Tue, 24 January 2017
This week’s guest is Yuval Noah Harari, author of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Join us as we discuss topics such as the major threats that the human race is facing, how virtual reality is similar to religion and what the future of life is going to look like in 150-200 years.
Yuval Noah Harari is a historian, a tenured professor at the Department of History of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a bestselling author. Harari’s most recent book is, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. The book explores the opportunities and dangers humankind faces in this century and beyond.
Harari has always been one to ask questions and seek out reasons why things are the way they are. He has never just accepted the way we do things, but instead he enjoys digging further to see where his questions about life lead him. Harari believes that most of the big questions in life lead you across a wide variety of disciplines including biology, religion, history, economics and politics in order to find answers.
He began college by studying Medieval military history, however while he was in an Intro to History class he decided to abandon his narrow niche and decided to explore history more broadly. It was out of this class that he decided to write his first book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. In that book he took a look back over the last 70,000 years to show how homo sapiens have evolved over time. After he completed that book he wanted to write another book that explored the 21st century and beyond to look at what “opportunities and dangers humankind is facing in the 21st century and what is the possible future of our species”.
Harari says one of the biggest questions he is asking about the future is, “what are we going to do with ourselves?”. In the past humans have been preoccupied by overcoming three main things in life; famine, plagues and war. But in the 21st century we have been able to control these three elements to a certain extent. Harari states, “More people die from eating too much, than eating too little these days” and says there are more people who commit suicide than there are people who are dying in wars. Of course, he doesn’t deny that there are people who are starving, people who are dying from war and people who are dying from diseases. But these people are not dying because there isn’t enough food or medicine to go around; they are dying in political famines, wars and plagues.
How did we get to this point where we have these three main elements fairly under control? There are two main answers, science and technology. Due to both science and technology we have advances in medicine, food productivity and disbursement and education that have helped with famine and plagues. War, however, is a different story. As Harari mentions, “we don’t have a device that stops war”. Technology did play a part in decreasing war with the move towards nuclear weapons which changed the way the “superpowers” interacted with each other. Humankind also aided in the reduction in violence by “rising up to the challenge technology presented us with”, as Harari explains.
Harari also believes there are threats to our future including climate change and global warming and a disruptive potential of new technology (such as AI and Virtual Reality). One disruption, Harari says, is that new technology could “outperform humans in tasks and push hundreds of millions of people out of the job market” which would in turn create “a class of useless people”. Another disruption is bioengineering and how humans are manipulating “the world inside of us”.
We are used to hearing about people using bioengineering to manipulate plants and animals, but using this concept inside of our own bodies is something new that could have huge consequences if we don’t proceed wisely. There are three main ways that Harari says people can manipulate our internal realities. One is bioengineering where we “tweak” our bodies and brains. A second way would be to combine “old organic bodies with new inorganic parts”, like connecting a person’s brain to a computer and allowing them to use their mind to search something on the internet. The third way Harari mentions is a “creation of completely inorganic entities”, such as uploading human consciousness to a computer. If this third one takes place, Harari says it will be “the greatest revolution in history and biology”.
When it comes to the hot topic of AI and automation taking over human jobs, Harari says he believes that this shift in our economy will both create and take over jobs; the question is how quickly will each side progress? Will more jobs be created quicker than AI and automation can take over or vice versa? The fact is that humans have always had two abilities; physical abilities and mental abilities. Machines took over in the roles that require physical strength in the Industrial Revolution, but now machines are evolving to be able to take over the mental abilities as well. So we as humans have to learn to adapt in order to stay relevant in the workplace.
You may think that the topics we discuss in this podcast, such as bioengineering inorganic entities, AI taking over and leaving a useless class of humans or the ability of machines to read and remember human emotions while reading a book, are too futuristic or sci-fi. But I believe that science fiction gives us a good glimpse into our future. And in the grand scheme of things, I don’t believe these concepts are too far off in the future.
What you will learn in this episode:
Link From The Episode:
(Music by Ronald Jenkees)
Wed, 18 January 2017
In this podcast we take a look back on some of the interviews I did in 2016 and listen to some of the past guests talk about key issues they feel are shaping the workplace of the future.
In 2016 I had a lot of great conversations with a wide variety of senior leaders. Last week I took a look back on the 2016 podcast interviews and discussed six lessons I learned from my guests last year. This week I wanted to let the guests speak for themselves, so I gathered up some highlight clips from last year’s podcast interviews and put them into one podcast mashup.The subjects range from how innovation is changing to automation and AI to the six reasons why we work.
The first interview I looked back on was the one with Jeff Wong, the Global Chief Innovation Officer at EY. In our discussion we talked about innovation during a disruptive era and one of the main points was about how innovation is changing. Wong said he believes that innovation is changing a lot and it is really driving companies to think about themselves differently. Companies are now forced to pay attention to things like training, environmental and community impact and inclusive capitalism in order to be successful. Wong says companies need to think about whether they are “training a workforce for the future, or are you training a workforce to do the function of today”. He believes that his job as a Chief Innovation Officer requires him to “do old things in new ways”.
One of the fascinating topics I touched on with a few guests last year, was the subject of People Analytics and how it is revolutionizing the way we think about employee experience. Ben Waber, the President and CEO of Humanyze, talked to me about what makes up people analytics. He said that while survey data is useful, “it is not data about behavior, it is data about perception”. Because you cannot survey people every single day, you lose the ability to accurately get a picture of the day to day workings of your office. With People Analytics you are able to get real world data in real time which allows you to fix issues as you go instead of waiting for the end of the year.
Ellyn Shook, the Chief Leadership & Human Resources Officer at Accenture, talked about the problem with annual employee reviews which points to why the topic of people analytics is so important for the success of a company. She says the problem with annual reviews is just that; they are only done once a year. She says “very little works in annual cycles anymore”. We are a society that is used to immediate feedback, so telling employees to wait a year to see how they are doing at work is not realistic. Shook says that her company realized that they were putting a lot of time and effort into their annual reviews, but they were receiving very little value from them because they “spent too much time talking about their people, instead of talking to the people”. In order to get the best results you need “forward looking, real time and on demand” data and feedback for your employees.
Employee experience was another hot topic I discussed with several guests last year. Some of the guests who touched on the subject were Monika Fahlbusch, the Chief Employee Experience Officer at BMC Software, Francine Katsoudas, the Senior Vice President and Chief People
Officer at Cisco and Karyn Twaronite, the Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer at EY. In our discussions we defined what employee experience is, how large companies are able to scale employee experience across a wide range of languages, locations and cultures, and the importance of focusing on diversity and inclusiveness. Fahlbusch says that to create employee experience you first must listen to your employees. Your employees will help you find the overarching problems, or “pain points” if you learn how to listen to them. You also need to look at your individual company and figure out what experiences you should be focusing on. To do that you need to understand things about your company such as what are your values, what are you trying to celebrate, where are you trying to go in the future?
Katsoudas talked about scaling employee experience across hundreds of countries and thousands of employees. She says Cisco’s belief is “one size fits one”, meaning they understand that the ideal employee experience in India will not be the same as that in England or the US and that’s okay.
Twaronite gave an example of why it is so important for senior leaders of companies to not just list out the available benefits for employees, but they should also be role models who walk the walk. She shared a story about the EY Chairman and CEO, who was giving the keynote for a company wide event, and during his speech he apologized to everyone and explained that he would be leaving the event early in order to honor a commitment he made to his daughter. In doing this he was transparent, authentic and helped employees feel that the work flexibility benefit was not just a bunch of empty words.
One subject that I am always fascinated with is technology dealing with robots, AI and automation. Three guests I spoke with who got into this topic of discussion were Robin Hanson, Thomas Davenport and Mihir Shukla.
Robin Hanson, who is the author of “The Age of Em”, the Associate professor of Economics at George Mason University and the Research Associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University, spoke about the extremely futuristic topic of what an Em is. Hanson discusses the fact that there are two different scenarios that could happen to get us to a point where we have robots that are as smart as humans. One way would be to “slowly write and accumulate better software on faster and cheaper machines”. This is what we are doing now and if we continued on this path it would take several centuries to reach this point. Another way would be to port the “software” from our brains into an Em. If we find a way to do this, the Em age could happen within one century.
Thomas Davenport talks about how there are two camps of people today, those who are opposed to the move towards automation and those who are embracing it. The people who are opposed are scared about the implications of automating jobs. They feel that this shift in our economy will create chaos and wipe out jobs for humans. The camp of people who are embracing it feel that automating certain jobs could be a good thing and that we will always find a way to create new jobs for humans. Davenport believes that reality is somewhere in between the two camps.
Mihir Shukla talks about how software bots can complete mundane tasks, and also tackle more complicated problems as well. Many employers want their workers to complete today’s problems while thinking about tomorrow’s challenges using yesterdays technologies and approaches. Processing invoices, verifying documents, generating reports, data entry, and other mundane tasks still need to be completed, but by humans or bots? Introducing mundane and complex tasks to the digital workforce allows the human employees to think, create, discover, and innovate; basically doing things that humans do best.
Other subjects that are touched on in this episode include recruiting millennials, whether or not open workspaces are the next best thing, how to identify a Superboss, the six reasons why we work, how to drive behavior change and entrepreneurs vs. freelancers.
Looking back at the guests from this last year it is easy to see that there are a lot of changes happening in the workplace and I am excited to see where we go from here. I am working on lining up a great list of podcast guests for this year, so be sure to stay tuned and keep listening to the weekly future of work podcast!
(Music by Ronald Jenkees)
Tue, 10 January 2017
Join me as I take a look back on six lessons I’ve learned about the future of work from my podcast guests over the last year.
We are moving into a new year and I am excited to see what podcast guests we will have and the things we will learn about the future of work. I wanted to take a moment to look back over the 53 published podcasts of 2016 to discuss six lessons I learned from my guests this past year.
The first lesson I learned in 2016 is that we should be thinking of our organizations more like a laboratory and less like a factory. Over the past year I have had some great guests including the Chief HR Officer of Accenture, the Chief Innovation Officer at EY, and the President and CEO of Humanyze and all of my guests have been very honest in saying they don’t know everything. They understand that in order to be successful they have to treat their organizations like laboratories where they allow for testing, exploring, adaptation and innovation. They also embrace failure in order to learn from their mistakes.
The second lesson I learned from my guests is that the future of work doesn’t happen to you or to your organization, it happens because of you or because of your organization. We need to understand that the future of work is not its own entity that we cannot control, it is something that we collectively create. We design it, build it, manifest it and implement it. Our organizations need to play a more active role in the future of work.
The third lesson learned this year is that there are big changes happening to the employee/employer relationship. The relationship has to evolve with the growth of the gig economy, more flexible work arrangements and the changing demographics in the workplace. Employers have to be aware of the changes in the workforce and they must adapt accordingly. It is also vital for employers to understand their organization and their people when making changes instead of blindly copying what other organizations are doing.
Lesson number four is that technology seems to be taking centerstage. Technology is affecting everyone across the board--human resources, management, sales, IT, etc… We are seeing things like virtual reality, people analytics, AI and automation, collaboration tools and wearable devices. It is important to mention, though, that technology is just a vehicle. Just because you have technology does not mean you will necessarily achieve anything. You have to know what technology will work for your company and how to best implement it. This also ties into lesson number one, treating your organization like a laboratory and allowing things to be tested.
The fifth lesson deals with employee experience vs. employee engagement. We have seen a huge growth in companies paying attention to employee engagement. Never before have we seen such an investment into employee engagement. The problem is, never before have we seen employee engagement levels so low. This stems from the fact that people do not realize that employee engagement is the effect, but we are not paying enough attention to the cause. The cause of employee engagement is employee experience. Employee experience has three basic elements that go into it; cultural environment, technological environment and physical environment. By investing in these three environments companies can create a better employee experience, which will in turn, create better employee engagement. And the foundation of employee experience is people analytics.
The final lesson I am going to touch on is that organizations seem to have a cautious optimism about the future of work. There has been a lot of talk about AI replacing jobs, political challenges, issues with globalization, etc…Basically, there is a lot of doom and gloom out there when talking about the future. But there is hope in the cautious optimism that I have seen among my 2016 guests. Most of them have expressed a desire to proceed into the future believing in positive outcomes while still preparing for challenges. Taking AI and automation for example, a lot of my guests believe that more jobs will be created than destroyed. They are, however, taking precautions such as retraining and educating their workforce in order to equip them with new skills that will help them stay relevant in this changing world.
Overall this has been a very insightful year for the future of work podcast. I had so many great guests and we touched on a lot of vitally important topics. I truly hope that you all learned a lot along the way as well. I look forward to sharing more of my conversations with senior level leaders as we discuss the future of work.
(Music by Ronald Jenkees)
Tue, 3 January 2017
I am a big fan of stories, so this week I am trying something new for the podcast. The following story is about a well known business leader. Try to figure out who it is before the end of the story where I reveal who it is.
This young boy was born in 1971 in South Africa. All through school he was bullied and picked on for various reasons. At one point the bullying became so bad that he was thrown down a flight of stairs and he had to be hospitalized.
In order to escape his harsh reality, this young boy turned his attention to space and computers and he combined the two to create a unique space themed computer game. In order to create the game he taught himself how to code at the age of 10. He finished creating his first PC game at the age of 12 and he sold this game for $500 to PC and Office Technology Magazine.
At the age of 19 he began college where he studied dual Bachelor’s Degrees in Business and Physics. While in college he ran into money problems and had to get creative in order to make ends meet. At one point in time he turned his house into a weekend night club in order to make some money. While his fellow students partied downstairs, this young man was upstairs playing video games. He graduated with his dual Bachelor’s Degrees and then attempted to get his PhD from Stanford, but he dropped out after only 2 days in the program.
From there he went on to start a company with his brother, Kimbal, which they ended up selling for millions of dollars four years later. He was also able to create and sell a money transfer service to Ebay for 1.5 million. After all of this time this man found that he was still extremely interested in space. He traveled the world looking for a way to get involved in a space program, however he ended up coming to the conclusion that it would be easier if he started his own space company. Therefore SpaceX was created.
Of course, you may know by now that this story is about none other than Elon Musk, the founder, current CEO and CTO of SpaceX and the co-founder, current CEO and architect of Tesla Motors.
(Music by Ronald Jenkees)