My husband and I often have the same discussion while watching the NFL; he feels that we should replace all players with robots to prevent injuries. After the disastrous missed field goal in the Ravens/Patriots game last Sunday, it seems like a decent idea –a robot may have been able to make that kick. (Go Ravens)
But it illustrates to me a misunderstanding that people have technology. For example, if robots were ever actually going to replace people in football, they wouldn’t run around a field knocking each other down like people do. Robots fight with data pulses, magnetic and electrical manipulation and other things that are only exciting to techies. To the humans, it looks simply like wires and circuit boards getting hot. (yawn)
Robots could be programmed to run a football play, but what’s the point? If a play isn’t driven by desire and morphed by experience, then it’s all just a show. The magnificent accidents and spectacular surprises are what make it exciting.
What does this have to do with business
Since the introduction of computers and technology into the workplace, managers have expected humans to snap into line and never make any more mistakes. They’ve decided that people should act like computers. Conversely, businesspeople have also asked that computers create art and run illogical procedures like people do.
The point is that if we clearly sort out which tasks should be done by computers and which are human tasks, the workplace will run much more smoothly. And the output will be much more compelling — like a winning football team.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but we keep messing it up.
What are computer tasks
Just for the sake of clarification, this is what computers are really good at:
- Moving data from one machine to another, or one software program to another
- Doing mathematical calculations
- Compiling vast amounts of data and returning correct data in response to data queries
- Running procedures on a predefined schedule (back up all the machines at 11pm)
- Displaying data or behaviors in response to user cues (think: video games)
Remember that computers are just big buckets that we fill with data and function scripts. You won’t ever get something out of a computer that you or your programmer didn’t put in there.
What are people tasks
Creation, art, surprise are all jobs that people are uniquely positioned to accomplish. And the beauty of people in processes is that the process is imperfect. Think about this; we have the equipment today to play a perfect symphony using computerized instruments. But nobody is interested in listening to a robot orchestra. It’s the blend of a variety of human skills and variations in sounds that create the majesty of music.
When running your teams and companies, remember that people are not instruments of perfection. It’s the combination of them all that creates the excitement and future of your company. Enjoy people for who they are. And leave the boring ‘perfect process’ stuff to the computers.
Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.