Organisations as Quicksand
There are times when I write something that ends up in the middle of a paragraph that later turns out should have been a heading. In Sunday’s Reflections post, I observed in passing that artificial intelligence is not so much of a threat to people as organisations. That generated some reaction and has started to sprout as I have thought about it.
Organisations, particularly large ones, and even more particularly corporations are a pretty poor way of harvesting diverse talent. They are largely monofocal, driven by short-term goals, in turn, created by shareholder expectations. When it comes to talents that do not meet those goals, they are a modern Procrustean Bed.
Procrustes, in Greek legend, a robber dwelling somewhere in Attica—in some versions, in the neighbourhood of Eleusis. His father was said to be Poseidon. Procrustes had an iron bed (or, according to some accounts, two beds) on which he compelled his victims to lie. Here, if a victim was shorter than the bed, he stretched him by hammering or racking the body to fit. Alternatively, if the victim was longer than the bed, he cut off the legs to make the body fit the bed’s length. In either event the victim died.
In a year when it is likely those same organisations will start to seriously embrace AI, it asks some serious questions, and challenges the artisan in us. In his book “The Opposable Mind” Roger Martin offers a simple but powerful graphic of how we approach challenges:
What we do not understand starts off as a mystery, and then as we develop our knowledge, we use heuristics and then algorithms. The curiosity and creativity that discovered the mystery give way to the mechanics of a replicable, reliable process. Then we promote and protect the process as a servant of efficiency, even as the mystery that triggered it moves on…
People have far more latent potential than organisations. We feel, sense, imagine, connect and spawn ideas that have nothing to do with the narrow focus of the organisation we work for. We love mysteries. Our imaginations and dreams are about as far away from algorithms as it is possible to get.
So how, I’m wondering do we connect #outsidethewalls of organisations that fence us in with processes? As AI enables big organisations to swallow those with fewer resources whilst, in parallel, becoming immersed ever more stuck in the mud of short-term goals, efficiency and productivity, where do the displaced people go?
People are genuinely intelligent, even as many of our current organisations dig themselves deeper into their current knowledge through artificial intelligence. Those organisations are quicksand to our latent artisanal talents that AI will need to generate new data to process.
We need to be ready for that.