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Posts Tagged ‘Industrial Revolution 4.0’

Happy birthday, Plum!

ashokbhatia

Many of the fans of P G Wodehouse suffer occasional pangs of anxiety. They fear that the species comprising the admirers of P G Wodehouse may soon become extinct. They suspect that not many of the younger generation may be getting infected enough with the delectable affliction of Wodehousitis, simply because his works belong to a bye-gone era which fails to connect with the youth of today.

When they sit down to relish the pleasures of the table, the food – even if it is dished out by a spouse who might be God’s gift to the gastric juices – simply turns into ashes in their mouths. Their brow is furrowed. They shudder at the prospect of a PGW-less society in the future, devoid of the pristine humour which makes one unwind after the harsh slings and arrows of Life have taken their toll. The human race, which is trying…

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Lord Krishna may be able to help

When compared to human beings, machines tend to be far more objective in their approach to things. Humans have the luxury of wallowing in self pity and being attached to objects and people. Machines cannot afford luxuries of this kind. Thus, when it comes to machines and algorithms, several tips dished out by Lord Krishna become irrelevant. But for human beings who have to interact with machines and have to ensure that these are programmed along ethical and moral lines, life shall surely pose different kind of challenges.

Unlike Ramayana which speaks of Ram Rajya and Thirukkural which elaborates upon the duties of a king, Bhagavad Gita does not directly address such issues as the manner in which either businesses or governments need to be run. Nor does it directly touch upon the subject of taking better care of human resources – a key factor in management. Yes, when it places a premium on work being done with benign motives, it hints at the desirability of getting work done with malice towards none. The scripture is primarily focused on the need to do one’s duty with a sense of detachment and equanimity.

Let us consider the kind of indirect clues it offers which could perhaps be of some use to CEOs and managers who are trying to grapple with the challenges posed by rapid advances in technology.

(Quotes of verses from Gita below are literal translations from Sanskrit. Each translation is followed by (xx.yy), where xx is the number of the Chapter and yy the number of the verse within)

The promise of Saatvic actions

To recapitulate what Gita says, it is work which is taken up for work’s own sake, in an attitude that work itself is worship. Actions performed in a spirit of inspiration and with benign motivation would fall in this category. So would actions which are propelled neither by love nor by hate. These are acts of grace which are not acts of obligation. These are not actions arising out of one’s likes and dislikes.

The assigned action which is done without attachment, attraction (or) repulsion and without clinging to (its) fruit that is called ‘Sattvic’. (18.23)

Business leaders who mostly operate at the Rajasic plane, if they were to consider working in this manner, the issue of wrong motives – whether at the development or at the implementation stage – would not come up. Eventually, they would end up steering their business along sustainable lines.

The perils of Rajasic and Tamasic actions

But machines have severe limitations. Those who shop or eat out at a restaurant soon start missing the smile of a charming floor incharge or the kind of fuss that a human waiter could make over a customer. Irate customers who call a company to register their anger about some deficiency in service are further put off when they are greeted by an auto-response system which prompts them go through several cycles of 1 to 9 button punching. Poor machines cannot compare the uncomparables/unquantifiables. So, they cannot advise CEOs on choosing between profitability and human safety.

Machines could therefore assist at either the Rajasic or the Tamasic level of actions. Lord Krishna cautions that such actions eventually lead to problems.

The fruit of virtuous action is said to be Sattvic and pure; the fruit of Rajasic action is sorrow; ignorance is the fruit of Tamas. (14.16)

Overcoming Leadership Deficit

The responsibility on the shoulders of a leader is rather heavy. She has to walk the talk and set an example for others to follow. If she herself is prone to using her expense account to accommodate outings for her loved ones, others will lose no time to sniff it out and follow in her footsteps. 

Whatsoever a noble man does, the very same is also done by other men. Whatever standard he sets, the world follows it. (3.21) 

The pink slip syndrome

For someone who ends up getting a pink slip all of a sudden due to the organisation having adopted a newer set of technologies could find that Bhagavad Gita has already highlighted the importance of one doing work skilfully and sincerely, thereby pursuing excellence.

But he who, controlling the senses with the mind, without attachment engages the organs of action in the Yoga of action, he excels, O Arjuna. (3.7)

It exhorts one to not to overtly fall for the temptation of the senses which get continuously exposed to the delectable offerings of life – pleasures of the table, inclination for a variety of amorous endeavours, addiction with social media, and the like.

Keeping one’s desires under check and avoiding undue intoxication with power and pelf is another crucial idea that it recommends. It advises one to not to live a life of delusion which makes one undertake a perennial but futile search for an everlasting pampering of one’s ego. Practicing equanimity and being steady inside is highly recommended. So are regular meditative practices.

In praise of Self Control

Bhagavad Gita does not recommend a boring, listless and monochromatic life to a spiritual aspirant. It merely says not to get swayed by the temptations of life and to gratify one’s senses and fulfil one’s desires with a strict sense of moderation. Self-control is the key word. In case a confrontation comes about, empathy and the ability to put oneself in the shoes of the other person is spoken of.

A lamp which does not flicker in a windless place, to such is compared the Yogi of a disciplined mind who remains steady in meditation on the Self. (6.19)

The need for leaders with a higher Spiritual Quotient

All of these are proactive measures which could enable a CEO to scale greater heights in her career, delivering results with greater efficiency and aplomb. These are not quick-fixes. Instead, these are long term solutions which have the potential of enabling one to not only face the challenges of technological advancement but also to utilise technology to the best of one’s advantage, rather than becoming a slave to it.

The future would obviously see a much higher demand for business leaders whose heads are screwed on right and who take decisions using not only a Commercial Compass but also a Spiritual one, guided by the values of the organization. Several companies already have Chief Ethics Officers. Those who have thrived in such roles are the ones who have enjoyed support from the very top.

Of jackals, cobras, giraffes, elephants and tortoises

To run a business well, wily jackals and cobras are required; but so are friendly giraffes, elephants and tortoises. In the days to come, conscious managements would do well to assign the role of Conscience Keepers to any competent and willing full-time director on the board who would keep the business afloat without running into a collision with massive icebergs of targets which involve a hidden mass of compromise on core values and ethics. A culture of encouraging dissent and listening to whistle-blowers would also help in a business being steered right.

(Inputs from experts in IT, management, Gita and aviation are gratefully acknowledged)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/09/07/the-challenges-of-industrial-revolution-4-0-part-1-of-3

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/09/11/the-challenges-of-industrial-revolution-4-0-part-2-of-3)

 

 

 

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When leadership deficit leads to a compromise on values  

It is understandable that our business leaders keep biting their nails trying to beat the competition. But when they chase business goals by compromising on their core values, they eventually get caught in a regulatory web and start losing customers. Their brand image takes a serious hit.

Consider the following instances:

The 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster 

For a space exploration agency of the stature of NASA, revenues and profit were not the motives, but it appears that deviations were indeed made from standard safety protocols because the top leadership put a higher premium on expediency. The now infamous O-ring pressure seals, supplied by a Utah-based contractor, served as the cause of the crash.

The O-rings had been tested to perform in 40-degree Fahrenheit or above weather conditions. On that fateful morning in Florida in 1986, it was only 18 degrees. NASA knew it was an issue, but hours before the launch pressed the contractor to “green light” the launch. Robert Ebeling, heading a team the concerned contractor’s employees experienced with the O-rings debated whether they could knowingly approve that the O-rings would not fail.

In the end, the team wanted NASA to wait until the afternoon when temperatures would be closer to 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the pressure exerted by NASA—in addition to the wilting of the contractor’s senior managers—the company reversed its original decision and ended up giving the go-ahead for launch.

Alas, Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven members on board.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 fiasco

During 2016, Apple was set to launch the iPhone 7. Samsung leaders rushed into bringing Galaxy Note 7 into the market before Apple. Here also, market forces determined the behaviour of the company’s management. In a rush to beat the competition, a design flaw in the battery was overlooked. Safety standards were apparently compromised.

Within weeks of the launch, the phones started catching fire. A recall ensued with over 2.5 million phones sent back to Samsung. The company lost billions of dollars in the recall, let alone billions more in lost revenues.

The Boeing 737 Max Issue

In October 2018, Indonesia’s Lion Air flight plummeted to the ground shortly after taking off, killing all 189 people on board. Subsequently, in March 2019, a crash happened in an eerily similar manner in Ethiopia, killing all 157 persons aboard.

Boeing claims to work on such ‘enduring values’ as integrity and safety.  The company defines integrity as taking “the high road by practicing the highest ethical standards.” Likewise, safety is captured thus: “We value human life and well-being above all else and take action accordingly,” the company suggests, and that “by committing to safety first, we advance our goals for quality, cost, and schedule.”

But to match the launch of A320neo by Airbus, said to be 15% more fuel efficient, Boeing moved fast and launched the 737 MAX nine months after Airbus’s announcement. Regulatory approvals were apparently rushed through, by simply declaring the 737 MAX to be merely a ‘derivative’ model of the company’s cash cow – 737. Technical changes of a material kind were apparently made, but the need for pilot training was never highlighted. The Flight Crew Operating Manual was not modified to reflect the changes. If this had been done, perhaps the pilots might have been in a better position to know what to do should the plane begin to behave unpredictably after takeoff due to the bad sensor data.

The common thread running through all these instances is the leadership deficit these organizations faced at the time. When values become mere words on a company’s website, disaster just lurks around the corner. As technology advances, the human angle can only be ignored at the risk of a great cost to the organization as also to the society at large.

Of revenue-hungry businesses and governments

World over, history has repeatedly taught us that when it comes to the Rajasic world of commerce, truth is a casualty. Cigarette and liquor manufacturers contribute to the exchequer and also keep their own stakeholders happy. Pharmaceutical companies keep peddling drugs which may have serious side effects on hapless patients. After holding up cholesterol as the main villain for cardiac problems for a very long time, suddenly we find that medical research comes up with results which are contrary to the original stand.

A recent example is that of the mad rush to bring in 5-G which rides on a much stronger dose of radiation. Nowhere does one see a reasonable debate on the impending costs of environmental degradation owing to a high dose of radiation.

The risk of data privacy

As businesses and governments go in for higher levels of digitisation, lay citizens who avail of products and services end up living in more transparent fish bowls. Individuals cease to matter. Somewhere in a data repository, they become mere numbers, coded by a binary system and mercilessly crunched into big data; data which is eagerly lapped up by the corporate world.

One who loves undergoing a Virtual Reality experiment is shocked to find that he and even his family members are denied an insurance policy because the body reactions detected during the said experiment indicate that he is likely to be suffering from dementia, a disease which runs in families. One who books a bnb apartment has to not only substantiate his true identity as a living person, but also establish that his past legal record is as pure as fresh driven snow. Personal interactions with a customer have ceased to matter in most digital transactions.

Hapless customers and citizens are no longer kings and queens; they are jacks of all trades who master none, let alone themselves or their own thought processes.

Political parties have already perfected the art of using Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics to shape public opinion en masse. There are no bad politicos and good politicos. Scratch the surface and one would find that underneath they are all the same. In many countries, democracy is touted as a virtue, but just beneath its soft velvety cover can be discerned the cloven hoof of dictatorial tendencies.

Caveat emptor (or, buyer beware) is the only way forward!

Some lessons from Bhagavad Gita

Smart CEOs can perhaps look up to this ancient scripture to find some ways out of a quagmire of this kind. We explore this theme in the next part.

 

(Inputs from an IT expert and an aviation expert are gratefully acknowledged)

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/09/07/the-challenges-of-industrial-revolution-4-0-part-1-of-3)

 

 

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The first Industrial Revolution used water and steam to mechanize production; the second used electric power and the third one used electronics and IT as its springboard. The fourth one fuses various technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 5G telephony, nanotechnology, biotech, robotics, quantum computing and the like.

Exciting days are indeed ahead!

Disney World now has an app, and also supplies a visitor with a Magic Band which is to be worn on one’s wrist. The customer can choose and book rides, and is tracked through a web of beacons scattered throughout the park. Booking at the hotel is on one’s finger tips, and so is reserving tables at any of the restaurants.

Amazon Go has already started a cashier-less store in the US. The sales staff is there merely to assist a customer in choosing a product. Japan already boasts of retail chains where there is hardly any human interface.

Rolls Royce makes the Trent engine used in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Their latest ones come with 25 IoT sensors that track fuel flow, pressure, and temperature. On top of that, the company provides technology to track the aircraft’s altitude, speed, and air temperature, as well as ways to analyze the data to figure out maintenance patterns and better routing. With increasing crowding in the air space, such innovations make it possible to avoid mid-air disasters, thereby rendering air travel relatively safer.

Robots are already taking over routine jobs. The promise of a driver-less car is already being pursued with much gusto by leading companies.

The possibilities are mind boggling, indeed.

The perils of advances in technology

Yours truly has nothing against technical advancements. What concerns him is the purpose for which we embrace it. Developments in technology need to be evaluated on two parameters: The cost-benefit ratio of utility for the masses, and its ethical and moral dimensions. The latter brings into the focus the motives behind each of the developments and its subsequent deployment.

So far, Industrial Revolution 4.0 has brought to fore the following challenges:

  • Widespread changes in the skill-sets required by commercial enterprises, already leading to severe joblessness.
  • Values being compromised, both at the development and at the implementation stage; Training (or re-skilling) of manpower being accorded a lower priority than investments in upcoming technological advances
  • Regulatory frameworks being several steps behind developments being rolled out
  • An unholy nexus between revenue-hungry businesses and governments, facilitating promotion of technologies which may be harmful to flora and fauna and even to human beings.
  • The digitization of individuals and the resultant threat to data privacy.

Skill sets of the future: A premium on softer skills 

The World Economic Forum (WEF) was the first one to use the term Industrial Revolution 4.0 in 2016.

As per one of its documents titled Future of Jobs Report, employers are said to anticipate a significant shift in the division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms for the tasks of today.

The aforesaid report states that of the total task hours across the industries covered, on an average, 71% are currently performed by humans, whereas 29% are performed by machines or algorithms. By 2022, this average is expected to have shifted to 58% task hours performed by humans, and 42% by machines or algorithms. It can be readily appreciated that this signifies a very rapid pace of change, something for which leaders need to be better prepared.

The report goes on to project that skills related to analytical thinking, active learning, technology design and technology competency would grow in prominence. It also proposes that such ‘human’ skills as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will either retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving.

It follows that a more humane approach to handling team members needs to be consciously developed, especially when operating in a business environment characterized by a shortage of skilled workers. In turn, this would pre-suppose a higher Emotional Quotient and a much higher Spiritual Quotient, especially at the leadership level. Even as the reliance on artificial intelligence grows for the analytical part of decision making, the importance of practicing the art of remaining connected with one’s inner Self would go up quite a few notches.

When intuition and human values rule supreme

What can be more relevant than to consider the case of a hapless pilot who, when faced with a mid-air crisis, reacts quickly, based purely on her intuition and the concern for passenger safety?

On the 17th of April, 2018, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 took off from New York-LaGuardia Airport and was headed to Dallas Love Field. The Boeing 737-700 experienced an uncontained engine failure, damaging the fuselage and a cabin window which led to rapid depressurisation. One passenger got partially ejected from the aircraft and died later. Eight others were injured. The flight had 144 passengers and a total of five crew members on board.

Tammie Jo Schults, a former US Navy pilot, was in command. With her concern for human safety, she managed to steer the ill-fated plane to safety. The crew conducted an emergency descent and decided to land at Philadelphia International Airport.

On the day of the incident, Elaine Chao, the US Secretary of Transportation, made a statement to ‘commend the pilots who safely landed the aircraft, and the crew and fellow passengers who provided support and care for the injured, preventing what could have been far worse.’

On May 1, 2018, the US President welcomed the crew and selected passengers in a ceremony at the Oval Office of the White House, thanking them for their heroism.

The evolving relationship between machines and Homo sapiens

Machine learning systems, which process vast quantities of data and make decisions based upon that data, are incapable of such competencies as compassion and empathy, which are the firm foundations of human values.

Already, technology has evolved to enable robots to be very effective at collaborating with humans. Yet, humans continue to be much more resilient and possess the unique ability of flexibly changing their plans to cope with unpredictable events.

Unlike thought so far, the man–machine relationship shall become more integrated with each other in the near future. As a result, the combined force of processing of billions of data points for efficient decision making by machines, and contextual, emotional and intuitive aspects of decision making by human beings, would be, to that extent, higher and greater in its impact – for good or bad.

One thing is certain. Things are not changing at a constant rate. With each passing year, the rate of change is also increasing. Much like Alice in Wonderland, Homo sapiens are discovering that they need to keep running faster and faster, with nary a respite in sight. Mankind is perhaps bound to evolve further much earlier than what was believed earlier.

Alvin Toffler might have labelled this as Future Shock 4.0!

(Inputs from an IT expert and an aviation expert are gratefully acknowledged)

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Many of the fans of P G Wodehouse suffer occasional pangs of anxiety. They fear that the species comprising the admirers of P G Wodehouse may soon become extinct. They suspect that not many of the younger generation may be getting infected enough with the delectable affliction of Wodehousitis, simply because his works belong to a bye-gone era which fails to connect with the youth of today.

When they sit down to relish the pleasures of the table, the food – even if it is dished out by a spouse who might be God’s gift to the gastric juices – simply turns into ashes in their mouths. Their brow is furrowed. They shudder at the prospect of a PGW-less society in the future, devoid of the pristine humour which makes one unwind after the harsh slings and arrows of Life have taken their toll. The human race, which is trying to cope with such dark clouds on the horizon as global warming, terrorism, economic inequality, exclusivity, et al, deserves as many rays of bright sunshine as life can offer. Unless the young ones take sprightly interest in some Plummy offerings, the future would be utterly dull, dreary, desolate and depressing, to say the least.

But what the well-meaning coves ignore in the process are the kind of positive vibes being generated and the good work being done by PGW societies in UK, Netherlands, USA and elsewhere. Erudite scholars keep coming up with delectable analyses of the Master’s works across dedicated websites and blog sites. Authors of all hues keep dishing out Plummy narratives at frequent intervals. Ardent fans keep exchanging Plummy notes with each other over various social media platforms. Then there are celebrities and members of royal families who keep chipping in with their endorsements, thereby facilitating the spread of Wodehousitis.

The bright parabola of joy

The bliss one experiences while devouring any segment of the Master’s canon is cheerfully bright. His innovative use of language is only one of the factors. The sunlit streets of Plumsville are paved with cobbled stones of subtle humour. These also have a depth which comprises a rich foundation of diverse facets of human knowledge, values and psychology. While pottering about in these, one is apt to come across not only such intellectual coves as Spinoza and Nietzsche, but also literary giants like Shakespeare, Tennyson, Byron, and even historic figures like Julius Caesar, Sir Philip Sidney and Napoleon. Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and several other Biblical references keep popping up.

When admiring the gardens at Blandings Castle, one comes across a delightful variety of flora and fauna which enlarge the frontiers of one’s knowledge. Many of his narratives enthuse one to not to give in to the pleasures of the table and thereby keep one’s lining of the stomach in the pink of health. Some others impart lessons in morality, especially when it comes to pinching manuscripts, scarabs, silver cow creamers and even cooks. Not to forget the kind of spiritual and pragmatic lessons underlying in his works.

In fact, the more the human race hurtles forward on its perilous journey plagued by such technological developments as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Data Analytics and the Internet of Things, the higher would be the relevance of the kind of rich lessons embedded in the fare dished out by Plum. Industrial Revolution 4.0 (or even 5.0) notwithstanding, humans cannot be wished away. Yes, with each leap of technological faith, their role in the society would evolve. But one wonders if the psychology of the individual would ever vanish from the face of our planet. And herein lies the hope for the survival of Wodehousitis.

In defence of the Escapist tag

In a thought-provoking article ‘P G Wodehouse: Balm for the Modern Soul’, (Wooster Sauce: March 2019), Dean Abbott argues as follows:

‘Outside of the sheer pleasure that reading a Wodehouse story provides, there are deeper rewards a reader gleans from his work, benefits that accrue long after any volume is closed. Wodehouse excels at providing the reader two important spiritual benefits: consolation from the sufferings of the world and some insight regarding why we suffer in the first place. In the end, his work is singular balm for the modern soul, comedy that tends towards theodicy.

‘The reality is that modern people, even if they are unconscious of it, require consolation, a buffer against and an escape from the disappointment and turmoil of earthly life, as much as people in any other period ever did – quite possibly more so. People in the old world, at least, could admit without shame their need for consolation. We are denied even that.’

One could not agree more with the proposition that the modern man, mentally fatigued by the relentless pounding of social media and 24×7 connectivity, richly deserves to win a reprieve for himself and his loved ones. Project this into a future replete with technological advances, and one would realise the increasing relevance of the scintillating and wisdom-laced humour found in the Master’s repertoire.

A peep into the future

Just imagine the future. The day is not far off when the following would cease to surprise:

  1. Someone of the calibre of Spinoza releasing a tome entitled An Ethical Theory for Bots.
  2. Gussie Fink Nottle gushing over genetically modified newts.
  3. Madeline Bassett using an Emotion Tracking App to check the right time to gaze up at the stars and reaffirm these to be God’s daisy chain.
  4. Uncle Tom deploying Artificial Intelligence to keep the taxation wolves at bay.
  5. Aunt Dahlia using crowd-funding to keep Milady’s Boudoir alive and kicking, so her nephews like Bertie Wooster could contribute such articles as What the Well-Dressed Robots are Wearing.
  6. Jeeves using Data Mining and Data Visualisation to be able to argue against the suitability of wannabe spouses for Bertie Wooster, thereby keeping his own career prospects as bright as ever.
  7. Gussie, when suspecting that his notebook containing juicy remarks on Pop Bassett and Roderick Spode may be in Stiffy’s possession, merely using a paper-whiffing GPS-enabled gadget to locate the same, rather than trying to persuade Bertie to give up his chivalrous tendencies.
  8. Bingo Little deploying the Internet of Things to ensure that Rosie M Banks never misses her afternoon cup of tea, thereby ensuring that matrimonial peace prevails.
  9. Silver cow creamers coming with embedded smart chips, making it easier to track them, thereby rendering endeavours to register scorn at them in antique shops futile, thus reducing the carbon footprints of mentally negligible nephews.
  10. The Efficient Baxter leveraging technology to ensure that the Empress of Blandings gets her daily nourishment of 57,800 calories, as per the Wolff-Lehmann feeding standards, thus maintaining the prospects of her winning silver medals at the Shropshire Agricultural Show year after year.

The possibilities are endless. The mind boggles.

An informal reality check

Arising out of a discussion between two PGW fans at the virtual Drones Club, a query was recently posted by Pradeep Swaminathan (the gentleman who had recently unleashed his book ‘Enter Mrs Bertie’ on the unsuspecting public) as to the age of the fans in the group. Of the 145 fans who responded, as many as 103 were found to be below the age of 40! Moreover, 4 of the fans were of 80 years and above, what with Mrs Sushama Varma from India (who has already seen 88 springs in her life time, though she is merely 22 at heart) being the senior most fan active in the gang.

A very small and unrepresentative sample from the universe inhabited by Plum’s fans the world over, skeptics might be quick to point out. Admittedly, yes. But hope remains in the form of the younger ones who march into the future with their chins up and with their upper lips unstiffened, duly emboldened by the germs of Wodehousitis coursing through their veins.

And if some of them were to decide to walk the aisle together, the progeny is quite likely to inherit the pleasurable affliction alluded to here. This would mean that the nurses, the baby-sitters, the governesses, the private-school masters and the public-school masters who will take on the responsibility of looking after such rare specimen of humanity who represent a delectable blend of the genes of their parents, could breathe easy.

So could those of the well-meaning souls which worry about the future of Wodehousitis.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/07/30/the-epidemic-of-wodehousitis

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/the-need-to-look-for-plummy-soul-mates

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/spreading-wodehousitis-some-plummy-awards)

 

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Vision and Mission Statements of corporates adorn their walls and can be readily copied. However, the value system of an organization is not something which can be copied very easily. It permeates the entire organization – its hierarchy, its various divisions or departments. It rubs off on most of its employees. Even service providers and supporting manufacturers get tuned to the same frequency.

Our youth are already reeling under the impact of latest technologies being unleashed on the unsuspecting work-force with gay abandon, leading to drastic changes in the skills required to survive and do well in the times to come. Were they to decide to join an owner-driven smaller business, it would be wise on their part to be aware of the nature of values that such outfits could be following.

Those who get hired by such businesses are the ones who offer willing service and selfless cooperation, even to the extent of taking pay cuts when they are told that business is in the red. They need to be quiet, respectful and deferential by nature. They need to have an adventurous outlook on life and be always prepared to receive a pink slip at a very short notice.

Employees are expected to be timid and behave like worms endowed with a backbone made of cottage cheese. Smarter ones who have backbones made of sterner stuff would be inclined to look for greener pastures within a few months of joining up. Those who somehow survive longer would soon find getting hauled out unceremoniously, much like worms found floating on top of a bowl of chicken soup meant for the Lion King.

While entering the company campus, the employees find it worth their while to leave their ego at the main gate. A doormat-like behaviour alone ensures that they do not suffer the spiritual anguish like that of the person who, having grown accustomed to opening the crackling salary envelope on the first day of each month, reaches out for it one day and finds it empty.

When asking for leave, they need to deploy tact and delicacy. Long vacations are obviously ruled out, simply because the stiff-upper-lip visage of the Lion King simply discourages such inane requests, work-life balance be damned.

The proceedings are invariably of a nature as to create an inferiority complex amongst its employees. Whenever anything goes wrong, even if the decision had emanated from either the Lion King or a member of his family, they willingly take the rap and get frequently ticked off by the top brass. Over time, they start resembling one of the more shrinking and respectful breeds of rabbit.

One of the values which some owner-driven companies find difficult to imbibe is that of respecting its people. Employees often get treated like chattel, getting hired and fired based on assessments made either in the bedroom or on the dining table of the owner’s abode. If the mood of the Lion King fluctuates in tandem with either the Dow Jones Index or the Sensex, the employees feel as if they are always on a roller coaster ride.

An incoming employee is never permitted to meet the outgoing one, thereby ensuring that negative vibes do not get passed on from the latter to the former. Inevitably, this ensures that past experience continues to get lost. Continuity in systems and procedures becomes a victim. Each incumbent keeps trying to reinvent the wheel.

When a meeting gets called, the Lion King alone presides. When he throws out a statement of opinion, a respectful silence prevails. He looks about him expectantly. This is the cue for the senior Yes-Sheep to say yes. He is followed, in order of precedence, by the middle-rung Yes-Sheep and then the junior Yes-Sheep. Then the turn of all the Nodder-Dormice comes. They simply nod, one after the other.

When the Lion King delineates a new business plan, he merely informs. He directs the Marketing-Monkeys, the Production-Bovines and the Supply-Chain-Management-Goats to get down to their respective tasks without delay. The Human-Resources-Canines are told to take care of their part of the work, while the Finance-Felines are told to keep a sharp eye on the collections against invoices raised by the Marketing-Monkeys. The Research-Pachyderms are exhorted to keep coming up with innovative products and services. The System-Giraffes are advised to ensure that the high-hanging fruits of the latest advances in technology are made available to the team. The Liaison-Fox is tasked to see that all regulatory permissions are in place well within due time.

Working in a smaller outfit has some unique perks as well. Besides being able to observe the core business processes at a close quarter, one is apt to face mighty challenges, thereby growing spiritually. One can pretty soon evolve into a Spiritual Manager who practices detachment and handles tough situations with alacrity and equanimity.

Peter Drucker, the renowned management expert, has this to say about imbibing spiritual values:

‘The individual needs the return to spiritual values, for he can survive in the present human situation only by reaffirming that man is not just a biological and psychological being but also a spiritual being, that is creature, and existing for the purposes of his Creator and subject to Him.’

Different organizations sport different cultures, presenting an interesting rainbow of values. The most prominent colour in such parabolas of joy happens to be black, denoting profits. The most disliked colour is obviously red, a prospect which leaves many a business owner and CEO cold in the feet and shuddering.

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(The following is an abridged and modified excerpt from an upcoming book on Leader Mindsets, authored by Prof G P Rao, founder of SPANDAN, and others.)

Advances in technology inevitably lead to more efficiencies, better products and improved lifestyles for people. But each leap of faith into the domain of a newer technology brings with it a set of newer challenges for mankind. As machines increasingly take over the drudgery of repetitive tasks and become more intelligent, human beings invariably need to re-skill themselves. This applies to business leaders as well as their followers.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution in the offing now builds on the Digital Revolution, representing new ways in which technology becomes embedded within societies and even the human body.

Skill-sets of the future

As per a World Economic Forum document titled ‘Future of Jobs Report’, employers are said to anticipate a significant shift in the division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms for the tasks of today.

The aforesaid report states that of the total task hours across the industries covered, on an average, 71% are currently performed by humans, whereas 29% are performed by machines or algorithms. By 2022, this average is expected to have shifted to 58% task hours performed by humans, and 42% by machines or algorithms. It can be readily appreciated that this signifies a very rapid pace of change, something for which leaders need to be better prepared.

The report goes on to project that skills related to analytical thinking, active learning, technology design and technology competency would grow in prominence. It also proposes that such ‘human’ skills as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will either retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving.

It follows that in the impending man-machine conflict, human beings are not likely to suffer the same fate as that of the non-avian dinosaurs which went extinct some sixty-five million years ago. But the writing on the wall is clear. They need to roll up their sleeves and get down to the task of sharpening their soft skills. A humane approach to handling team members needs to be consciously developed, especially when operating in a business environment characterized by a shortage of skilled workers. In turn, this would pre-suppose a higher Emotional Quotient and better service orientation. Even as the reliance on artificial intelligence grows for the analytical part of decision making, the role of intuition would become even more crucial.

A focus on the bottom line

Most employers would go in for innovating through technology if it makes business sense. It follows that technology would continue to remain a tool in the arsenal of the corporate world to squeeze more profits out of their operations, thereby making careers more fragile and impacting labour incomes adversely. With 24×7 connectivity, people are already working longer and enjoying lesser leisure time.

In a scenario of this kind, there is a grave risk that leaders would end up losing a connection with themselves even more than at present and hence end up de-humanizing the work place.

However, values remain indestructible. As an example, honesty and truthfulness in relationships is something which is bound to withstand the onslaught of newer technologies in the centuries to come. Same is the case with empathy, compassion, resilience and a flexible approach in problem solving.

Perhaps there is a need for governments the world over to anticipate newer moral and ethical dilemmas in a proactive manner and influence technological developments suitably, so human dignity and freedom is not compromised.

The perks and the perils

One may also surmise as to how the imminent advances in technology could throw up positive as well as negative factors which are likely to impact the man-machine equation in the times to come.

According to a 2014 report entitled ‘AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs’, published by Pew Research Centre, researchers Aaron Smith and Janna Anderson went to the extent of seeking feedback from as many as 1,896 experts. They found that when it came to the impact of advances in technology upon economic opportunity and employment, the opinion was deeply divided.

The optimists opined that technology would free us from day-to-day drudgery and end up redefining our relationship with ‘work’ in a more positive and socially beneficial manner. They felt that we shall adapt to these changes by inventing entirely new types of work and control our own destiny through the choices we make.

The pessimists amongst those who participated in the aforesaid study were of the opinion that the coming wave of innovation would mostly impact those involved in white-collar work. Whereas highly skilled workers will do better, many more might get pushed into lower paying jobs, and might even face permanent unemployment. They also felt that our educational, political and economic institutions are poorly equipped to handle the challenges which are likely to come up.

The aforesaid piece of research throws up instructive insights into how the future might shape up. Leaders and managers really need to think up some innovative ways in which they would handle a highly polarized workforce, comprising a disgruntled lot at one end and a highly skilled one at the other.

The challenge of creating happier workplaces

Unlike the earlier industrial revolutions, which first created and then changed the skill sets required by our blue collar workforce, the Fourth one promises to change the work profile of our white collar workers.

In his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, describes how this fourth revolution is fundamentally different from the previous three, which were characterized mainly by advances in technology. According to him, these technologies have great potential to continue to connect billions of more people to the web, drastically improve the efficiency of business and organizations and help regenerate the natural environment through better asset management.

As we grapple to understand the future direction of monumental changes in our socio-economic fabric owing to the next phase of technological evolution, few things stand clear.

One, that our educational institutions are nowhere near the task of training a workforce which would not learn analytical skills by rote but would grasp the importance of creativity, resilience and improve upon their Emotional Quotient.

Two, most of our governments are yet to devise ways and means of regulating issues of protecting individual privacy, executive burnouts arising out of a 24×7 connectivity and heightened civic strife due to growing inequalities. The next phase is bound to create a newer class of elite – those who are adept at newer technologies, leaving far behind those who are not.

Those in the first category could end up believing that they are all too powerful. Those who remain blissfully ignorant and continue to be disconnected to those who are reaping the benefits of newer technologies are likely to gravitate towards a belief that they have no place in the knowledge universe. With poor resources of material as well legal kind at their command, these new ‘have-nots’ of the society may be doomed to languish for a long time, till the governments of the day intervene, willfully or otherwise, and ensure implementation of economic policies which are more inclusive in nature.

The third kind, comprising those left in the middle of the normal distribution curve of technology dispersal, could end up having a balanced approach to issues. In fact, with advances in technology, this kind could well face a higher risk of extinction, paving the way for those who believe themselves to be all too powerful to rule the roost.

The same pattern may become apparent in the realm of management as well. Leaders and executives would need to increase their engagement not only with the society at large, but also with the governments of the day. A massive effort at re-skilling personnel would become a necessity.

A matter of trust and privacy

Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy happens to be of the view that technology is a great leveller. He thinks that technology has improved transparency, conquered distance and class barriers. Also, that it has the potential to create a fair society and enhance the accountability of the rich, the powerful and the elite to the poor and disenfranchised in all societies.

One cannot dispute this. However, concerns regarding an increasing trust deficit remain. Denizens of many countries are feeling increasingly jittery over instances of data privacy. Moral policing, electoral pitching, rumour mongering – all these are fuelling this trust deficit.

One case in point is that of Facebook which is already armed with tools to dig deep into our lives, with the singular aim of moulding our thoughts and opinions about diverse aspects of our lives.

Employees in most organizations already resent living in a virtual fish bowl, where all their communications are suspected to be getting monitored. No one likes to be micro-managed, especially those who are capable and self-confident. Business enterprises have already started deploying tools to monitor employee productivity by collecting and analyzing their activity and inactivity levels.

In the long run, a work environment of this nature would end up impacting productivity, commitment and motivation levels adversely.

The ever-increasing rate of change

One thing is certain. Change is not only a constant. With each passing year, the rate of change is also increasing. Much like Alice in Wonderland, Homo sapiens are discovering that they need to keep running faster and faster, with nary a respite in sight. Mankind is bound to evolve further much earlier than what was believed in the past. Alvin Toffler would perhaps heartily approve of this proposition.

Unlike thought so far, the man machine relationship shall become more integrated with each other in the near future. As a result, the combined force of processing of billions of data points for efficient decision making by machines, and contextual, emotional and intuitive aspects of decision making by human beings, would be, to that extent, higher and greater in their respective impacts – for good or bad.

What can be done to meet the challenge

– Employees, whether present or potential, can go beyond the formal education system and aggressivle look for avenues to hone their skills, so as to remain employable. As Stephen R Covey has said, we need to keep our saws sharpened.

– Same applies to our business leaders, who would do well to improve upon their Emotional Quotient.

– The agenda for educationists and politicians is clear: To keep taking steps to facilitate the change already upon us; to anticipate the challenges of privacy and rumour mongering and to intervene to have appropriate safeguards embedded in upcoming technologies.

(References:
https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2018
“Future of Jobs.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (December 11, 2014);
http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/08/06/future-of-jobs)

(Illustrations courtesy www)

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