Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do

image of job stealing robot - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogRobots Don’t Kill Jobs But CEOs Do
This message is especially for CEOs. Please forward to CEOs and board members if you have the courage. There is much talk of robots taking people’s jobs. It is easy to blame a machine, or another abstract like “a rapidly changing market” as Hewlett-Packard’s Whitman recently did as the company announced another cut of 25,000 to 30,000 positions.

But, to date, a robot has never walked a person to the door, not yet. And, markets don’t eliminate jobs either. I’ve yet to hear of market rain droplets falling onto workers, rendering them unemployed. No, the special words, “You’re Fired” or the equivalent actions are still reserved for humans. It is company leadership that kills jobs, not robots.

Yes, technology changes and so do markets. This has always been the case. But, let’s be really clear about what’s happening. Like stock buybacks, M&A activity and other initiatives that preoccupy the minds of board rooms and executive offices, this is about maximizing shareholder value in the short run.

image of hog that can't see - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogMore plainly, it is about greed. The intent is to move money that would otherwise be paid to workers and redistribute instead to leadership and investors, either directly or indirectly. It is a flawed equation from the onset. History is proving this more and more, if only we would learn. Unfortunately, maximizing shareholder value and its related bad ideas are still perpetuated by business schools, investors of the short run, and the unwitting. There are simply more stakeholders to the equation that are made to be invisible, namely humans and the environment. Smart progressive leaders and companies already realize this. So do the customers that align to those values.

board room image - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogA better world begins with the decisions made at dinner tables and carried through to the office and the board room. CEO decisions don’t live in some special vacuum. When a Hungarian camerawoman decides to trip a man carrying his child as they strive for refuge and a fresh start, the world watches. And, when a CEO chooses to trip a person or family that relied on a paycheck, also on the way to somewhere, the world watches, too. The song of cuts has been played over and over again. In the case of HP, 100,000 jobs cut in the last 10 years. In the case of Microsoft 20,000+ in recent years. For HSBC is was 50,000 jobs recently announced to be cut and Deutsche Bank yesterday announced it will cut 25% of its workforce, or 23,000 human beings. Plenty of other examples abound. It is time to change the music. It’s also time to own up to the decision and stop blaming “things”.

We can pretend that these decisions will be in isolation and there will be no ripple effect or interactions, but that would be delusional. The effects will be long-lasting and far-reaching, inside and outside your organization. As a former CEO shared with me last week, “When there are deep cuts in the organization, it never recovers. Everybody becomes scarred. I can’t say I was unaffected.”

girl on pier looking onward - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogSelf proclaimed plutocrat Nick Hanauer warns us in his Ted talk, “Beware, fellow plutocrats, the pitchforks are coming.” In that talk he says, “We plutocrats need to get this trickle-down economics thing behind us, this idea that the better we do, the better everyone else will do. It’s not true. How could it be? I earn 1,000 times the median wage, but I do not buy 1,000 times as much stuff, do I? I actually bought two pairs of these pants, what my partner Mike calls my manager pants. I could have bought 2,000 pairs, but what would I do with them? How many haircuts can I get? How often can I go out to dinner? No matter how wealthy a few plutocrats get, we can never drive a great national economy. Only a thriving middle class can do that. ”

Nick realizes that he won’t be purchasing 1000s of computers and phones and haircuts and meals to make up for those workers who will lose their jobs and have to tighten their belts.

image of hope - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogAs fictional character in The Hobbit, Thorin Oakenshield, said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But, sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell.” Tolkien’s worlds are make-believe, but ours are not. And, there is no my world, your world, and their world. It is all “our world”. I implore CEOs to make it a better world, not worse.

CEO actions need to make the companies they lead more relevant to more stakeholder and not less so. Let’s admit that the keys to the kingdom have been in the hands of the wrong people, the takers. This “taker” corporate culture has been more about taking, evading, cutting, dodging, buying back, and shifting. Boards of Directors have been complicit in this corrosive behavior. Others have watched from the sidelines cheering it on or in horror. The rabbit hole of greed is very deep. If corporate leaders continue on a destructive “taker” path, they’ll build an organization of diminishing relevance.

imagine mosaic image - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogHuman progress is overdue. It’s time we return the keys to the makers. Let’s once again make, create, invest. Let’s celebrate progress, collaborate, innovate. Let’s inspire. Let’s be authentic. Let’s be concerned. Let’s invite newcomers to the table. Let’s keep our promises both explicit and implicit. Let’s solve problems of the world. Boards need to support CEO actions in this regard and then hold them to account.

In this re-frame, companies have an opportunity to become more relevant. Relevant to the older worker and the younger worker alike. Relevant to the budding innovator that has yet to graduate. Relevant to the communities and the stores and channels and vendors that work in those communities.

If you are the CEO, ask yourself why should your employees, customers, partners, or other stakeholders be emotionally invested in the business when you are not.

image of journey - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogThere are plenty of people who can help you re-frame your business, redefine your products and services and build relevance for what’s next. Look for customer experience consultants, service design expertise, innovation consultants or as I prescribe in Ch 14 of my book, create an innovation neighborhood and stock it in part with outside entrepreneurs. Use technology to complement humans not replace them.

Jobs will be eliminated for reasons, some good and some bad. I realize this. But, if you are the human behind the decision to destroy jobs, then you must confront reality. You’ll eventually have to. Because the humans you eliminate will likely build robots and organize a silent revolution that will one day displace you, too.

about the author

Gregory Olson is the author of The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.  As discussed in Chapter 14, the world of work has changed and it’s not coming back as we knew it. The book is available in full-color print or on Kindle.

His latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we all live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Chapters in L’ impossi preneurs that relate to this article include Chapter 1: Flavors of Entrepreneurship, Chapter 5: Wealth & Economy and Ch 12: World of Work.

Some of the “impossible” ideas of Chapter 5 include Universal Unconditional Basic Income, an Innovation Clearinghouse, Participatory Budgeting, The Make Meaning Department, Empathy Builder, Building a Truth Sculpture, a Safety Net for Entrepreneurs, Household Prosperity Index, and revisiting the Corporation.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor and financial institution, Oikocredit International.

Why Your Brain Resists the New

image of highway hypnosis for brain resistance blog post - DelightabilityWe’ve all been there, driving down the highway, listening to music, not really paying attention as our mental autopilot seems to be in control. After we awake from our highway hypnosis, we barely recall the minutes that have passed us by and don’t recognize the distance traveled.

This phenomena happens to us more often than when we are driving. Our brains are resistant to change and want to quickly return to a steady comfortable state. They like to “keep it real” by not accepting too much new information that feels wrong or incompatible. When we receive new information we like to treat it like the familiar and force it to fit our established patterns and ways of thinking, like driving on a familiar road. This isn’t diabolical or manipulative, it is simply part of being an imperfect human.

image of fitting to existing patters for brain resistance post - DelightabilityIt turns out this brain behavior is self preserving. Imagine that we didn’t complete patterns and we had to slow down and think about every single l e t t e r that we typed or r e a d. Imagine that we had to re-learn how to walk each day and to tie our shoes and even how to put those shoes on. Or, that we had to consult our mental checklist for everything we came across to assess its potential threat. Of course everyday life would become daunting with the sheer volume of things we encounter and decisions we face as we go about living, working, and recreating.

But, most of us are blind to this brain truth.
And this is unfortunate, because this same phenomenon can also blind us to opportunity or new learning. It can numb us to the problems others face or even that we all face together. Think climate change, the changing world of work, the shortcomings of capitalism, decaying faith, inequality, corruption, security threats, racism, police brutality, idle capital, corporate short-termism, homelessness, marriage equality, sustainable energy, etc. With each of those subjects you have some familiarity or don’t. You’ve either fit those to existing patterns or cast the unfamiliar ones out as irrelevant. This brain’s inner workings don’t discriminate. This phenomenon equally disadvantages leaders as well as those they would expect to follow them.

image of girl looking out window thinking about new ideas for brain resistance post - DelightabilityThink of how long it takes you to accept the new. Think of your struggle with and opposition to new ideas and initiatives. This same pattern making behavior your brain habitually engages in every day is also the reason why you drink the same coffee, listen to the same radio station, visit the same stores, wear the same brand shoes, and everything else that forms your consumer habits.

“It isn’t so much that you think about these things as much as the fact that you don’t.”

It isn’t so much that you think about these things as much as the fact that you don’t. This is bad news for the shopkeeper in your neighborhood that will never gain your business or the bright kid down the street whose promising idea is denied relevance from the outset. But, its also bad new for you. You could deny yourself enriching experiences and participation in making the world or your own neighborhood and community a better place. And, you might unwittingly shut down and discourage others that are trying to do the same.

image of favorite food for brain resistance blog post - DelightabilityAgain you have something new to think about. I recognize this is dangerous and might not fit your existing patterns. While your protective brain might want to discard this fact I urge you to read on.

Think of your favorite food for just a moment. Visualize eating this favorite food. OK, good I still have you. Hopefully inside that brilliant brain of yours, I’ve successfully linked this article with your favorite food. Now, every time you eat your favorite food, I want you to recall this article about your brain behavior when it is confronted with something new.

This idea of brain resistance isn’t actually a new idea, it’s always been here. Maybe you are now only becoming aware. Machiavelli captured the essence of what I’m saying several centuries ago in this quote,

And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly….

Niccolò Machiavelli – Italian Diplomat, Political Philosopher, Musician, Poet, and Playwright (1469-1527)

image of high speed train leaving the station for brain resistance blog post - DelightabilityMachiavelli might not have had neuroscience on his side, but he was a keen observer of human behavior. His quote captures well, the barriers that new ideas face. I believe in the resilient of the human spirit. I also believe in the power of collective intelligence. I’m optimistic that good changes are afoot. A more sustainable and more inclusive world is arriving. I look forward to new thinking and the systems and institutions to follow that will put in motion the idle capital and talent that the familiar patterns have sidelined. We needn’t marginalize many of the earths population and create artificial scarcity when we live in such an abundant world. So, give in. Stop resisting a better world. The train of human progress is leaving the station. Please get on board. Humanity needs you.

Guaranteed this will be a better journey than the highway hypnosis that might have you travel to a destination where you’d rather not be. And, remember on this journey, bring along your favorite food; perhaps you’ll share it with a neighbor while discussing that new idea.

About the Author

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINT

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. His latest book project is l’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow.

Learn more and connect with Greg on Linkedin, Facebook, or Twitter.

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Chapters in The Experience Design Blueprint that especially pertain to this post include:

  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 9: The Neighborhood
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall

See a book summary. Read the book reviews on Amazon. Read The Experience Design Blueprint on Kindle or any device using the free Kindle Reader application or read the full color print edition.  Already read it? Please connect and let me know.