How AI will make corporations more humane and super-linearly innovative (Part 2)

In last weeks’ blog, I listed the six fundamental pillars that make up an innovative organization: right strategy, right culture, right work organization, right technology stacks, right data and right cybersecurity. For this blog, I’ll focus on two of those pillars – right technology stacks and right work organization.

Rethinking work organization

The first industrial revolution made humans into robots. Yes, you read that correctly. For the past two hundred years, we’ve adapted our work behaviour around machines. The idea of a process comes from traditional assembly line and process manufacturing, where things need to happen in a sequence. Allowing for things to happen spontaneously and chaotically go against the concept of “management,” which is at the heart of current business.

Processes, managers, loops, repetition, rules and compliance are the building blocks of traditional organizations. Workers go to work every day, stay at work for a specified period of time, vacation only a few days per year. Their output is measured as if they were all the same, identical copies, robots. While these behaviours and methods have served us well, they’re now in dire need of reinvention.

IT must cease to be a cost centre and instead become the means of innovation

In their forthcoming book “Surge: Navigating the digital tsunami” agile practitioners Brad Murphy and Carol Mase propose a phased approach to making businesses fit for the digital era. Each phase liberates people from productivity-depressed processes and allows them to collectively engage in value-producing networks that innovate, not only around products and services, but in everything required to make the business successful.

The nodes of these networks have access to technology stacks that reinvent the idea of corporate IT. And here’s an important point: IT must cease to be a cost centre and instead become the means of innovation. Doing so requires the courageous embrace of the cloud. “Cloud-native organizations” accessing software micro-services in a cloud-based ecosystem environment means that teams can quickly build systems, experiment and fail fast, and thus significantly improve the delivery of the innovation cycle.

More dramatically, this kind of radical transformation requires a major mind shift about what constitutes proprietary and collaborative. Remember the discovery of the Santa Fe Scientists: productivity and innovation requires encounters and collaborations outside your organization. This means collaborating and co-innovating with non-employees, via talent platforms, but can also mean collaborating with competitors.

You need AI to deliver interfaces that don’t require humans to act like machines

The final destination of this transformational journey is to destroy the current rigidity of organizations and replace it with a network of fluid and agile “micro-businesses” collaborating across, and beyond, the organization.

And here’s how the significance of AI comes into play. For such micro-businesses to become effective you need technology stacks that allow for collaboration. More specifically, you need AI to enable internal talent platforms that track skills and match skills to tasks; to perform the routine cognitive tasks, and therefore augment the productivity of people who will be performing the non-routine cognitive tasks (creativity, imagination), as well as tasks that require human interaction (leadership, mentoring, communication).

And you need AI to deliver interfaces that don’t require humans to act like machines, but where the opposite happens: machines that communicate and interact with humans in a human-like way, for instance via voice and natural language, sign language or facial expression.

The rise of the humans

Here’s a counterintuitive suggestion that goes against the consensus in the current debate over AI: that the fourth industrial revolution will free humans from their current enslavement by machines.  Moreover, AI will reinvent what a job really means for workers and organizations.

My colleagues, Ravin Jesuthasan and Tracey Malcolm, and I recently published an article in the Harvard Business Review in which we looked how cognitive technologies will add value to what professionals currently do by making their jobs more valuable, not less.

We must not view human-like machine behaviour as a threat, but rather as an opportunity to completely reinvent our workplaces

It’s not just work augmentation that makes me an optimist. Artificial Intelligence is a technology that makes machines behave more like humans. This is the key idea, and perhaps the most significant aspect of this revolutionary technology that has finally come of age because of machine learning algorithms, rich data sets and cheap parallel processing. However, we must not view human-like machine behaviour as a threat, but rather as an opportunity to completely reinvent our workplaces.

As AI gradually enters the physical world via sensors and the so-called Internet of things (IoT), we will experience the real impact of this technology on our world and our economies. Life in the late 21st century will be completely different from how we live today; and, in my opinion, will be better, more productive, more meaningful, less stressful, and more focused on human relations, friendships and family.

This is why skills that focus on humans, such as psychology, human resources, sociology, social and health care, will become as valuable as designing building new technological systems and solutions. HR leaders will be key in delivering the transformation their organizations need to be successful in the new era of the rise of the humans…


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About George Zarkadakis

George Zarkadakis is the Director of Willis Towers Watson’s Digital Incubator and leader of the Future of Work St…
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