Have We Created The Conditions?

We’ve all heard the quote that “every system is perfectly designed to achieve exactly the results it gets.” And if that statement is true, then at some point we have to step back and begin to consider why our current systems are not creating the outcomes and results that we want or need, be that government, schools, or the workplace.

As the pace of change accelerates, we find ourselves and our organizations facing more and more uncertainty. Not to say that we ever faced the future with complete certainty, but it never seemed to be so clouded in ambiguity, worry and doubt.

And for most of us considering the turbulence and chaos brought on by these exponential shifts, there’s this tendency to place technology front and center as the instigating force pushing these changes and us forward into a much more volatile and non-obvious future.

There’s this fear, and for good reason, that technology, be that automation, robots, or artificial intelligence, may be leading us down a path towards job insecurity and economic upheaval.

While many are blaming technology for these current and coming concerns, John Hagel in his Big Think talk “Rethinking Race Against the Machines” has put a different spin on how we tend to blame technology for these radical shifts we are facing in the very near future.

As Hagel shares, “Technology is not the root cause, technology is simply going after the target that’s been put on the screen. The root cause is how we’ve defined work in companies. And the opportunity now is to step back and say, is that the way we need work to be done?”

Hagel’s concern is that we’ve framed our concerns around the wrong target. It’s not that technology is the cause of a possibly automated future, but rather that we’ve standardized work in ways that we’ve made it quite easy for it to be targeted for automation. Technology is just accelerating the process. We’ve created a system and a way of working in our organizations and companies that has made it very easy for it to be disrupted by automation, robots and artificial intelligence.

Hagel adds, “The real reason that we have such an issue in terms of unemployment and job loss through automation is that we’ve crafted these jobs exactly so that they would be vulnerable to automation. We put a bulls-eye target on workers around the United States and around the world and said come after me…”

It is this idea of standardization that Hagel refers too, which has continued over from the previous century, from our schools to the workplace that has ultimately led to not only diminished creativity, but the conditions to allow technology to possibly automate away millions of not just blue collar, but white collar jobs on a global level.

Hagel continues, “If you step back and look at what the modern organization is and how it evolved, through a model that we describe as a push model, basically it has to do with developing forecasts and predictions and then making sure the right people are in the right place at the right time and following tightly scripted activities to respond to that demand. And stepping back, that’s a formula for automation. If you have tightly scripted jobs that are highly standardized where there’s no room for individual initiative or creativity, machines by and large, can do those activities much better than human beings. They’re much more predictable, they’re much more reliable.”

When we consider the situation, when we really reflect on the system or systems we have created, we find that this focus on standardization has created the conditions for for a much more automated future. And the antidote for this standardization lies in accessing and extending our abilities to engage much more imagination, creativity and innovation as individuals and organizations. We are not only going to have to rework our idea of work, but the skills, skill-sets and abilities that we need from our students as the move out into the workforce and workplace. Inability to make these shifts makes the future a much more concerning prospect for all of us.

I will leave you with these thoughts from John Hagel and his Big Think talk on “Rethinking Race Against the Machines”

“Now we are in a world that’s more rapidly changing, more uncertainty, more of those extreme events that Taleb calls the Black Swans, that make it really critical for us as individuals in the workplace to take much more initiative to be constantly exercising creativity and imagination to respond to the unexpected events. That is a very different model of work. It requires a very different way of organizing our institutions and a different set of work practices that are much harder to automate. When you have that kind of imagination, creativity, trust-based relationships required to address these hard problems, it makes it that much less vulnerable to automation.”

Or as Hagel shares, we can then begin to move from “racing against the machines” to “racing with the machines.”


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