Artificial Intelligence (AI) will challenge organizations in unexpected ways. But it’s not because of the adoption of new tools or technologies it’s because of the adoption of new behaviors and business practices.
“A revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools, it happens when society adopts new behaviors” — Clay Shirky, US Now, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlqU1o3NmSw
Let’s look at work first:
Who is happy at work? Who thinks we have business practices in place that takes care of its employees, offers them meaningfulness and agency?
I mean for sure there are plenty of excellent business organizations out there, but according to the statistics they seem to be anomalies.
Most workers don’t engage with their work and it’s not because of AI.
It’s a.) because of the long established technology of management.
“The problems that we can solve as a species is fundamentally limited by our capacity to manage. To bring people together, to coordinate, to accomplish things at scale. And I’m arguing today that this technology has to be reinvented, root and branch. It is a problem that is so urgent, so complex and so eminently worthwhile that none of us who have a stake in the future of humanity should be sitting at the sidelines” — Gary Hamel,
And b.) because of the more recent practice of maximizing shareholder value — the dumbest idea in the world (link) .
If Gallup is right that between 69–87% of employees today (depending on region) are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work, then work isn’t good enough (link).
So how can AI help?
I’m going to be naively hopeful and suggest: it can help a lot.
Today most organizations follow a blueprint tailored for mass efficiency and standardization.
These are managerial needs, they are neither human needs nor organizational needs.
An organization decides what it wants to be. It shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind its technology (link).
Efficiency and standardization is a choice. A good choice if it’s making nails (link).
Or if it already prefers to treat its employees as prompting engines (link).
But it’s not a good choice if it wants to tap into its talents creative and critical thinking, empathy, collaboration, leadership etc..
Efficiency and standardization runs counter to what makes us human — it demands a controllable environment, zero deviation, diversity or anomalies (link).
Humans are awful in this setting. We need competence, autonomy, relatedness, meaningfulness and purpose. We are painfully inefficient (link).
Kevin Kelly suggests “efficiency is for robots”. Because humans aren’t robots, and if you are treated as one and forced to work as one why wouldn’t they replace you?
Why do I think AI-can help?
Because the efficiency work needs to get done. But who needs to do it? Most likely the robots will .. there is no stopping them.
What Scientific Management did back in the beginning of the 20th century was to convince the world that what it wanted was to treat humans like if they were machines.
What we need now is for the machines to help bring us back to what is normal again — being human.
My simple answer is:
This is not our first scientific revolution, they all follow a similar pattern and they all bring radical change (link).
What would be the most advantageous outcome of the change? That robots take back the work that stops us from being human. And that the future brings work that taps into the creativity, talent and needs that we have as humans. And that business practices develop to capture the value from that change, pulling us through a chaotic transformation and into a new golden age of work (link).
Do I think it will be easy? No. As with the coming of the Internet the forces of capitalism, our modern day robber barons, are not interested in any change, they only want to appease their debt structure and care little for the demands of the employees or the market.
But do I think it’s inevitable (link)?
Yes because history tells us it is (link).
We need to stop fighting the robots from taking from us what we don’t even want. And we need to start inventing, creating and imagining how the future is different (start new businesses) by fighting the business models and practices that made us unhappy at work in the first place.