‘Smart over Hard’ — A guide for the effective use of tech by businesses.

How Artificial Intelligence and automation should empower people and companies.

Colin Knopper
Jun 6, 2019 · 8 min read

Over the course of approx. 20 years, technology has been a huge driving force in company growth. The good ol’ nineties were dominated by companies who invested in websites but nowadays you can’t read a single news- or tech site without noticing the heavily increasing investements in Artifical Intelligence and Machine Learning. To illustrate, since 2000, annual VC Investments in AI Startups alone have increased with 6X. (Forbes, 2018)

Is this a bad thing? No, absolutely not. But the huge hype around A.I and Machine Learning does pose some interesting debates around the use of this tech by companies.

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While I absolutely love technology and it’s ever-changing possibilities, I do believe that technology itself has driven business away from what it was meant to be; a human-focused science. (key-word: human). Companies and business leaders have lost sight of the thing that still makes us, as humans, indispensable and irreplaceable in today’s business landscape; empathy.

In efforts to increase efficiency and decrease company spending, companies are focused on automating as much human labor as possible. More automation and less people, means faster money, scalability and more profit.

There’s only one small problem; Robots are not humans. And humans are not robots.

Smart over Hard — a small piece of perspective

So let’s get some perspective on the difference between being task driven (Hard) and being result driven (Smart) and how this correlates with how businesses should use technology.

Working Hard

Loads of people are ‘busy being busy’ constantly. The problem with always being busy is that it’s easy to get lost in the sauce. And this is what happens to people who constantly work task driven (Hard); it looks like they are being super productive because they work a lot. And I really mean a-friggin-lot. Keeping busy is their special happy place but they’re not getting the results they want. And what’s the solution in their beautiful yet a bit twisted mind?


Working even more hours.

Lost in The Sauce — a state of uncertainty defined by transcendent, sometimes even blissful, confusion’

— The Urban Dictionary

Working Smart

So let’s talk about being result driven (Smart), people. These people tend to focus on what really matters and creates actual results. They’ve created a specific goal and everything they choose to do is completely dominated by that goal. And guess what? By being result driven you might even have to work fewer hours and maybe you don’t even have to work as hard. (Doesn’t that sound great?)

And why? Because you — yeah, you! — chose to work smart. You don’t bother yourself with the side-stuff; if you work as an online marketeer and your goal is to generate 10 new leads this week, you stop doing things that do not contribute to that goal.

All clear? Makes sense right? Awesome.

Smart/Hard in the modern business landscape

So how does this idea translates to the modern business landscape? In theory, you would expect that businesses and their leaders (want to) work smart. What’s better than a business where its people focus on what really matters and hit actual business goals and might even have to work fewer hours, so they can spend more time with their family and friends, right?

Unfortunately, most companies mix up the use of technology and the strength of humans, in effort to get more leads or sales.

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Instead of creating a professional environment that focuses on letting people do the work that only humans can do, they set up difficult AI to mimic human behaviour, in the name of: more automation + less people = faster money, scalability and profit.

The question that rises is: Are companies selling to humans or robots? If you’d Google 10 company websites right now, no matter which, you’ll find one common factor; AI-generated content with no human touch or empathy.

“There’s no human language, very little content created by the people that work at the company, zero compassion and not a lot of humility.” — Tim Denning, 2018

Most websites are designed to sell to robots, since they are fabricated by robots. But that’s not how we, as humans, work. We know that building personal relationships, by humans, is a high predictor for turning one-time buyers into returning customers. Humans can build trust and a sense of mutual connection that technology simply can’t.

And what about the actual humans that work for that company? They’re being reprogrammed as robots under the veil of ‘less-time-spent-equals-less-spending’. When you call a company helpdesk, you can hear the ‘human’ on the other side of the line read a prefabricated script for ‘efficient customer service’; but all we need is an actual human who shows some empathy to the situation. So is this prefabricated script a bad thing? No, absolutely not. But it should merely be used as a framework to follow company guidelines so the people can actually apply their human skillset of EQ and context-awareness to find the best suitable solution for their customer.

Please check out the breakdown below, written by fellow Brand Humanizers Jonathan Flores & Ferry Hoes in their article about Brand Humanizing. It perfectly illustrates a couple of skills required in the business field, and who’s better at it; humans or robots.

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This breakdown perfectly illustrates why robots should not mimic human behaviour and why humans should not act like robots. Both are absolutely key in today’s businesses and one cannot live without the other. But only if they are being put to strength.

The ever-changing possibilities and innovations in technology have created a wave in which business leaders are implementing many different pieces of tech in their day-to-day business that only makes doing business harder on themselves. Instead, businesses should only automate the jobs and processes that humans are simply inferior in. This way, the people can focus their energy and effort to do business smarter, by doing things for the company that only humans can do; building personal relationships with (potential) customers.

So let’s take a look at some examples of how companies use tech to make business harder on themselves and what they can do to work smarter, shall we?

How using tech makes doing business harder.

Eneco —Energy supplier

I’ve just recently moved from a large appartment on the third floor to a smaller houseboat in a small town. Besides all the usual IKEA drama with installing the new kitchen, something else had to be done as well; finding and signing a contract for utilities. Eneco is one of the largest energy suppliers in the Netherlands, so I visited their website to get an estimate for my contract.

After filling out the online tool, I’ve received an offer for a monthly fee of €185. Because i think it’s a pretty steep number, I wanted to find out if this was a fixed price or adjustable based on my monthly usage. Below you’ll find the screenshot which I will conveniently translate for you.

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Me: I want to become a new customer and i’ve just filled out the questionnaire. I’ve been offered a contract with a monthly fee of €185. Is this a fixed number or can I adjust the amount later on?

Eneco Chatbot: Thank you for question. Unfortunately your question is too long to give a proper answer. Can you please formulate your question shorter? Preferably in catchwords.

After this message I typed in: ‘New Customer Monthly Fee’, which led me to the tool to calculate my fee. Again.

What Eneco’s Chatbot is failing to do here, is identifying the moment where human contact is necessary. A smart chatbot is an incredibly great tool, but it has its limitations. When the catchword ‘new customer’ is being typed in, a little bell should ring at the desk of one of the thousands customer support employees. Or when a question is too complicated for the chatbot, it should directly link the customer to an actual human.

I mean, how easy do you want to get new customers?

DHL — Postal Service

My girlfriend and I play the ‘DHL Punch Buggy’ game everytime we’re in the car; whoever spots a DHL bus gets to punch the other on the arm (FYI: she can never find her stuff in the house but she’s a frigging hawk when it comes to DHL busses.)

The pain I feel on my arm after getting a few punches is nothing compared to the excruciating pain I feel in my soul when calling with the DHL helpdesk. You see, i strongly believe that no-one, and I really mean no-one, calls a postal service helpdesk because they are happy with their service. It’s almost always about the same thing: a lost or undelivered package.

Let me know if this sounds familiar:

‘Okay sir, let me first state that i am very sorry about this whole situation. To recap [RECAP STORY]. I will see what i can do and i will get back to you as soon as possible.’ — Every Helpdesk Employee Ever.

I would at least hope to speak to some people who would show some empathy. Now you might say: ‘But Colin, that text shows empathy, what are you complaining about?’. I completely agree with you but unfortunately I’ve heard this exact same text on all the 14 times I’ve called with the helpdesk for this one package. So much for a showing of geniune care, right?

While the story about Eneco is a classic case of a ‘robot-trying-to-be-human’, this story about DHL is exactly the other way around; this is a case of human-trying-to-be-a-robot. Instead of dealing with interpersonal context and creating a genuine relationship to solve the issue, I (and many others) are met with zero compassion and empathy.

Amazon — you know what Amazon is.

Not a story that i’ve personally experienced but i love this tweet so much.

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I don’t think this needs any further elaboration.

How working smarter saves the world.

In this fast-paced digital world, building genuine relationships is the mother of all long-term business succes. By acknowledging this fact, companies and leaders should shift from implementing technology on all facets of the company to a company which automates the jobs and processes that humans are simply inferior in, so the humans can thrive and focus on the jobs and processes that only they can do.

In short: Technology should aid humans so they can be more human, not less.

Are you ready to work smarter?

Want to read more about Brand Humanizing?

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