The scary high tech future is coming
Machine leaning and algorithms are set to to replace up to 25% of jobs worldwide within the next 10 years, and even more beyond that. A recent study from Oxford University suggests that 35% of existing UK jobs are at risk of automation in the next 20 years.
Self driving cars and trucks will see taxi and truck drivers become obsolete alongside the jobs already being lost on a wholesale basis across the banking and insurance industries as automation and apps are rolled out into these sectors. Even fast food will be made, prepared and served on an automated basis by robots in the near future.
And for some, it is the inevitable process of progress. Akin to the changes wrought by the industrial revolution. Humans are expensive – just as horses and ploughs were. Technology is cheap. If it can be automated, it should and will be.
The question is no longer why, if or how, but who such ‘synthetic intelligence’ should replace.
Could leaders be replaced by artificial intelligence?
Computer scientists like Moshe Vardi and Esko Kilpi state unequivocally yes. Kilpi outlining recently how ‘In certain conditions .. algorithms can produce creative new outcomes that none of them was programmed to produce’ in an article extolling why management should be algorithmic.
And as Lukas Biewald has found, most knowledge work has to date been spared from the effects of artificial intelligence because the upfront costs of building a machine learning algorithm have historically been so high, but that is changing. In 2015 alone, Alibaba, Microsoft, Amazon and IBM all launched general-purpose cloud machine learning platforms.
If machine learning can evolve in such a way and become mainstream, what is to stop the development of algorithms capable of learning Covey’s 7 Habits, or even Robert Green’s 48 Laws of Power?
Or is there a more human future for leadership?
Algorithms and robots can currently take the place of routine functions and transactions, but as Gerd Leonhard has stated, most of what we humans do cannot be nailed down to a series of zero’s and one’s. Our right brain stuff which is creativity, emotions, humour, intuition, imagination, purpose and values.
These are the choices and interactions which are also uniquely human aspects of organisations, and can’t/shouldn’t be automated.
Because no matter how far technology progresses, our DNA and need for social and emotional connection with others hasn’t changed in thousands of years and isn’t likely to soon, and the most successful companies all share a common trait in recognising that. In staff and customers.
From traditional companies such as John Lewis in the UK through to Google and the new technology start ups such as AirBNB, and Medium, they all cultivate environments where employees are given a great deal of discretion to deliver the right outcome for fellow humans: colleagues AND customers.
Productivity and staff engagement are raised in these companies by simplifying the complexity which has been wrought through bureaucracy and automation of processes. Encouraging co-operation, creativity and innovation through forms of Holocracy or the likes of Yves Morieu’s Smart Simplicity
As Kentaro Toyama states, in the most successful companies, it’s less about the new technology than about understanding one another’s goals and establishing mutual trust. This kind of understanding emerges only through regular human interaction.
And hiring the right people: an algorithm wouldn’t have recruited Steve Jobs or taken him back to Apple. Successful hiring will always be about people, talent and culture fit, no matter what algorithms are used to shortlist.
An analogue future for leadership
Peter Drucker was sceptical to the end about the impact of automation – stating the impact experts predict almost never occurs. But the pace of change in recent years has been exponential. Not just in technology – in the workforce and consumers too. We are unequivocally on the path to a digital economy. From a co-located to a virtual and agile workforce. And to a connected world.
The millennial workforce and consumers have grown up with social and collaborative technologies and systems, and expect new technologies and approaches to be in place at a company they work for or receive services from. But we mustn’t forget their humanity. 80% of millennials care about companies doing the right thing, and are still social beings despite social media.
Nor must we forget the ageing workforce and population. With retirement ages being extended across the globe, and people living longer, the proportion of people working longer will only increase. For example, The Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States predicts that 35 percent of men aged 65-74 will be in the workforce by 2020, up from 25 percent in 2000. Alienating those or older consumers/customers via technology will be counter-productive.
The challenge for most leaders is how to adapt timeless leadership skills and qualities laid down in recent times by the likes of Drucker & Covey (and many more before them) into the changed digital and agile economy.
The successful leaders and organisations of the future will still need to engage their analogue
right brain skills such as empathy, purpose and values to deliver the creativity, innovation, engagement and co-operation required to remain successful.
Much like blended learning mixes face to face with online material and collaboration, blended leadership is the future.
Analogue leadership for a digital age.