Drawing a Bigger Circle

I went to sleep last night jaw wide open having heard Donald Trump do his best imitation of a third world dictator and threaten his political opponent and in turn, hearing Hillary Clinton invoke beloved Abe Lincoln as she wriggled through a question.

I woke up this morning, amused to hear howls on both sides of the aisle. My brain had, however, moved on. It had overnight drawn a bigger circle — put things in perspective.

Yes Trump is disgusting, but he is larger than life. Tom Wolfe’s Man in Full. He is Don Corleone, Hugh Hefner, Howard Hughes. People with deep flaws, yet people we admire, if grudgingly. Yes Clinton appears weak and slippery, but some of the steadiest leadership in the world has come from ladies like Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and more recently Angela Merkel and Aung San Suu Kyi.

I would gladly salute either as my Commander in Chief. I have faith in our checks and balances. People say the media is unfair to Donald with a wave of October surprises. It’s part of the American political lexicon. Wikipedia has an entry for the term and examples going back to 1972. People say this is the a new low for US politics. I say go back to the time when we had Presidential duels and when rumors could not be fact checked.

Bigger Circle. I first heard that expression from Bill Joy, one of the cofounders of Sun Microsystems: “If you cannot solve a problem, make the problem bigger. If you draw a bigger circle, you start to see several systems you can work on.”

We often get caught up in the moment — in our social media circles, on talk shows, in cable news chatter. We should take time off and read history books and watch documentaries. They make our circles bigger and put things in perspective so we don’t react hysterically.

I recently tried his guidance in writing my new book, Silicon Collar.

I interviewed practitioners in a wide range of work settings where they are using machine learning, robotics, drones and a wide range of other automation technologies. While these practitioners were positive about the new technologies and their impact on work, a number of academicians, analysts, and economists are worried sick about the new machine age and envision a jobless future. Their pessimism, amplified by politicians, is leading to widespread gloom on the street. Internationally, it is even leading to referenda about whether citizens should be guaranteed minimum incomes, irrespective of work status, in anticipation of such jobless societies.

Why are so many smart people so pessimistic? Being a technology enthusiast for decades, I wondered what I might be missing. And that’s when I invoked Joy.

Drawing a bigger circle for the book meant looking at how automation has gradually rolled out over the last century and not just in the last few years. I researched the history of UPC codes and scanners with their impact on grocery jobs going all the way back to 1948. I researched how cars have gradually been taking over control of driving from humans since cruise control was first introduced to the masses in the 1958 models of Chrysler’s Imperial, New Yorker, and Windsor. I similarly studied progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, and self-service technologies and their related impacts on jobs.

Then I made the circle even bigger. I studied how Japan, a voracious adopter of automation in the form of service robots, vending machines, and even conveyor belt sushi, still keeps artisans working with skills that date back centuries.

This research gives me a confidence that we will continue to see “evolution, not revolution” when it comes to automation’s impact on jobs. Our societies have what I describe as “circuit breakers to over-automation.” Machines will become more of our colleagues, and we should not be so worried about their increased presence in the future. If anything, they will take our outstanding workers and make them even better.

As a result my book is a lot less panicky about machines causing widespread job losses.

I feel the same about our elections.

May not work for everyone, but try and make your circles bigger. You will likely find the present and the future a lot less scary when you study the past and understand in most things in life we tend to have evolutions, not revolutions.

This too shall pass and we will soon laugh about the craziness we worry about today. Actually, it took SNL only a day to start laughing about the Trump tapes and Clinton reaction:)