Friday, 4 July 2014

Separating people from machines

Reading Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Stiglitz latest opus, it becomes clearer than ever that:
1.     Knowledge drives performance
2.     Learning drives productivity
3.     Speed of learning drives competitiveness
Why is learning then so little considered in enterprise discussion? Why is so assumed that learning is the employee’s personal problem not the company’s?

Actually, it isn’t. There are in fact two ways to learn:
1.     Personal mastery of one’s existing tools
2.     Adoption of a new, more powerful tool.
In effect, managers readily adopt option 2. Not being very secure in their ability to support someone’s developing their personal mastery of their job, managers feel that to get people to learn one has to force them to adopt newer, richer tools.

To a large extent, it does work, but the upshot is often poorly understood oversized tools with low utilization and many unhappy side-effects for the customers of the process. A second unintended consequence of this process is blurring the distinction between people and tools, as you can tell every time you try to have a reasonable discussion with a call center but the person on the other side of the line is just a voice for a tightly scripted interaction they can’t deviate from.

The key to getting the best of both forms of learning lies in separating clearly men from machines, people from systems. If we understand what the person is supposed to achieve, what are the goals from the customers’ perspective, and then where the machine is supposed to help, then we can work on the personal mastery curve of the existing or new tools.

Obsession with our tools is hardwired in human brains (a credible theory asserts that tools made us humans) and as a result, it’s easy to forget that when the finger is pointing at the moon, we should look to the moon, not the finger. To avoid confusing tools and their use, we need clearly separate people from machines.

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