is willing to loan me, as long as I agree to take care of them. And if I don’t, I run the risk of her looking for me and ripping all of them out. Now there is a motivator to get you to floss.

I had to tell my dentist on the last visit when we figured out how long that filling had been in, that when I first started as a patient of hers, I was young and healthy, I was in good shape. I said to her, “I used to be young. Look what you have done to me, the longer I see you the worse the situation. My hair has turned gray, my body has deteriorated, I have gained weight and I have aged.” Well of course she took great umbrage at that, but agreed that there might be something to it, since when I started as a patient of hers she was young as well. So something about our patient/dentist relationship has aged both of us. And you know what? The same affliction, with some variation, occurs to every patient who has seen their dentist for a long period of time. Maybe it is something in the mouthwash or is it my constantly complaining about the dull rusty needles she uses for injecting and numbing out my teeth and gums. Anyway, she offers to distribute some of my books to her other patients who are in the business world and who might be able to make use of my services, so we have a pretty good relationship.

Is this data-based decision-making? Correlation is causation, right? Absurd, right? I could point out decision after decision that if you stripped it down to its essence would be based on similar logic, claiming to be data-based, without identifying the real root cause of the issues. If I believed that logic, I might then change dentists, looking for one who would not cause me to age over the years.

In “50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology” Steven Lynn and co-authors document some commonly held beliefs that have been “debunked by lots of high-quality research” (Wiley- Blackwell 2010). The list includes:

  • Humans use just ten percent of their brains – 59% of college graduates got that wrong. We actually use all of our brains, the cynic in me says that some just don’t use it very well
  • Criminal profiling helps solves crimes – a 2007 meta-analysis which cuts across a quantity of published studies, showed that professional profilers fared just about the same as laypeople in describing a criminal’s characteristics (so much for fictional TV shows as sources of information)
  • Stress causes ulcers – it is actually a bacteria, but when an ulcer is present the stress may make it worse
  • You can’t change highly heritable traits – environment does in fact play an important role on how inherited traits can be expressed
  • Only deeply depressed people commit suicide – 13-41% of those who commit suicide would meet the criteria for major depression, not exactly an overwhelming majority. Substance abuse, social phobia, gender identity disorder and borderline personality disorder accounts for many suicides. Generally anyone who expresses pervasive helplessness might be at risk.

I used to be depressed (not suicidal) about Neanderthals and by extension about us humans. If you recall, Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis appeared on the scene in Europe, Western Asia and the Middle East about 130,000 years ago and about 30,000 years ago they vanished. Much speculation has gone on regarding what had happened to them. Were they genetically less fit than Homo Sapiens Sapiens (us) and hence just died out over time? Were they competing for the same resources as Homo Sapiens Sapiens albeit less successfully? Did we as a species war with the Neanderthals and kill them off, killing off our closest relatives, another form of intelligent life? Unfortunately that last scenario seemed all too likely given our history and I have always felt somewhat depressed about the notion that Homo Sapiens Sapiens may have killed off the Neanderthals, even though I was not directly responsible.

Strong evidence-based science has stepped into the speculative breach and now there is good news. A research study that examined the DNA of Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens found a 1-4% overlap indicating that either there was some interbreeding between the two sub-species over a long period of time, or that there was substantial interbreeding occurring over a fairly short duration. So while there may have been conflict between Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens (speculation which archeological evidence does not support, but is supportive of the notion that they lived side by side), there is now evidence that there was mating going on.

We did not necessarily kill them off; we may have simply bred with them incorporating their gene pool into our own. I am so relieved, as I was carrying around this species level guilt associated with being responsible for their extinction. So now if you call someone a bone-head it is indeed legitimate, but you would likely have to apply that label to yourself as well. (Neanderthals are noted for having cranium sizes roughly equal to our own, about 6 feet tall, but were likely much stronger than us, being heavily built with robust bone structures).

Archeologists indicated little surprise at the results since they have described skeletons from Europe that contained characteristics of both Homo Sapiens Sapiens and Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis, which they took as a sign of interbreeding. Solid scientific research across multiple disciplines, using multiple methodologies arriving at similar conclusions lend greater credence to the conclusion and hence better decisions.

More and more gets written each day about the use of data in decision-making. I am a big supporter of fact-based or evidence-based decisions, and all of my work strives to take an evidence or data-based approach to decision-making. But just because you are using data doesn’t negate the need for appropriate data collection design, analysis and interpretation. It can be just as easy to come to an erroneous data-based decision based on flawed methodology, design, analysis or interpretation.

Many techniques exist that can be used to help ensure better data-based or evidence-based decisions. Look for some suggestions coming here in the near future.

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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