Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Robots vs Humans - Are You Prepared?

Humanity's strongest advantage over the fast approaching robot hordes is our thinking and creativity.  We need to do everything possible to develop these skills.

In Cal Newport's book, "Deep Work" he posits that most knowledge workers need concentration and substantial time, that is dedicated and uninterrupted, to produce their best work. He argues that a lot of technologies and working environments inhibit creativity, and it is creativity that delivers creations.  Our minds require "deep work" and "deep thoughts" to produce new products, new businesses, new strategies, new competitive advantages and new improvements.  These are the most highly valued items an organization can develop, yet often we focus very little attention on optimizing the environments to foster them.  They are also the strongest differentiators we have between ourselves and the machines.

Newport argues that we must understand and optimize the conditions and environments that help our brains work best.  He argues that constant alerts, notifications, meetings and messages (sent by the machines) serve to prevent us from achieving deep thoughts and deep work.  He recommends that we restructure our working environments, schedules, activities and technology uses to provide substantial, reserved "deep thought" time so we can maximize our brain's productivity.

It's important for us to recognize that just because technology can do it, doesn't make it useful for our brains, person or society.  I am a huge advocate of technology designed to foster societal, planetary and business good, but when technology and the machines degrades our brain's function and our quality of life we need to take a pause and ponder.  In a recent series of articles published by WSJ, The Facebook Files, the scope and scale of ill effects that technology (the machines) can have on our communities and persons is revealed to be significant.   It's time for us to approach technology with more consideration and caution.

In our professional life, it is so easy to let our email inbox, collaboration sites and calendar invites become our boss and dictate our day's focus.  If, however, our highest contribution to our organization is our thinking and creativity, then we may want to approach our day with more purpose and discipline.  

It is my opinion that we should be guiding our technologies, not the other way around.  Technology needs to disappear into the background, while  purpose should be our siren's call. The average human has approximately 692,000 hours between birth and death. About 90,000 of those hours are spent in our careers working. How many of those hours do we want to waste? 

I wrote the following list to serve as a north star to keep me on track:
  1. Prioritize thinking time, mental productivity and purpose.
  2. Our time and activities must reflect our purpose.
  3. Receiving a call, email or message isn't automatically a justification for disruption.
  4. Important communications should all be found in one location.  
  5. Honor schedules that deliver on purpose and productivity.
  6. The creative parts of our minds work better at different times of the day. Those times need to be reserved, protected and honored.
  7. An addictive urge to immediately respond to trivial messages must be restrained.
  8. Technologies and practices that hinder creativity, productivity and innovation must be minimized.
I propose that digital technologies (aka the machines) should be required to make our human experience richer, deeper and more purposeful than ever before.  This year, I am more committed than ever to making technology work for me, not against me. What do you think? DM me.

Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.