We excel at using technology to speed up our daily lives, but this is only the first frontier. Now we need to truly master technology to better ourselves, the workplace and society.
What is the most mundane thing you did in the last hour? You can probably think of at least one, if not more, tasks that didn’t add any real value to your day. Now ask yourself: “What else could I have done instead?”. This conundrum is what drives Jason Crabtree, CEO of analytics-as-a-service platform, QOMPLX.
“I’ve always believed in this idea that you could try and liberate people from some of the more mundane tasks that they waste time on, so they can spend more of their time thinking about the sort of activities that are most appropriate for a sentient being,” he says. The future, according to QOMPLX, is about decision platforms that enable human-machine teams.
The virtuous spiral
Most of us already use tech to speed up our daily lives, from Gmail’s Smart Compose “swipe right” feature for firing off work emails to using Apple Pay to buy food at the supermarket. But rather than just focus on being faster, we can focus on solving problems that robots still can’t figure out. Machines are configured to perform certain tasks at speed, but are limited by the information they are given. Conversely, humans process more than just data because we think about things with some extra context – we can think outside the box.
The companies that are going to be most successful are the ones that are focused on elevating the types of activities their staff undertake
“The companies that are going to be most successful are the ones that are focused on elevating the types of activities their staff undertake,” Crabtree says. “What are they spending their time doing, and is it something that uniquely benefits from humans’ ability to interpret more than the explicit guidance given?”
Crabtree says that organisations that will succeed will do so by getting into a continuous cycle of improvement. “They will ask, ‘What is the least thoughtful task that my most valuable person does today?’,” he says. “If part of tomorrow is spent liberating the most valuable people from their least thoughtful tasks – and if that’s done on a continuous basis – then there’s a virtuous spiral.”
Using technology better
If we let technology selectively take over mundane tasks, it frees up our time to be more empathetic and creative. Doctors working under immense pressure could spend less time staring at X‑ray screens to figure out diagnoses and more time talking to patients about how to handle their conditions. A wealth manager can spend less time inputting or wrangling data on Excel and more time speaking with clients to better understand how to invest their nest eggs.
Technology may have changed the world, but the human brain still operates on an ancient limbic system that mediates our emotions and memories and includes our primordial fight-or-flight instinct. As fantastic as data is, we still need humans to help us interpret it and put it into context. Crabtree says: “The reality here is people want to know and still care about human relationships and judgment.” Knowing the difference between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom is key.
A society ennobled by technology
Imagine if we could free up our headspace to focus exclusively on tackling the biggest dilemmas facing the world, like how to best combat the climate crisis or tackle infectious disease?
“The real opportunity is to train more and more people to ask really intelligent questions,” Crabtree says. “Machines are getting a lot better at finding specific answers. But crafting the question and identifying whether or not it’s an appropriate question is going to become an increasingly important skill.”
“The real opportunity is to train more and more people to ask really intelligent questions”
The world is already moving towards seeing technology as a way to ennoble society, rather than just enable it. The next generation to enter the workforce, Generation Z, is ushering in a new set of values. Twenty-four per cent of Gen Zs have 0% trust in business leaders according to Deloitte’s 2019 millennial survey, with 47% wanting to make positive impacts on community/society.
And these values are having a direct impact on their relationships with employers, with almost three quarters of millennials saying they would look to leave companies that didn’t prioritise things like diversity and inclusion, having a positive impact on local communities and providing a motivating and stimulating work environment.
Employers that want to attract the best and brightest need to offer this generation of workers more than just a paycheque and corporate gym membership.
Crabtree says: “Nobody wants a band of experts deciding the future of society without an ability to express to them what it means for their communities, their businesses, their families.”