Machine thinking is all around us.
Organisations arrange themselves in divisional units and assign metrics to measure output. We manage for efficiency, productivity and compliance. We treat work as a transactional exchange of wages for labour.
We seek to retain control of the numbers and people through hierarchy, layers of bureaucracy, and management via top-down decision making.
Machine thinking dominates the landscape in our organisations.
We may talk of wanting innovation and creativity, but most of our internal management systems and controls based on machine thinking will be pushing against that. It is decades of entrenched practices, of industrial revolution era thinking at play demanding compliance and conformity. This, combined with the traditional model of capitalism that measures success solely by profit continues to shape things in 2019.
Inevitably, with all of this in place, people can become mere units of production. Yes, our companies may be profitable on the surface but what about when we lift the lid and explore the internal dynamics within? When we explore in more depth we often find that profit generated comes at the cost of a human beings who drive the profit. Profit also often comes at the cost of an environmental impact. The numbers themselves rarely tell the full story.
The modern reality facing business means this model is no longer sustainable. An entirely different level of thinking is required. This is no longer based on machine thinking but based on what fundamentally makes us human.
We’ve seen the agricultural era, the industrial era, and many would say this is currently the information era. The big challenges facing the planet and our organisations will not be solved by machines, technology or information alone. They’ll be solved by our human endeavour, willingness to co-operate, with creativity and ingenuity on what we choose to do with all the machines, technology and information at our disposal.
The next era, what I believe will be the Human Era, will start with business. Social media is catalysing this change in a big way. It is driving a whole new world of transparency and accountability for our companies and is here to stay. The lid has well and truly been lifted. Yet the current models based on machine thinking with traditional capitalism are not set up for this new reality. They act as a barrier to change. Many organisations continue to operate in their conventional ways, desperately seeking to retain control despite these powerful influences. The rules of the game are being redrawn as we speak. Profit can no longer equal success if it damages people and the environment in the process. Business is now required to operate in a very unconventional and unpredictable world.
In the Human Era, workplaces could be places for amazing human experiences and interactions to occur. Business needs to be a platform and environment for human creativity to flourish. Places where long standing conventions can be ripped up and rethought. There needs to be a different form of control, not based on traditional rules, bureaucracy and hierarchy but on trust, openness and personal responsibility and freedom. It takes bravery to challenge the thinking, structures, practices and models that have existed for so long.
To solve the big problems of our time we need to embrace the Human Era, and overcome the fear and resistance that infects too many workplaces. We need to rediscover what being human in our work really means. There are many trailblazing organisations doing precisely that. They do so not just because it’s the right thing to do, or because it was easy, but also because they have a deeper purpose behind their business beyond making a profit. They take a balanced, ethical and responsible view of people, profit and the planet in a serious way. To create a real groundswell of movement many more companies need to follow suit. It’s not just a business responsibility, but Governments, communities and individual people working together for the common good too.
The big challenges facing the planet and business can be overcome. Human beings have created our organisations therefore it is also within our gift to recreate them. None of this is inevitable, but time is short. In the case of the environment, humanity itself is at stake. It shouldn’t take an existential threat to our species to focus our hearts and minds but that is the stark reality. All business is called upon to act. An unstoppable global human force for good could be unleashed. When people utilise their unique human skills and co-operate within and across business to solve problems there is nothing that cannot be achieved. We see the very best of business shine through. It may sound idealistic, but the modern reality is that things cannot simply stay as they are. The trailblazing companies prove the change is real, in which case it can no longer be about idealism when such businesses actually exist. As businesses look ahead, embracing the Human Era is going to be less about choice, and more about necessity.