Job automation

I’ve said it so often now that you may be bored with the notion, but many people do not understand it at all. Simple work is getting automated and complicated work is getting outsourced – Automated & Outsourced.

On top of that, what was complicated yesterday is merely simple today and hence will be automated. Daniel Lemire has an interesting take on what automation will do to not just business but also politics:

In fact, most jobs require little general intelligence:

  • Jobs are highly specialized. You can sum up 80% of what most people do with 4 or 5 different specific tasks. In most organizations, it is a major faux pas to ask the wrong person: there is a one-to-one matching between people and tasks.
  • Jobs don’t require that you to understand much of what is going on. You only need to fake some understanding of the context the same way a spam filter fakes an understanding of your emails. Do you think that the salesman at the appliance store knows why some dishwashers have a shredder and some don’t, and why it matters? Do you think that the professors know what the job market is like for their graduates?

A key part of the problem is the job. Politicians want “job creation” and people want jobs to be able to feed their families and pay the bills. But the job is nothing more than a social construct. I think it’s outlived its usefulness, as I found out last year. The construct of the job, with its defined skills, effort, responsibilities and working conditions, is a key limiting organizational factor for the conceptual economy. We need to get beyond it.

In order to realize the creative potential of individuals we have to cast off old notions of how work gets done. There is no such thing as a generic  job description into which we just drop some “qualified” candidate. Job competencies are a myth. People are individuals. The role of an effective HR department would be to know each person individually. The fact is that everyone can be creative, including the janitor.

Understanding and incorporating humanity back into our work will liberate us from the industrial, scientific management models that inform too much of our work. It will also help us deal with all those complex problems that are really keeping us up at night.


2 Responses to “Job automation”

  1. Jackie

    Sounds like an idealized version of how the work force should be and even though I agree that what you propose is nice, I don’t think most businesses would be willing to adopt these measures and seek creative input from everyone. Businesses primary are focused on profit and most people work jobs to pay their bills; for many people a job is just a means to an end. I think a lot of workers might not even want to understand how everything works or why they do what they do; they just want to get paid.

    • Harold Jarche

      My underlying point is that organizations and workers don’t have a choice. Their work will be automated and outsourced, as it has has been for lawyers and countless other professionals. I have discussed this with many companies and they admit to this situation. If you want to get paid a decent salary, you had better do complex and/or creative work. Successful companies like Apple understand this, while others, like Blockbuster, have had their simple business model automated by the likes of Netflix.


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