Lately, I have been learning how to produce a podcast with some 450 pretty remarkable human beings from around the world. At a point, a few of us got into a wide-ranging discussion about technology and for the first time in a very long time, I found myself NOT on the outside looking in. I thought I’d share some thoughts with you, just in case, you too have similar ponderings these days.
IT the Time Saver
When the whole computer thing became a ‘thing’ in the mid-1980s, an interesting thing occurred. In the interest of saving money, time and being super productive, executives lost their secretaries. I remember the wailing at the time and confess to being one of the many who roared at the false savings of killing off clerical staff in favour of piling on additional useless activities all in the name of – ‘but look, you can do it yourself and save us money.’
By most counts, today, middle and senior leaders, as well as entrepreneurs, could unload up to 50% of their current daily activities. Unproductive, low-value producing technology activities are now classified as regular routines simply because we seem to have forgotten that – oh yeah, we have superior money-making abilities that are worth tons of money if we just had the clerical/virtual staff to unload all this extra tech stuff on or we had more time ourselves to focus on the important money-making activities.
Dishwashers were invented once upon a time to save time. An original objective was to expand upon the notion of quality family relationship time. Together. What happened was a huge uptick in mindless watching of brain-cramping television shows. Separately.
IT the Money Maker
Each one of the fifteen or twenty IT systems I spearheaded over my career all had some major productivity, efficiency, and profit improvement component attached. The fun ones were global, worth millions and staffed by extraordinarily smart IT and non-geeks alike. NEVER was there a whiff of a discussion about the impact on the people we were disrupting. NEVER was there the tiniest regard for the inconveniences and pain to be caused.
It was ALWAYS about how to conduct business in a faster and more profitable way. I knew that was code for MORE data, MORE charts and MORE mind-numbing KPIs to try to smash.
Funny, NONE of those projects ever delivered on any of the planned or revised objectives. Not a single one.
I have yet to meet a single person who proclaims their automobile a good investment, that its costs are always within expectation or that it is the safest ride invented. Nevertheless, the fantasy with auto persists. Perhaps one day, there will be the equivalent of an old car show for old technology. Perhaps nostalgia is where the real money maker of IT lies.
IT the Efficiency Mover
I was listening to a passionate American family physician with a 40-year practice rant for 30 minutes straight. Seems years ago, doctors developed a piece of software to help them collect their thoughts, notes, comments and hen scratching by patient. The software was clearly for the doctor’s eyes only in order to help the doctor.
One day, someone in an insurance company said, hey doctors have this piece of software that we should have access to because it would make our records easier to complete. Small factoid: doctors are in business to do no harm and to make patients healthy again. Insurance companies are in business to make money and to guard against nasty suits.
Suddenly, doctors had to spend more time on their software making the words and sentences look good so insurance companies could make money and guard against nasty suits. Writing for insurance purposes and writing for personal note-taking are two different things.
But then …
The insurance companies decided patients (human beings) should have access to those files. The doctors, who were never trained to be great communicators, were suddenly attacked by both patients and insurance companies alike. Seems they were not writing easy to understand phrases. Just medical lingo in neutral phrases.
The doctor was fuming that 40% of his practice time was now devoted to satisfying the requirements of insurance companies’ request for technological efficiency. Time for which he could not spend with his patients; for which he could not charge at his full physician rate and for which he could not farm out to his assistant.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him his plight was completely within the bounds of normal. The lowest parts in the food chain are always ignored. For one simple reason. At some point, they eventually realize they just don’t matter.
IT the Job Saver
We can all see the big-box stores and grocery chains following the way of gas stations — self-serve or automated checkouts. Retailers are successfully figuring out what the rest of the business world figured out long ago.
The best way for the IT model to function is to push it to the lowest common denominator. And spread the lie that the computer/ATM is uber convenient and does the work. Then collect the profits when the human customer spends an extra 25% to 40% of its own personal time with its free labour on your behalf.
The only place I can make a case where IT saves jobs is in the future. Repairing, analyzing, programming, upgrading existing technology, creating, designing and adapting to new technology. I worry though about the people who have no natural technological bent. It reminds me of forcing music study on a math prodigy.
The State of Today
During the last, let’s just say, ten decades of doing business, the common denominator has and is PEOPLE. No one can argue that the last forty years has not been hugely influenced by IT shiny object syndrome. The sad fact is the drive for higher profits has removed much of the lowest common denominator. Much of what remains today of the higher common denominator has been mentally reduced. It now works FOR technology.
Let me be clear. It is not that I don’t love technology. (Full disclosure. I am married to a retired IT guy, have many IT friends and have tremendous respect and sympathy for the profession.) No. It is not the IT things I detest.
There are two things I HATE. The maniacal zeal to grab the latest always imperfect — just release and we’ll update as we go IT products — software, hardware, apps or social media. And the craven lust by nearly all businesses for MORE profits and MORE value with zero regard for negative consequences.
It is because of these two deadly forces – we are in danger of losing our best part — our humanness.
We have allowed ourselves to become a big, nameless, non-descript piece of the machine. And we have permitted vast swaths of people to be permanently displaced, unemployed or under-employed.
Worse, we are on an endless merry go round of I am fine, it`s all about me and you will do what I want you to do for my benefit. Frankly, this is not a happy, enlightening, enriching place to be! It is NOT the world any of us envisioned.
We are human beings, creative beings – yes even those not in the arts. We are NOT a version of the latest tech support 3.2. Human beings will always be superior to machines, even artificial intelligence, because of their creativity. Human beings work best in packs and tribes, not alone, and not with just devices and tools.
It is time for those creative, intuitive, emotional, and fantastic creatures called human beings to wake up. And take back the lead. For the sake of all humanity.
When you look at your next idea, project, division, or company and are frustrated at the lack of profits and returns it is or has been generating, try something different. Put your people first, your profits second.
I promise, your profits can soar to the clouds. I built a reputation for always exceeding a very high profitability bar and I am happy to show you how.
Change your thinking for the better. Business IS personal. Put your people first, your profits second.
To your success!