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.

Four Great Resources for Humans in a World of Work That Has Changed

Sushi Thai Seattle closed - middle class income disappearing in world of work that changed - DelightabilityThe World of Work Has Changed
The world of work has changed and it isn’t coming back as we once knew it. Once we accept these structural changes as individuals, organizations, and as a country we can go about our business to maximize opportunities for Americans to make a living, make a difference, and make an impact. Full employment for those that want it should be a national goal and priority for any great nation. But, sadly this isn’t part of our national conversation and it certainly doesn’t dominate the media headlines.  SushiThai Seattle, a place I enjoyed in my neighborhood recently closed. Your community has probably felt similar closures. Each restaurant closure or other business that shutters their doors, citing a lack of demand is a symptom of our world of work that has changed. Incomes of many ordinary workers have been decimated. This is a solvable problem if we think differently and work cooperatively.

office building world of work has changed - Delightability

Few Are Insulated in a World Changed
Whether your office is on the 70th floor, in a basement, in mahogany row, cubicle bay, the kitchen table, the operating room, the local coffee shop or a coworking space, you have to agree on this: The world of work has changed. Of course it has, because the world has changed. If you don’t see this, then you are not looking very hard or you are very insulated.

Three Major Forces Changing the Nature of Work
There have been three major forces in play for a while now that continue to shift the nature of work, employment, jobs, careers, etc. They are:

  1. industry consolidation;
  2. advances in technology;
  3. and trade policy.

And yes, there are other forces at play as well like accounting rules, tax policy and loopholes, and plain old fashioned human and corporate greed. But, I’ll leave those discussions for another time.

The Great Costs of Being Idle
Aside from the very visible restaurant and store closures, the ramifications of sidelined talent and organizations unwilling or unable to engage talent is decreased innovation, stalled human progress, and stymied organizations. Problems persist and opportunities go unaddressed. That means more broken experiences and poor service quality for us as consumers, citizens, customers, members, owners, passengers, travelers, etc. For those courageous leaders that do move forward, new possibilities await, in terms of products, services, market share, new ventures, brand loyalty, consumer habits, partnerships, etc.

Stop Waiting and Start Creating
But, you can’t mind meld with your future self or look through the prospectiscope and see future possibilities very clearly. When we do look forward, we tend to actually obsess on looking backwards at earnings, GDP, and the stock market. It is very easy to get quickly trapped by history, paint the future with the past and not see new possibilities. If you rewind the clock to look at iPhone sales and Android devices before those had been invented you’d see zero, 0, zed, nada. No revenue, no profit, no possibilities, especially if you were in an industry or market that was displaced as a result of the more open marketplaces that both of those ecosystems enabled. How wrong you’d be today. But, in your own industry, you may also be wrong. What if you are? How costly will that be?

It takes a special mindset to see what what you are not looking for.

Bigger Thinking is Needed for Larger Possibilities
Steve Jobs had vision. The Open Handset Alliance that collaborated to bring us the Android operating system had a vision and purpose. Kennedy’s man on the moon speech sparked a nation to action. Hundreds of thousands of jobs across a range of industries and institutions were the result. That would be a whole lot of employment today; it was an even larger percentage of workers in its day given there were fewer workers. We benefit from innovations of that era, to this day. Imagine the possibilities of our collective future if we only nudge our attention in the right direction. Imagine if the corporations sitting idle on a collective $1.95 trillion offshore were to put that money to innovative and good use in local communities, the nation, and in the world. Oh, the possibilities.

Each of Us Has a Role to Play in Our Collective Future

Whether you are an independent worker today, become one tomorrow, or hire independent workers, here are four resources to hopefully inspire and educate you on a World of Work that has forever changed:
image of The State of Independence in America report from MBO Partners - World of Work has Changed - Delightability1) The State of Independence in America report from MBO partners is a treasure trove of facts and figures that are sure to educate, inspire, challenge, and maybe even validate some of your observations and experiences. Chances are you won’t simply have a J-O-B as most have been accustomed to in the past. And, you won’t solely interact with others that have J-O-Bs. If you look around, you’ll notice this to be very true already, and getting more true.

Freelancers Union A Federation of the Unaffiliated smaller - The World of Work Has Changed - Delightability2) Freelancers Union is a website dedicated to being a Federation of the Unaffiliated. Founder and Executive Director, Sara Horowitz, participated in a panel discussion with Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation and President Bill Clinton, among others on June 24th, 2014 at the Clinton Global Initiative in Denver, Colorado. Sara represented the humongous and growing collective of freelancers and independents working in America. This is very important since most of these people are largely invisible. They don’t show up in unemployment or under-employment numbers. By the Bureau of Labor Statistics own admission in their Technical Paper 66 – Design and Methodology of the Current Population Survey, “The labor force concepts and definitions used in the CPS have undergone only slight modification since the survey’s inception in 1940.” Ah great – so basically the methodology for measuring labor force participation was invented shortly after the great depression and has yet to embrace a new reality that includes the internet, mobile phones, co-working spaces of all shapes and sizes,  liberation from land based telephone lines, social networking, etc. This is very wrong and why at Delightability we’ve taken a step in a new direction with number 3 on our list.

Please Count Me - Human Centered Community Project for Americans to Self Report Employment Status - Delightability3) Please Count Me is a community website for Americans to self report their own employment status whether fully-employed, super-employed, unemployed, or under-employed. This is a human centered community project we started at Delightability to shine a light on some of the structural changes in this country and the need to have a better conversation, reduce ignorance and rhetoric, and hopefully affect policy and lawmakers to do the right thing for the entire country not just the wealthy and influential that finance campaigns. Add yourself to the workers in more than half the states that have already added themselves to the count. Read the alternative jobs report.

book cover image - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT  by Gregory Olson of Delightability 4) Another resource is my book, The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. Aside from practical tools, exercises, and recipes that can be applied to any size and type of organization, the book specifically has a chapter with prescriptive guidance for large business, small business, underemployed, unemployed, coworking spaces, congress and other policy makers to work cooperatively toward full employment, human progress, and reaching our collective potential.  See Chapter is 14. The World of Work Has Changed.

Continue the Conversation
While these four resources I shared are US centric, my friends in Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, The United Kingdom, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, and other countries will no doubt be sparked by localizing the concepts in these resources as well. Comments are closed here but please email me or message me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook with other resources you find inspiring. Thank you Sabine for making me aware of 400 Euro “mini-jobs” in Germany. More on that in a future post.