Managing oneself in the digital age, the human Side of technology
What would humans do?
The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do ~ B. F. Skinner
What would you say are some of the strongest qualities of being a human?
Well, the words that come to my mind are, ‘intuition, caring, ability to constantly learn and evolve.’
Yes, but when we look at the crux of any unwinnable circumstance, disasters and problems that we as human beings have faced, either individually or as a society, what aspect of ours do you feel is the strongest? Now, the only word that comes to my mind is “HOPE.”
“All human wisdom is summed up in two words; wait and hope ~ Alexandre Dumas”
Every hope is a waking dream that allows us to do greater good for mankind and with that to create a better world for the coming generations.
What if we could always keep this aspect of “hope” alive with qualities of intuition, learning, to care for others and all of this to evolve not only with us, but pass it on to the most influential aspect of our lives today, which obviously is technology? Wouldn’t the word truly be a better place?
For me, to be human is simply to have hope.
So if a technology or a tool can create ‘hope’ as in, truly add value in a way that humans would to each other, for fellow being, we as humans would win the challenge of managing oneself in the digital age. Why, simply because we would then have the “human side of technology,” the power to create tools and process with human touch and ensure that the device or stride we take to design them does the same.
“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes ~ Peter Drucker”
The human side of technology, it really does sound beautiful, doesn’t it? But to make that transition, we need to get to the basics and ask ourselves ‘What makes us unique as human beings?’
The answer is simple, the power to evolve.
I came across an amazing video about ‘endurance running’ in which BBC had created a documentary of Kalahari bushmen and how they used “persistence hunting” technique.
Did you know that because humans ‘perspire’, our bodies have an automatic mechanism to cool down even as we keep doing strenuous activities? It was shown in that documentary that these amazing bushmen persistently follow their prey for long distances using their endurance and intuition of hunting skills, until a point wherein the animal they are hunting has to slow down because, get this, animals don’t perspire and the only way they can cool down is by halting.
Now evolution has blessed us similarly with so many more such wonderful things. It has created us in a manner wherein our brain is at the top most position which is to say, our ability to think is the most amazing aspect of, well, being ‘us’ as we evolved over centuries from primitive tools to the world of digital.
So if we empower the technology of today with the power to evolve, be creative, have intuitions, which are not based on logic but experiences, it could do the trick? Ok, great, let’s circle back to this in the coming pages as it sounds so simple, well, not really. But we will be looking at some concrete examples of this taking place right now as we speak in the coming sections of this post.
Meanwhile, assuming, we are at a stage wherein we are able to pass on the power to evolve to machines too, let’s take a closer look at how to combine this advancement with human-centered management.
Digital, is everywhere. In fact, my work life revolves around digital technologies and big data related functions and the more I get into it the more I am able to grow my skills, learning and that too in shorter periods of time. But, something was missing, I couldn’t figure out what.
Soon I was reading all about it in magazines, blog articles, case studies across research institutes and corporations that there was now so much data, that what was relevant and actually useful was taking a backseat. It was information overload. It was overwhelming.
Now this is happening because as a tool, technology can only process data in the form of reports and answers to us but what if as a human would, it could be trained to ‘think’ and only use that data which is relevant and useful?
Then it hit me, “The computer is a moron ~ Peter Drucker”.
Drucker’s work and teachings have always had a profound influence in my life, both personally and professionally over the years and his concepts of MBO and focus towards “human” side of everything has impacted my work so much that both, ‘Management by Objective’ model and the concept of ‘Humanize your brand’ which is my company’s tagline has formed integral parts of my work process.
So what did Peter Drucker really mean when he called the computer a moron?
My guess is, that ‘it only carries out orders’ and imagine if all of us rely on its ability to think when the machine itself relies on what we have to feed it in terms of information, then we truly are heading down a dangerous path, aren’t we?
In the past recent years, we have seen big time CEO’s of multinational corporations take massive fall for failing in their decision making process and with that a fall in the growth of their companies. Research from eminent institutes like Harvard have revealed a peek into what could have happened with these CEO’s who were obviously chosen because they were believed to be perfect for their jobs. More often than not, it has been observed that these CEO’s failed to bridge the gap between company data and the employees. For eg. Opting for huge job cuts, compelling employees to oblige with longer working hours while sacrificing their personal relationships and lives etc have resulted in further deterioration of the company’s performances. In fact, most recently, few CEO’s who had taken such decisions had the guts to come up front and even accept their mistakes across public forums.
So what should human-centered management do?
It should help in reducing or even eliminating work that can be avoided, eg. If telecommute is a solution, then ensure to offer it to employees.
Similarly, ensure to reduce the complexity of technology by mapping tasks and tools to the employee’s skill sets. If you make a finance executive design your company’s website by forcing him or her to learn, simply with an idea to cut costs, then it is guaranteed, you will lose both, the time and the resource in a short period of time.
Increase socio-technical leadership wherein the idea is based on the aspect that ‘values must be forged not forced.’
The worst business decisions taken by senior management has usually been in the form of an act of desperation unless and until of course that is the way those leaders function.
Now what if, instead of reacting to problems, you could anticipate them?
This is an important aspect of bridging the gap between technology and the human side with it. Because technologies primarily function based on logic and not experiences as we humans usually do.
So the questions are –
How can we leverage the power of digital technology to strengthen human capabilities?
Create a human-centered management.
Technological advances harnessed by individuals who are in tune with their own strengths and values.
How can we leverage technology for innovation and long-term value creation that recognizes and strengthens the unique human element and moves from rationalization to augmentation?
If we as humans could create a technological system that can evolve, learn on its own by not just using artificial intelligence but also with artificial intuition and get these tools in the hands of those who can focus on human centered management based on the core three principles shared above, our problem would be solved.
But artificial intelligence has its own set of flaws too. Like we discussed before, it is based on pre-defined parameters or logic to a very great extent and not based on intuitions or experiences.
“Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks ~ Stephen Hawking”
AI has empowered business and societies over the years in every form that it has existed in. For eg. Using a fraction of AI’s power to create a software system wherein the requirements are so to speak, automate the heat and pumping systems in a factory by writing a code and integrating it with the factory machinery in a way to set an alarm in the form of a text message and a siren across two different points. Now what this would do for the two employees who would be doing this manually otherwise was, that it would eliminate the need for them to physically go and keep checking the heat levels from time to time which included odd hours throughout the day and nights.
The example given above was simple automation when you compare it with the real power of AI and systems integrations but imagine, if every tool that was created to help fellow human beings functioned this way, smooth and error-free wouldn’t life be much more wonderful? Yes, it would, but I guess we have to face facts at this point in time that except for the proven theories and concepts of certain areas of science, economics etc nowhere else the aspect of “all things being constant” really makes sense. Especially not in our real lives, because here, the only ones who will survive are the ones who can rapidly adapt to changes. On similar lines, unless the technology of today can rapidly adapt to changes, make predictions and think, it won’t survive, or worst, it won’t let us survive.
Which is why, how we use artificial intelligence and why we need intuition to make it human, goes a long way.
Palm founder Jeff Hawkins is on the verge of an amazing breakthrough with Grok, a neurology based, big data, and the future of artificial intelligence that moves over AI and touches base with AN which is Artificial intuition by creating a machine that can decide which data is relevant and develop predictions based on possible outcomes which it learns from its ‘past experiences’.
We are in an era where we are helping machines by enabling it with the power to ‘evolve’.
“Evolution rarely throws anything away. I believe Prediction, not Logic, is still the most important low level primitive in human brains ~ Peter Drucker in Managing Oneself”
Yes, we are now at a stage where ‘we need to help technology’, to think and take better humanized decisions or add value in the real sense of the term human experiences which is needless to say, help us connect and or communicate with each other better to share our experiences as one.
Today, we are hearing about the internet of things and pretty soon I am sure that the water taps in our homes will buzz us on our smartphones saying, “I have been running continuously for the past fifteen minutes. Are you sure you are using this much water?”
On similar lines, I was recently watching a Ted talk video wherein they showcased, how using advanced virtual presence mobile device, allowed physically challenged individuals to travel the world and keep learning in that process. Henry Evans is an amazing example who has traveled and experienced a life filled with wonderful memories due to telepresence, all of this right from his bed due to his medical condition. And you know what he says about this experience, “I am more glad that today, world over people are growing more accustomed to telepresence robots” which makes them welcome this experience in a human way and in turn makes those less privileged like Evans even feel the positivity through their warmth in accepting & welcoming this technology with a smile.
Now how do I see my own personal development in this scenario?
Power, success and achievements no doubt have their own merits, but personally the greatest satisfaction of them all has always come from doing something for others. ‘Empathy’ is a powerful human emotion. Technology has enabled me over the years to be a part of many social causes and in the process encourage fellow beings from across the globe to do their share too. We have seen revolutions taking place across the globe, wherein technology has brought people together with a single goal.
“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life ~ Buddha”
In terms of skills, technology has enabled us to learn anything from everywhere. With the growing trends of online courses from reputed institutes, one has the ability to add skills to ones choosing from the comforts of their home. These are clearly visible across the Top Trends in Digital Marketing and Technology in 2017 (Click to Read).
On a professional front, technology is the crux of every aspect of my routine work and the more I see it evolving due to radical developments by fellow thinkers, icons, business and industry leaders, it keeps looking better and more humanized.
Technology has enabled us to do greater good by being a part of social activities for growing causes and concerns like child welfare development, reducing child mortality rate by educating more people about immunizations, autism awareness, women safety, natural disasters etc either by directly getting involved in these activities or by sharing these growing causes with those across the globe with a simple click of a button.
So in a way, it has added tremendous meaning to the purpose of life, which for me personally is defined by three aspects:
- Innovating something ’resourceful’ for self and those around us
- Being a part of something that is much larger than ourselves – “Society”
- Understanding that the only way to get the best out of technology is through collaboration and constantly learning from it
It’s important that we give technology the time to evolve and humans the time to understand it better too.
“All great achievements require time ~ Maya Angelou”
So yes, technology can be the greatest contributor in helping us become more human by bringing us closer to people and causes that we care about.
“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn. ~ Peter Drucker”
But as every boon has a bane there are pitfalls too?
Using merely “DATA’ from technology can result into a lopsided view of the world.
Transforming our lives by ‘depending on technology’ rather than enabling it to ease our lives can result in lack of human and social connect over the years. For eg. Studies have shown that people who are too focused in their work but at the same time chose to telecommute majority of the time, have developed drop in empathy, social connect and engagement with their own peers and groups due to prolonged use of technology with the simple intent to ‘get work done’ and not to add value or grow in the process.
Increase use of big data as a marketing tool by many major corporations has resulted in, yet another lopsided world which is only getting worse unless each and every one of us using this information understands the human side with its repercussions too. This reminds me of the “Husband and Wife story – I lost the $5 too!”, this aspect is covered in detail in this post: Using Automated tools and embracing big data for higher quality of life and human connect with rich business solutions (CLICK to Read).
“Perform all work carefully, guided by compassion ~ The Bhagavad Gita”
If we use technology as a platform to educate us and those around, because with it, the learning curve never ends, we can for sure prepare for the type of skills required from us in the coming decades. And if machines are getting smarter and smarter, the only role management will need to play in the future is to ensure that it is in fact, still human.
The power of management lies in the fact that as a group, as an organization, it has the influence to augment causes, needs, skills for the greater good and transcend barriers.
It’s also essential that we keep track of our work, create and use technology to measure our goals and our actions to get feedback that is most relevant for growth both, socially and economically to begin with by writing down and comparing the results over a period of time, in other words, use the ‘feedback analysis’ as shared by Drucker in Managing oneself where he also adds: “They will have to place themselves where they can make the greatest contribution; they will have to learn to stay young and mentally alive during a fifty-year working life.”
The important part about understanding the behavior and the impact of technology on humans and vice versa needs to be studied in an environment where the same is practiced. This cannot be done merely with theories and assumptions. For eg. It’s always argued that the process and or systems cannot and should not be separated from its environment. If you take a rabbit from its natural habitat and attempt to study it in a totally different environment, we can be sure that the results we get will be very different from its natural behavioral patterns. Similarly, to better understand human-technology relationship, the optimum environment is while it’s happening, in real-time.
And at any point of time, if we ever find ourselves drifting, all we need to do is simply ask ourselves, ‘what would humans do?’
Do share your responses, would love to hear your thoughts and views on this.