Doing More Work with Fewer People

There are now computer programs and algorithms that can render daily, rote, assembly line decisions faster at scale than human beings can.

There are experiments beginning with artificial intelligence programming, that promises to make decisions faster, cheaper, and more rationally and accurately than human beings, without getting clogged up with all that mushy “emotional” content humans bring to such decisions.

There are discussions about the disintermediation of low wage, low motivated, human workers with automation and robotics in places where such technology has never been seen.

There are even more discussions about paying people a pittance for a lifetime to do less of rote work, so that they can do the creative work resulting in outcomes and products that currently many of those same people want for free — or low cost — via a connection to the Internet.

Talk of all of these advances — algorithms, A.I., automation, robotics, basic income — are often made in certain media outlets, with breathless enthusiasm; while quietly, where many people live, we still go to restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other establishments where human beings are laboring for a wage that is minimum, trying genuinely hard to do meaningless work that is truly the last vestiges of a system showing signs of collapsing all around us.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, in certain media outlets the much talked about “winners” in society are still lauded via social media, television, and viral videos. Much of the news cycle focuses on the comings and goings of the mythical “1%”, while many of the people that act as a buffer between those “1%” and “the 99%” (you know…the middle class…) are working in jobs which appear to offer less and less financial reward, for doing more and more unrewarded work. Places where the corporate mandate to “do more with less” is not really about doing more work to produce outcomes that matter with fewer people; it’s really about doing more busywork that doesn’t matter, with fewer engaged people, while watching salaries remain stagnant.

The technological advances that are gradually seeping into our society are going to reshape the work landscape. The distortions of reward versus effort will be rebalanced in favor of effort. But neither of these events are going to happen in the way that they did in the past: There are no more third party advocates for workers (unions) at scale; and there is little empathy for those organizations and individuals expending effort to actually do work that means something (emotional labor) for little pay.

This is a conflict, no matter how many ways you slice it.

Policies and regulatory changes by governments would help to ameliorate much of this tension. Heart changes in the “1%” and “the 99%” would do a lot to reduce the social friction such changes are creating.

It appears that neither of those changes are on the horizon.

But there is a way out: It requires individual efforts, and individual leadership, in order to work though. And there’s no immediate, tangible, reward or recognition for being successful at it, which is why many individuals refuse to take it on.

Do more work that matters with fewer people.

The myth of scale that we were all sold in the Industrial Revolution was clear that, in order to “get rich” an organization (or individual) had to grow past just doing work by themselves. The myth of scale also reinforced the ego-driven, industrialist idea that, if a small group of dedicated people are doing hard, emotional labor and leading a small tribe of equally dedicated people, with no immediate, tangible benefits, then that work can’t possibly make a dent in the universe.

Well, like most myths, that one is no longer true. And while navigating the communications revolution of the Internet seems daunting to many people, and organizations, there are other revolutions coming, in the Internet-of-Things, and in the development of block chain programming.

The greatest revolution however, has yet to happen. And that is the one in the human mind, and the human heart, that unites with other humans to lead them into doing the only work that can’t be done by a robot, an algorithm, a computer program, or even intelligence — no matter how artificial.

And that’s the work of connecting, collaborating, and relieving the hearts of human beings embroiled in loneliness, disconnection, and conflict. And in doing that work, human beings will come to realize that the tools aren’t what makes the profit; it’s the people connecting with other people in a meaningful way, that makes the stock price tick up a tenth of a point every quarter.

Imagine if the global financial, spiritual, and emotional economy was based on fulfilling those principles…

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

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