Put Machines in Your Rear View Mirror

Put Machines in Your Rear View Mirror

Americans have long aspired to be the equal of machines.  We celebrate the legend of John Henry’s epic quest to labor without rest in our history books.  And today, whether you work in a profession, craft or trade, you almost certainly devote long hours and take few vacation days in a similar effort to be the equal of our tireless computers, robots and systems in the cloud.  Whether it’s done consciously or not, we are all striving to play the machine, yet doing so is terribly unhealthy for our careers.

We’ve been brought up with the myth of “artificial intelligence.”  It’s the notion that, some day, we will create machines that are smarter than we are.  One science fiction writer, Vernor Vinge, has even assigned a date to this Rubicon of capability.  He prophesizes that just seven years from now in 2020, we humans will no longer be the superior species.

Regardless of when it happens, however, this new era won’t be characterized by destruction.  There won’t terminators roaming the streets, but there will be Timex-like machines sitting next to us in the office and standing beside us on the plant floor.  And that shift will forever change the dynamic of the workplace.  They will keep on ticking even as we have to sleep occasionally and give our bodies a chance to rest.  To put it bluntly, machines will become essential to our employers and we will become irrelevant.  Unless we change.

What should that change be?  We must stop playing the machine.  We must stop trying to be its equal in terms of strength, endurance and resilience.  It’s a goal we simply cannot achieve.  The better course is to turn the tables.  We must transform ourselves in such a way that we offer employers a capability that machines cannot deliver.  Today, tomorrow, ever.

That capability is imagination, creativity, innovation.  The human spark of inspiration is simply not replicable by a machine, no matter how much data it can collect, how fast it can calculate, or how continuously it can operate.  Only humans can think outside the box, and that must be our new standard of performance.

Every day, we must look for ways to provide our employers with the antithesis of rote machine intelligence: human intelligence – the original ideas, concepts and insights that only skilled and committed workers can develop.  Happily, that talent is unique to the human species and the only sustainable energy source for organizations competing in a global economy.

The tragedy is that many people today still think their job is simply to do tasks.  The HR community and hiring managers perpetrate this anachronistic notion by publishing the “requirements and responsibilities” of their openings.  What they should be asking for are a job’s “possibilities.”  See those, reach for those, and you’ll watch every machine in the workplace fade in your rear view mirror.

Thanks for reading,
Peter