The Art of the Awkward.

The Art of the Awkward.

You probably do a lot of one-on-one meetings at work: with your manager, teammates, folks from other teams. Unfortunately, most people totally waste their 1:1 time. The problem: the 1:1s aren’t awkward enough. Here’s how to make them better

The 1:1 is a sacred space. It’s intimate. It’s dedicated to just you and the other person. It’s super high bandwidth for complex and uncertain content, especially emotions, hopes, and fears. It’s also the most inefficient way you can devise to disseminate non-controversial info.

Very often, people waste most of the 1:1s potential. You might make a little agenda, and then give some updates, some light feedback, and share some complaints. It’s helpful and valuable and nice. But, ask yourself: is the conversation hard? Are you a little nervous or unsure how to get out what you’re trying to say? Is it awkward?

Because if it’s not a bit awkward, you’re not talking about the real stuff.

You’re not talking about your challenges — how you’re a little burned out and started daydreaming about other jobs and why. Or that you’re scared about not making progress on a growth area, whether because it seems a bit B.S. or just because you don’t know how. You’re not confessing that you have to plan for an hour for each of these 1:1s and be super careful not to say something wrong. You’re not saying you know you’re both frustrated about the project, but you really want to work it out.

You don’t tell them the good stuff , because it feels silly. Like how they made your whole week with a simple “Great job!” after the talk you gave. Or how you went home and bragged to your partner about it. Or, how you’re so grateful how their care and empathy got you through a really rough patch. Or how they inspire you with how good they are at a skill. You’re not asking: “Why do I totally flop when I try to copy what you do? What am I missing?”

All of those things would be really awkward. So you don’t say them.

Obviously, not every minute of every 1:1 can be like this. But make no mistake — you should have enough awkward in you to use up a chunk of each meeting. This is what solves problems that otherwise go unsolved. It breaks the cycle of repeated issues or an impasse. It lets you be you and let down your guard. It builds trust and relationships. It creates growth for both of you.

Change and growth are always awkward — embrace that.

Embrace the Awkward

A few years ago, as an engineer, I used to dread and avoid awkward conversations like the plague because they were very uncomfortable. Then, very slowly, I realized I was wasting a rare precious resource: one-on-one time with another person. Now I instead dread bland, vapid, cookie cutter 1:1s. I fear that we’ll talk for a while but never get to anything real.

I made the change by committing to be awkward. Here are the two rules I use for every 1:1, many times a week:

Don’t talk about any topic that you could discuss in the open, among your team desks or in the cafe. If it’s safe enough to be overheard — it’s not the right content for a 1:1. Email it, send it in Slack, discuss among the desks, say it at a meeting, anything but a 1:1.
Commit to saying one rather awkward thing every 1:1, and get the other person to commit too.Agreeing in advance and getting permission makes it feel way more safe. Committing creates peer pressure to be real. It works.

These two rules are transformative. Following them is oddly liberating and effective. We’ve had great success teaching this to whole teams, breaking them up into pairs, and sending them off to come up with one awkward thing each to say to each other.

The Awkward Awakens

  • Get started and commit. A common complaint is that setting up the agreement to be awkward in a 1:1 series itself feels really awkward. Great! That satisfies your quota for the next meeting. Commit to awkwardness to someone (your peer, manager, a friend) and follow through.
  • Fix your other communication. If it’s hard to get to the real stuff in 1:1s, your other communication channels might suck. Get all your updates, easy questions, simple feedback done some other way: email, team meeting, Slack msg, text, whatever your company does. Whatever you do, don’t waste the 1:1.
  • Plan to be awkward. Spend a few minutes at the beginning of the week thinking what would be great to get off your chest and what you’d love to hear about from your coworkers. Plan how to be awkward rather than how to avoid.

The Awkward List

Awkwardness is hard at first, but it really does get easier. As with anything, the key is slightly uncomfortable practice. But, there’s something that makes that practice easier: whenever you succeed getting something awkward out and survive, it creates a huge feeling of satisfaction and relief. It’s deeply positive to have another person hear you and understand you better.

So, to aid your practice, here’s a long list of guaranteed awkward and positive things to help you get started. I hope that majority of these will work with most of the people you have 1:1s with!

Meta & Feelings (Occasional)

  • Talk about emotions. Label one you’re feeling, or what you sense from other person. Boom, instant awkward and great discussion.
  • Any meta-conversation about your conversations. We never talk about Topic A, we just always talk Topic B. Why is that? When I tell you about Topic A, you always react like this, and that’s why I don’t tell you that stuff. When I bring up Topic B, how do you feel? Why is that?
  • Ask for their fears. What are they afraid of (for their career, the project, an upcoming tough meeting)? Why? Share your own.
  • Trust check. How easy is it for both of you to share intimate things with each other? Why? What would make it easier? Discuss.

Extra Honest Feedback (All the time)

  • Are they acting like the best manager / report / partner you could wish for? Are you? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • What have you already told someone else about this person (or heard others say)? Share with them. Discuss.
  • What is everyone around neglecting to tell this person? What’s the work equivalent of this person having mustard on their face after lunch? Be a good friend / coworker and tell them.

Humble Advice Seeking (All the time)

  • Tell them a growth area you’re working on currently. Tell them why you picked it (even if it was one of those “not-really-optional” ones!). Ask for advice.
  • Check for your own role in a weird situation. Pick a thing you’ve recently complained about. Ask them — “What could I’ve done differently in that situation?”
  • Ask for feedback on how to be better. Then, skip the fluffy answer and ask again until you get something real.
  • Admit a fault or a mistake. Ask for support and advice. Ask them if they noticed you making it or not.
Is anyone listening?

Is anyone listening?

Abe Winter gets as much work as possible done between 7 and 10 a.m., while his colleagues are just getting out of bed or otherwise occupied in spin classes. It’s a race against time. Once his co-workers begin logging onto their computers from the train and strolling into the office, Winter, who works for an app developer in New York, knows his window of productivity is closing.

The gurgling pings emanating from his devices, sporadic at first before turning into a ceaseless bombardment, serve as a final countdown.The 34-year-old still has to put in a full day during normal business hours, but his role unofficially morphs from programmer to communicator as he spends his time responding to Slack messages with incomplete phrases and emojis rather than composing complex symphonies of code.

“I’ve given up on being 100 percent productive,” Winter says. “Engagement has become the primary goal.”

Recent years have seen a number of workplace innovations meant to open the channels of communication and collaboration, allowing ideas to flow more freely and information to be on demand. Open floor plans and digital messaging platforms were meant to bring employees closer together. As it turns out, many experts fear these modern adaptations often have the opposite effect, carrying us farther apart.

Indeed, in one of the greater workplace ironies, studies now suggest that today’s well-intentioned forms of communication are driving some workers to the brink of quitting.

The reasons for all this, of course, are wide ranging, but experts think the problem may center around the very foundation that communications is built on: empathy. With so much noise around us and rapid-fire message apps on continuously, we are less likely to see a colleague’s point of view and more apt to be judgmental and impulsive.

Rather than considering whether someone might be in a workflow before asking a question, we ping without pause—and expect an immediate response. Instead of engaging meaningfully, we isolate behind headphones and keyboards. We work from home. We check out.

Recovering the human component in our communications

When it comes to corporate communications, there are three main forms: 1) company to employees, 2) employees to company, and 3) employees to employees.

These days, workers message one another by text or other messaging services, management is making important announcements via the intranet, and employees give feedback through surveys.

Certainly, with the help of technology, a lot of these communications are far faster and more efficient than in the past. But critics say most firms employ a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t take into account a person’s role and duties.

And the more ways to communicate there are, the more the workplace can seem fragmented. “Employees may feel like there are so many channels and they don’t know where to get answers,” says Robyn Hannah, senior director of global communication at Dynamic Signal, a Silicon Valley-based company that offers mobile enterprise platforms.

“We’re forgetting different employees work differently. We need to modernize and streamline how we communicate with employees, so they feel informed, prioritized, and connected.” But not overwhelmed. 

Dynamic Signal releases an annual analysis; this year’s was titled, “The Crumbling State of Employee Communication.” Data shows 33 percent of employees are so frustrated with poor communication that they want to quit. And an About.com survey found the top three reasons people don’t like their jobs are related to communication.

“Companies are starting to acknowledge that communication is critical, but it doesn’t always get credit for top- and bottom-line impact,” Hannah says.

And while companies may be coming to terms with the importance of internal communication—many are raising the prominence of chief communication officers—the next step is translating that awareness into design-oriented, research-driven best practices.

Open floor plans. Initially seen as a cost saver, executive planners continue to be drawn to the unburdened architectural aesthetic and idealistic claims that they foster creative collaboration. But the downside has been well documented: a published Harvard Business School study, for instance, found that when employees moved from individual cubicles to an open floor plan, face-to-face interactions decreased 73 percent, and employees spent 67 percent more time on email and 75 percent more time on instant messaging apps.

“You end up sitting in the staircase” just to find quiet, says Jose Fermoso, who has worked at several Silicon Valley tech and media companies and experienced the shift away from cubicles.

Digital natives entering the workforce today are used to having near-constant access to a virtual microphone with which to broadcast their thoughts anytime, anywhere—something they view as an inalienable right. Within modern communication constructs, the loudest too easily silences the best. A false sense of intimacy is created, while meaningful collaboration is replaced by the adrenaline rush of quick hits.

“Leveraging digital tools and platforms needs to operate in service of authentic human connections, not in place of them,” Hannah says. “The rise of technology and democracy of communication requires us to train people differently.”Open-concept offices likely aren’t going anywhere. That isn’t the point. The point is to recognize how open-concept spaces, whether physical or virtual, influence communication.

Acknowledge how today’s workforce operates and design communication norms that aid productivity and nurture real relationships. If we accept that more people are going to work remotely, whether that be several blocks or continents away, then the question becomes: What does it look like when technology is leveraged in service of humanity?

Plenty of successful globally distributed firms have answered this question.Sam Yen spent 13 years at SAP, a software company based in Germany, before going to work for JPMorgan Chase earlier this year. As chief design officer, it was his responsibility to weave an innovation mindset into the company culture. Often that meant working with teams spread out across the world from Palo Alto to Bulgaria, Dublin to China, Israel to India. Even in situations with globally diverse teams, Yen cautions against an overreliance on technology.“It always comes down to empathy,” Yen says, “making sure you’re taking time to listen and understand where people are coming from.”

Get people together in a social context before they actually work together, and create opportunities for employees to see one another as people, each with a backstory and a future, advises Yen. Opt for the silent brainstorm then give everyone an equal amount of time to share their ideas, so one voice doesn’t drown out the rest. Make sure immediate teams are on the same rhythm. Spend time designing the most effective workflow: When is it necessary to Slack someone? Or would an email, phone call, or video conference be more appropriate? If employees will be working remotely, invest in dependable telepresence.

The real problem is, I don’t think managers understand how employees get work done,” Winter says.”

Artificial Intelligence and Ethics

Artificial Intelligence and Ethics

#AIforgood #ethics #leadership #digitaldisruption #digitaltransformation

Enterprises must confront the ethical implications of AI use as they increasingly roll out technology that has the potential to reshape how humans interact with machines

Many enterprises are exploring how AI can help move their business forward, save time and money, and provide more value to all their stakeholders. However, most companies are missing the conversation about the ethical issues of AI use and adoption.
Even at this early stage of AI adoption, it’s important for enterprises to take ethical and responsible approaches when creating AI systems because the industry is already starting to see backlash against AI implementations that play loose with ethical concerns.
For example, Google recently saw pushback with its Google Duplex release that seems to show AI-enabled systems pretending to be humans. Microsoft saw significant issues with its Tay bot that started going off the rails. And, of course, who can ignore what Elon Musk and others are saying about the use of AI.
Yet enterprises are already starting to pay attention to the ethical issues of AI use. Microsoft, for example, has created the AI and Ethics in Engineering and Research Committee to make sure the company’s core values are included in the AI systems it creates.

How AI systems can be biased

AI systems can quickly find themselves in ethical trouble when left inadequately supervised. One notable example was Google’s image recognition tool mistakenly classifying black people as gorillas, and the aforementioned Tay chatbot becoming a racist, sexist bigot.
How could this happen? Plainly put, AI systems are only as good as their training data, and that training data has bias. Just like humans, AI systems need to be fed data and told what that data is in order to learn from it.
What happens when you feed biased training data to a machine is predictable: biased results. Bias in AI systems often stems from inherent human bias. When technologists build systems around their own experience — even when Silicon Valley has a notable diversity problem — or when they use training data that has had human bias involved historically, the data tends to reflect the lack of diversity or systemic bias.
Some of these AI technologies can have ethical implications.
Because of this, systems inherit this bias and start to erode the trust of users. Companies are starting to realize that if they plan to gain adoption of their AI systems and realize ROI, those AI systems must be trustworthy. Without trust, they won’t be used, and then the AI investment will be a waste.
Companies are combating inherent data bias by implementing programs to not only broaden the diversity of their data sets, but also the diversity of their teams. More diversity on teams enables a diverse group of people to feed systems different data points from which to learn. Organizations like AI4ALL are helping enterprises meet both of these anti-bias goals.

More human-like bots raise stakes for ethical AI use

At Google’s I/O event earlier this month, the company demoed Google Duplex, an experimental Google voice assistant that was shown via a prerecorded interaction of the system placing a phone call to a hair salon on a human agent’s behalf. The system did a reasonable enough job impersonating a human, even adding umms and mm-hmms, that the human on the other side was suitably fooled into thinking she was talking to another human.
This demo raised a number of significant and legitimate ethical issues of AI use. Why did the Duplex system try to fake being human? Why didn’t it just identity itself as a bot upfront? Is it OK to fool humans into thinking they’re talking to other humans?
Putting bots like this out into the real world where they pretend to be human, or even pretend to take over the identity of an actual human, can be a big problem. Humans don’t like being fooled. There’s already significant erosion in trust in online systems with people starting to not believe what they read, see or hear.
With bots like Duplex on the loose, people will soon stop believing anyone or anything they interact with via phone. People want to know who they are talking to. They seem to be fine with talking to humans or bots as long as the other party truthfully identifies itself.

Ethical AI is needed for broad AI adoption

Many in the industry are pursuing the creation of a code of ethics for bots to address potential issues, malicious or benign, that could arise, and to help us address them now before it’s too late. This code of ethics wouldn’t just address legitimate uses of bot technology, but also intentionally malicious uses of voice bots.
Imagine a malicious bot user instructing the tool to ask a parent to pick up their sick child at school in order to get them out of their house so a criminal can come in while they aren’t home and rob them. Bot calls from competing restaurants could make fake reservations, preventing actual customers from getting tables.
Also concerning are information disclosure issues and laws that are not up to date to deal with voice bots. For example, does it violate HIPAA laws for bots to call your doctor’s office to make an appointment and ask for medical information over the phone?
Forward-thinking companies see the need to create AI systems that address ethics and bias issues, and are taking active measures now. These enterprises have learned from previous cybersecurity issues that addressing trust-related concerns as an afterthought comes at a significant risk. As such, they are investing time and effort to address ethics concerns now before trust in AI systems is eroded to the point of no return. Other businesses should do so, too.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution and why it’s relevant

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and why it’s relevant

Sep 25, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Klaus Schwab

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.

The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.

The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.

Already, artificial intelligence is all around us, from self-driving cars and drones to virtual assistants and software that translate or invest. Impressive progress has been made in AI in recent years, driven by exponential increases in computing power and by the availability of vast amounts of data, from software used to discover new drugs to algorithms used to predict our cultural interests. Digital fabrication technologies, meanwhile, are interacting with the biological world on a daily basis. Engineers, designers, and architects are combining computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering, and synthetic biology to pioneer a symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, the products we consume, and even the buildings we inhabit.

Challenges and opportunities

Like the revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. To date, those who have gained the most from it have been consumers able to afford and access the digital world; technology has made possible new products and services that increase the efficiency and pleasure of our personal lives. Ordering a cab, booking a flight, buying a product, making a payment, listening to music, watching a film, or playing a game—any of these can now be done remotely.

In the future, technological innovation will also lead to a supply-side miracle, with long-term gains in efficiency and productivity. Transportation and communication costs will drop, logistics and global supply chains will become more effective, and the cost of trade will diminish, all of which will open new markets and drive economic growth.

At the same time, as the economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have pointed out, the revolution could yield greater inequality, particularly in its potential to disrupt labor markets. As automation substitutes for labor across the entire economy, the net displacement of workers by machines might exacerbate the gap between returns to capital and returns to labor. On the other hand, it is also possible that the displacement of workers by technology will, in aggregate, result in a net increase in safe and rewarding jobs.

We cannot foresee at this point which scenario is likely to emerge, and history suggests that the outcome is likely to be some combination of the two. However, I am convinced of one thing—that in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production. This will give rise to a job market increasingly segregated into “low-skill/low-pay” and “high-skill/high-pay” segments, which in turn will lead to an increase in social tensions.

In addition to being a key economic concern, inequality represents the greatest societal concern associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The largest beneficiaries of innovation tend to be the providers of intellectual and physical capital—the innovators, shareholders, and investors—which explains the rising gap in wealth between those dependent on capital versus labor. Technology is therefore one of the main reasons why incomes have stagnated, or even decreased, for a majority of the population in high-income countries: the demand for highly skilled workers has increased while the demand for workers with less education and lower skills has decreased. The result is a job market with a strong demand at the high and low ends, but a hollowing out of the middle.

This helps explain why so many workers are disillusioned and fearful that their own real incomes and those of their children will continue to stagnate. It also helps explain why middle classes around the world are increasingly experiencing a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction and unfairness. A winner-takes-all economy that offers only limited access to the middle class is a recipe for democratic malaise and dereliction.

Discontent can also be fueled by the pervasiveness of digital technologies and the dynamics of information sharing typified by social media. More than 30 percent of the global population now uses social media platforms to connect, learn, and share information. In an ideal world, these interactions would provide an opportunity for cross-cultural understanding and cohesion. However, they can also create and propagate unrealistic expectations as to what constitutes success for an individual or a group, as well as offer opportunities for extreme ideas and ideologies to spread.

The impact on business

An underlying theme in my conversations with global CEOs and senior business executives is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed. Indeed, across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses.

On the supply side, many industries are seeing the introduction of new technologies that create entirely new ways of serving existing needs and significantly disrupt existing industry value chains. Disruption is also flowing from agile, innovative competitors who, thanks to access to global digital platforms for research, development, marketing, sales, and distribution, can oust well-established incumbents faster than ever by improving the quality, speed, or price at which value is delivered.

Major shifts on the demand side are also occurring, as growing transparency, consumer engagement, and new patterns of consumer behavior (increasingly built upon access to mobile networks and data) force companies to adapt the way they design, market, and deliver products and services.

A key trend is the development of technology-enabled platforms that combine both demand and supply to disrupt existing industry structures, such as those we see within the “sharing” or “on demand” economy. These technology platforms, rendered easy to use by the smartphone, convene people, assets, and data—thus creating entirely new ways of consuming goods and services in the process. In addition, they lower the barriers for businesses and individuals to create wealth, altering the personal and professional environments of workers. These new platform businesses are rapidly multiplying into many new services, ranging from laundry to shopping, from chores to parking, from massages to travel.

On the whole, there are four main effects that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has on business—on customer expectations, on product enhancement, on collaborative innovation, and on organizational forms. Whether consumers or businesses, customers are increasingly at the epicenter of the economy, which is all about improving how customers are served. Physical products and services, moreover, can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value. New technologies make assets more durable and resilient, while data and analytics are transforming how they are maintained. A world of customer experiences, data-based services, and asset performance through analytics, meanwhile, requires new forms of collaboration, particularly given the speed at which innovation and disruption are taking place. And the emergence of global platforms and other new business models, finally, means that talent, culture, and organizational forms will have to be rethought.

Overall, the inexorable shift from simple digitization (the Third Industrial Revolution) to innovation based on combinations of technologies (the Fourth Industrial Revolution) is forcing companies to reexamine the way they do business. The bottom line, however, is the same: business leaders and senior executives need to understand their changing environment, challenge the assumptions of their operating teams, and relentlessly and continuously innovate.

The impact on government

As the physical, digital, and biological worlds continue to converge, new technologies and platforms will increasingly enable citizens to engage with governments, voice their opinions, coordinate their efforts, and even circumvent the supervision of public authorities. Simultaneously, governments will gain new technological powers to increase their control over populations, based on pervasive surveillance systems and the ability to control digital infrastructure. On the whole, however, governments will increasingly face pressure to change their current approach to public engagement and policymaking, as their central role of conducting policy diminishes owing to new sources of competition and the redistribution and decentralization of power that new technologies make possible.

Ultimately, the ability of government systems and public authorities to adapt will determine their survival. If they prove capable of embracing a world of disruptive change, subjecting their structures to the levels of transparency and efficiency that will enable them to maintain their competitive edge, they will endure. If they cannot evolve, they will face increasing trouble.

This will be particularly true in the realm of regulation. Current systems of public policy and decision-making evolved alongside the Second Industrial Revolution, when decision-makers had time to study a specific issue and develop the necessary response or appropriate regulatory framework. The whole process was designed to be linear and mechanistic, following a strict “top down” approach.

But such an approach is no longer feasible. Given the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s rapid pace of change and broad impacts, legislators and regulators are being challenged to an unprecedented degree and for the most part are proving unable to cope.

How, then, can they preserve the interest of the consumers and the public at large while continuing to support innovation and technological development? By embracing “agile” governance, just as the private sector has increasingly adopted agile responses to software development and business operations more generally. This means regulators must continuously adapt to a new, fast-changing environment, reinventing themselves so they can truly understand what it is they are regulating. To do so, governments and regulatory agencies will need to collaborate closely with business and civil society.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will also profoundly impact the nature of national and international security, affecting both the probability and the nature of conflict. The history of warfare and international security is the history of technological innovation, and today is no exception. Modern conflicts involving states are increasingly “hybrid” in nature, combining traditional battlefield techniques with elements previously associated with non-state actors. The distinction between war and peace, combatant and noncombatant, and even violence and nonviolence (think cyberwarfare) is becoming uncomfortably blurry.

As this process takes place and new technologies such as autonomous or biological weapons become easier to use, individuals and small groups will increasingly join states in being capable of causing mass harm. This new vulnerability will lead to new fears. But at the same time, advances in technology will create the potential to reduce the scale or impact of violence, through the development of new modes of protection, for example, or greater precision in targeting.

The impact on people

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships. It is already changing our health and leading to a “quantified” self, and sooner than we think it may lead to human augmentation. The list is endless because it is bound only by our imagination.

I am a great enthusiast and early adopter of technology, but sometimes I wonder whether the inexorable integration of technology in our lives could diminish some of our quintessential human capacities, such as compassion and cooperation. Our relationship with our smartphones is a case in point. Constant connection may deprive us of one of life’s most important assets: the time to pause, reflect, and engage in meaningful conversation.

One of the greatest individual challenges posed by new information technologies is privacy. We instinctively understand why it is so essential, yet the tracking and sharing of information about us is a crucial part of the new connectivity. Debates about fundamental issues such as the impact on our inner lives of the loss of control over our data will only intensify in the years ahead. Similarly, the revolutions occurring in biotechnology and AI, which are redefining what it means to be human by pushing back the current thresholds of life span, health, cognition, and capabilities, will compel us to redefine our moral and ethical boundaries.

Shaping the future

Neither technology nor the disruption that comes with it is an exogenous force over which humans have no control. All of us are responsible for guiding its evolution, in the decisions we make on a daily basis as citizens, consumers, and investors. We should thus grasp the opportunity and power we have to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution and direct it toward a future that reflects our common objectives and values.

To do this, however, we must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril. Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.

In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails

Preparing for a new era of work

Preparing for a new era of work

Jul 17, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Susan Lund, James Manyika, and Sree Ramaswamy

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

The past three decades saw companies in developed economies make huge strides improving the productivity and organizational performance of an array of jobs. Aided by advances in technology and digital communications, companies automated, reengineered, and outsourced numerous tasks that had once required full-time, on-site employees. The trend, which began on production floors, moved next to offices, where a range of transaction-based jobs that could be standardized or scripted were automated, shifted to workers in low-wage countries, or both.

Through all such changes, a broad swath of employment remained largely untouched: work requiring extensive human interactions. Among these positions are the jobs held by knowledge workers—the doctors, engineers, lawyers, managers, sales representatives, teachers, and other skilled professionals who together serve as the engine of the knowledge economy. Research has shown that such interaction workers are vital to the competitive success of companies and countries alike. Interaction work is the fastest-growing category of employment in developed countries, where it already accounts for a large proportion of jobs. Because technology has tended to complement, not replace, labor in interaction work, until recently many of these jobs had essentially been performed in the same ways for decades.

Not anymore. Today, interaction work is at an inflection point as global competition, emerging skill shortages, and changing demographics force companies to use their most highly paid talent more effectively. Employers in advanced economies may soon, for example, be unable to find as many college-educated workers as they require. Research finds that in the United States, the gap could reach 1.5 million graduates by decade’s end. China, where many global companies have staked growth plans, faces a shortage of 23 million college-educated workers in 2020.

The causes of this looming talent crunch are diverse. In some advanced economies, notably Japan, stagnant population growth means there soon won’t be enough young workers to replace retirees. The underrepresentation of women, particularly in the ranks of managers and executives, remains a problem in some economies, notably Germany. And despite technological advances in communications, geographic mismatches persist between the supply of workers and the demand for them.

A changing world

Against this backdrop, leading companies —in aviation, business services, financial services, health care, high-tech manufacturing, and other industries—are exploring ways to revamp how, where, and by whom interaction work is performed. Companies that succeed in these efforts will enjoy productivity gains, greater flexibility in responding to opportunities, and better access to scarce talent. But to get there, they must rethink how they manage their workforces. Let’s look at three approaches companies are taking, along with the implications for managers.

1. Break jobs down

Nearly all high-skill interaction jobs include tasks that can be hived off to allow the best-paid workers to focus on the most value-creating activities. A classic example was the introduction of paralegals into the legal profession, relieving attorneys of research and litigation-support tasks while allowing them to spend more time in the courtroom or serving clients. This shift created a middle-income profession that now employs more than one-quarter of a million people in the United States. Medicine is a field that is ripe for this type of job modification.

Traditional corporate line positions are also splintering. An obvious example of the disaggregation that’s been under way for some time comes from the human-resources (HR) function, now being broken into disciplines such as compensation, recruiting, and benefits administration. Specialists (who may be full-time employees, contractors, or employees of service providers) can bring the expertise that generalists lack, often at a far lower cost.

We believe the trend to disaggregate jobs will pick up speed as skill shortages take hold. The effects will be most strongly felt in corporate roles, such as marketing, that are quickly being transformed by digital technology. In such cases, breaking jobs down into more specialized tasks will not only help companies economize on scarce talent but also make it possible to perform those tasks more efficiently and effectively.

2. Go virtual

Employers first began ramping up their use of remote-work arrangements in the 1990s, in part to retain the services of mothers who preferred not to commute or who wanted to work part time. As technology evolved, companies such as IBM found they could eliminate permanent offices for sales reps and other customer-facing employees. Such moves yielded huge cost savings on real estate while increasing the time reps could spend with customers. Now, thanks to broadband, cloud computing, and a burgeoning market for online collaboration tools, many more jobs that once required in-person interactions can be performed anywhere. These jobs range from administrative assistants and insurance claims processors to law associates and corporate workers in functions such as finance or HR.

Increasingly, new hires may not even come into the office for training, which is also delivered electronically. And because the rites of social media are so familiar to many employees, members of remote teams and their managers often establish relationships quickly.

Virtual approaches to work are attractive to a wide array of employees, including working mothers, older workers, and younger, Generation Y professionals who want flexible lifestyles from the start. Younger workers are often particularly suited to work remotely, having grown up socializing and collaborating online.

3. Make work more flexible

By breaking some jobs into components and using technology to virtualize others, employers can engage labor far more efficiently. Some companies are already exploring a spectrum of mix-and-match work arrangements: traditional full-time workers in the office, part-time or temporary workers, and contingent, remote workers who can help meet spikes in demand. Companies that optimize such configurations and manage them effectively can begin engaging talent as needed, thereby lowering overhead costs and improving response times. The key to this talent-on-demand model is the availability of workers with specialized skills who are willing to work on a contingent basis.

The workforce appears ready. An expanding industry of intermediaries and “talent aggregators” has cropped up to supply interaction workers ranging from drug-development scientists to advertising copywriters to investment bankers and attorneys. In the United States, 45 percent of temporary employees work in management, in IT or technical occupations, or in health care, and contract work has grown four times faster than total employment over the past decade. Moreover, while many less-skilled temporary workers were laid off during the recent recession, contingent work among more highly skilled professionals has continued to grow.

Implications for senior executives

Savvy senior executives will recognize that managing the shift currently under way is analogous to leading a major change-management program and that managers, at all levels, will be the ones most keenly affected. The first priority for executives seeking to lead their organizations into the new world of work should be helping their management teams improve—or in some cases develop—abilities such as these:

  • Coordinate and sequence. Managing diverse groups of on-site and remote employees will be challenging in a world where the composition of teams changes rapidly as project-based contractors and temporary staff come and go. Managers must become nimble coordinators and better coaches to ensure that all tasks, wherever they occur, mesh smoothly and that information is shared effectively among colleagues. Group interactions, in particular, will require more careful planning and structuring.
  • (Over)communicate. Some companies require offsite workers to be available for a certain period each day to handle team catch-ups and check-ins with colleagues; other companies set aside regular times for in-person meetings.
  • Observe and listen. While some employees thrive in independent, remote work environments, others wither in the absence of daily contact with coworkers or the camaraderie of working in a traditional team. Likewise, some managers worry that remote workers will identify less fully with their companies. The best managers will vigilantly observe how their people adjust and respond accordingly.
  • Let go. Some managers already struggle when they evaluate the performance of knowledge workers. It’s a perennial challenge to judge employees on outcomes, not hours, since defining clear goals and determining reasonable time lines are difficult. Yet in an environment where some employees work in a central office and others are time zones away, managers have no choice but to define goals and step back.

As with all change programs, the role of senior management will include communicating a clear rationale for any moves and creating a compelling vision of how they will help the company reach its goals. Managers must be convinced of the benefits—higher performance for their teams—if they are to become enthusiastic leaders of change. Above all, senior executives should encourage managers to think big: the new world of work opens up new possibilities for how companies define their boundaries and organize work. Distinctions among employers, employees, and customers are blurring. Innovation happens and tasks get done in new ways. Companies that take advantage of these trends—and indeed pioneer them—can lower their costs while significantly enhancing their value proposition to employees.