leave standard methods to the machines

Any situation at work can first be looked at from the perspective of — is this a known problem or not? If it’s known, then the answer can be looked up or the correct person found to deal with it.

Known problems require access to the right information to solve them. This information can be mapped, and frameworks such as knowledge management (KM) help us to map it.

We can also create tools, especially performance support systems to do the work and not have to learn all the background knowledge in order to accomplish the task. This is how simple and complicated knowledge continuously gets automated.

Of course this still might be difficult, given that finding the right information or right people still consumes a lot of time at work. But this is merely a complicated problem. We have proven methods to improve collaboration, cooperation, knowledge sharing, and sensemaking.

If it’s a new problem or an exception, then workers have to deal with it in a unique way. This is why we hire people instead of machines — to deal with exceptions. Complex, new problems need tacit and implicit knowledge to solve them. Exception-handling is becoming more important in the networked workplace because computer systems can handle the routine stuff. People, often working together, have to deal with the exceptions.

So if you are in a complex situation, like a pandemic, you need to have exceptions front-of-mind. Giving standard procedures and rules is not just ineffective but counter-productive. For example, I have been barred from entering two establishments because my face mask did not fit into the acceptable category as shown in the job aid provided to the employee at the door. In one case I was asked to remove my face covering and put on a cheap non-medical mask.

I purchased my face covering from the UK because it is the only effective covering I could find that works if you have a beard. According to tensARC, my mask has a “Filtration efficiency to CWA 17553:2020 >99%” .

A mask shouldn’t gap at the sides or drop below the nose when talking. We know that pulling straps tight only makes gaps worse when we exhale, allowing air and aerosols through. The facegaiter has no straps just proper seals and sizing.

Purpose-built to address leakage: that means better protection. No need to double up. Less leaks, less risk.

facegaiter mask

Image: Facegaiter

But my mask does not match the official profile determined by management of the establishment.

The easy route is to just comply, as we have been doing with ‘security theatre’ at airports for years. But over time, using standardized approaches erodes trust in the system. As we have seen in this pandemic, complicated rules lead to people ‘gaming’ the system. They are no longer engaged. It is the same for customers. In my case, I will avoid these companies as much as possible. I no longer trust them.

Employing people to only follow rules is using them as machines, which may be the intention of management, but is a waste of human potential. Creative people are at all levels of an organization — including the janitor — and are not ‘human resources’ but individuals who have the capability of  gaining wisdom. Handling exceptions should be the core of all jobs. It is what we humans do best.

For the past several centuries we have used human labour to do what machines cannot. First the machines caught up with us, and surpassed humans, with their brute force. Now they are surpassing us with their brute intelligence. There is not much more need for machine-like human work which is routine, standardized, or brute. Let’s leave standardized methods to the machines.

standard methods erode trust


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