by @JoshuaKerievsky

Leadership & Safety

A company I’ve been working with is in a billion dollar industry and employs many people to manually perform a difficult job. They are actively exploring how machine learning can perform this job. Automating the work will make the company more competitive, reduce the cost to the customer and render these particular employees unnecessary.

How safe would you feel if you were one of these employees? How safe would you feel if you were the CEO of the company and competitors were nipping at your heels?

W. Edwards Deming said that the leader’s job is to “drive out fear” but what would he say in a situation like this? We all know the story of Blockbuster going out of business because they ignored the foolish little upstart, Netflix. Netflix out-innovated Blockbuster and that ultimately led to all Blockbuster jobs going away.

A fast-moving competitor to my client could crush them too. Then there would be no jobs. You can probably see where I’m going: employee safety has limits. Ultimately, if the business and technical landscape changes sufficiently to render the employees unnecessary, there’s no choice but to let them go or find them new work.

Helping customers become more efficient and effective ultimately protects the organization and it’s employees. Innovation is protection. Both the employees and the organization must be innovating.

I recently met a 56-year-old, single mom who taught herself machine learning via free online tutorials. She’s now in high demand. She said the learning curve was brutal, including many hours spent learning complex math. Today she can easily pay for her college kid and she’s excited about the work she’s doing.

This woman is a leader. She fearlessly learned new technology to become ultra-relevant in today’s workplace. She did what W. Edwards Deming suggested that leaders do: “drive out fear.”