What else would need to change…

I’m on a flight to Aberdeen to chat to some folk about the future of work. I’ve just read a piece by Tim Harford in the on board magazine about how we ignore less glamorous inventions in favour of exciting and more obviously revolutionary technology. Barbed wire and shopping containers. We undervalue the change those things have allowed. It’s very inconvenient to read this as I’m off to talk about technology driven change.

One of his final points is that we need to ask of any new invention ‘what else would need to change to enable this to have impact?’. There is no doubt that some of the things I’ll be talking about today not only will drive change, but need change to take place for them to be a success. All too often we think of technology as the solution to problems – without thinking about how it works for us and how best to work with it.

Sometimes what needs to change is the way we work. Sometimes what needs to change is a process. Sometimes it is thinking.

As a thought experiment imagine you thought of people as technology (I promise not to call them human capital). If you were introducing people into work for the first time them what would we need to change to enable them to be a success?

If we focused on people as the source of competitive advantage rather than waiting for technology then how would we support them?

It’s probably a false choice. It is the two together. But our greatest creation is arguably the next generation of shapers of work and technology – what are we doing to get the best out of them?

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3 thoughts on “What else would need to change…

  1. Interesting article and I’ve not dwelt on it for any period of time at all so these are my immediate thoughts:
    If people were technology in order for them to be successful they would need to be adaptable to change. To be able to change within themselves, continuously look for improvements and adapt to the environment. They would need to be able to get along with everyone and immediately be able to recognize from another person their preferred communication style, their strengths and adapt their own communication accordingly. I’m sure I could continue for pages and pages about all the faults our organic minds and bodies have, but I’d rather think about how we support success instead.
    How do we support people to be successful? Bearing in mind all things that we struggle with, helping people to either overcome them, or mitigate. So, good quality learning and development, great leadership, a supportive environment, the right tools to do the job, a clear vision and purpose to prevent misunderstandings, permission to be inquisitive and experimental – to make and learn from mistakes…
    I could go on further….
    Enjoy Aberdeen, I hope your talk is successful.

  2. Thank you for the thought. It reminds me of thing Rory Sutherland says about solutions that I’d forgotten but is really bloody useful. The bigger, flashier, more expensive they are, the more they are perceived as right. He uses a great example of when Eurostar were asked to improve the speed of the journey. They spent £6bn shaving 40 minutes off it. Rory argues that instead they could have made the journey more enjoyable, paying models to give out Chateau Petrus and saved loads of money.

    People jump to one solution. Take automation and job losses. Yes automation could mean business could get rid of people. But those people have years of experience and know what works and what doesn’t. They’ve probably got lots of ideas on how to make things better, but are so caught up getting the job done, they can’t. So perhaps we should be thinking of automation as a massive opportunity to give people more time to make a step change in the quality of what they do and the sustainability of how they do it.

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