You ever met someone who said: “I can’t do maths.” I have. Me. I failed my maths O’ Level 3 times. Yes, 3. Of course, we can all learn maths. Just like we can all learn to cheat at tiddlywinks, dance better than our uncle Tony, or cook something more healthy and exotic than a curry. I failed because, like most people, I didn’t find Euclid or Fermat as interesting or sexy as Artaud or Modigliani. I also didn’t realise until it was too late that apparently most employers wouldn’t touch you with a barge pole unless you ticked the math box (although, interestingly, I did get a job in a nappy factory because I quoted The Waste Land to the HR manager who had forgotten she had Elliot’s collected works on her desk).

If anything, nothing has changed. Most people still avoid the theatre of cruelty that is maths class, but tick the box nonetheless. And most employers would still look at its glaring omission as a bad sign, even if some are now actively hunting the kind of off the grid independent creative thinking HC capabilities that can’t ever be listed on a CV, or even taught in school (that kind of foundational capital is taught in the home).

Which brings me to my point: There is a war coming.

Not a war for talent (yawn). But a much more interesting one: a war for the talent that can see and leverage that talent with math.  A war within companies, in the boardrooms, between two sides: HR and CFO’s. A war  to ‘own’ – and with that ring of power ownership ‘rule’ – the kind of statistical data driven HCM picture of the businesses potential that will soon (already is in some companies) inform and dictate not just the way the business makes its decisions, but what the financial community (investors, shareholders, rating agencies) decide about the company’s value.

Who’ll win? Let’s take a brief albeit generalised look at the contenders.

In the red corner, there is HR. HR who have Rocky like been battered and bruised but retrained themselves to embrace social media and dashboards to get a richer and deeper picture of the people they want – and the people they’re stuck with. HR who have changed the name plaques from Human Resources Officer to Chief of Human Capital on their dressing room door. HR who have always assumed that this is something they can ease into after a few sessions with the organisational culture skipping rope. But this isn’t a natural progression from bantam weight HR to middleweight HC. In many ways, it’s a discontinuity. It’s a new discipline, as different as judo is to boxing, that demands the kind of statistician and data analyst skills that HR just doesn’t have being applied to the wider business strategy that perpetual contender HR simply hasn’t been privy too for a long time.  And don’t hold out hope on the next generation: I’m guessing the next generation of HR aren’t being taught this at the school of soft knocks either.

What about CFO’s? Well, the blue corner have more natural ability. Not only are they down with the board and skilled in the strategic vision and the wider investor community that will soon be turning to them to pony up this stuff, but they also have the south paw, math. The problem they have though is that it’s not their natural domain. Not yet at least. It’s HR’s. Or its HR’s to lose. And it’s still, for them, somehow ‘soft’. It will take some heavy yanking to pull their bare-knuckled fingers from their spreadsheets of past financial performance and bring them into the dizzying light of people data. Not something that will eek into Economics 101 soon either.

So for now, we have a strange phony war going on. HR grappling to be HC-ready, slowly realising that they really do need to get that maths O’Level.  CFO’s stunned by the widespread devaluation and mistrust of the supremacy of medieval accounting and blinking at the prospect that HR could soon usurp them as the decision making voice of choice on the boardroom table. HR going geek. CFO’s gaga. And us, the audience, watching and cheering one side or the other on….

Perhaps there is more going on here though. In many ways, the firms that are creating the science of HC are new. Born in a brave new data world, they rightly and finally put money where their mouths are and value the knowledge economy data-backed human capital best asset creativity mantra. They are also more naturally rebellious about doing things the same way as everyone else. They’re more likely to be non-hierarchical and have a marketing hero at the helm (and marketing wised up long ago to math). Which means for them, EVERYTHING the business does or wants to do is done on the numbers, even if those numbers now extend well beyond sales figures. The irony here might be that these rule-breakers are breeding a totally new hybrid HR-Finance role, leaving both traditional HR and Finance to vanish like Foucault’s doodle in the sand, one perhaps with a bang, the other a whimper.

But there is a note of caution here. People data can tell you a lot of interesting stuff about people. Just as financial reports can tell you a lot about how much or little those people achieved. But data has limits. And people data is always already – like financial results – about the past.

You see, a firm is, in a very real sense, a hedge or bet against uncertainty. That uncertainty being the future, whose skies are fogged up by black swans, and whose shape is for the most part fundamentally unguessable (if you doubt this, name someone who 15 years ago said Apple would be bigger than Microsoft, or that RBS was a terrible place to put your pension).

The firm’s that thrive now are then simply temporarily successful at leveraging talent at that given moment. A talent whose intangible skills are largely immune from data. Which means there is never a point where we ever have enough data about the people we have or their ability to conquer a future uncertainty whose data also has absences to make a 100% rational decision.

We can measure a lot of useful stuff, but never everything. We can layer analytical interpretive skills onto that data, and make the best guesses we can. We should too. And we should make them in ever more people and environmentally conscious and sustainable ways.  But we will always need to add a strong dash of subjective judgement here. We will always need to think creatively.

So yes, the HC man/woman/thingy of the future will be a statistician and data analyst. But they will also need to be artists. Scientists that can dance, who even when all the facts in are willing to break the rules, who are prepared to cook up a storm in the chance that they and the people they work with can together conquer whatever life throws at them.

Got a hat in the ring? Think this HR/Finance alien is, well, just too alien? Let me know how stupid I’ve been. I can take it.