Do you control your phone or does it control you?
According to a recent study in the US, 66% of people surveyed show signs of ‘nomophobia’ – the fear of being without their phones. Also, the same study revealed that users unlocked their phones on average 150 times per day. This constant distraction can have profoundly negative effects on our relationships. In early 2010 I purchased a shiny new smartphone (for my job of course) and immediately fell in love with having a mini computer in my pocket. I could manage my emails, diary, messaging, banking…everything on the go. We’ve all been there right, but this was different to most of the technology that had come before – it was highly addictive but not like gaming or TV. Even for those of us who felt that we were not easily distracted, the allure of maximising our ‘efficiency’ and being ‘always contactable’ has remained with many of us to this day. The question for a lot of people now is, “Has the technology improved our lives or made it worse i.e; more stressful with increased anxiety?” As I was in and out of meetings a lot during this period, I left my phone in ‘silent’ mode and it has pretty much stayed that way to this day as my wife can confirm! Of course, this isn’t always possible but it highlights a common power struggle that we have vis-a-vis our tech.
Humans still have centre stage – people matter
Business is about people – our collaborators who we entrust to deliver our promise day in and day out and our customers who believe what we believe and vote with their wallets. Technology is great and laptops and smartphones have revolutionised our professional mobility plus, coupled with a vast array of apps and software, we now can work from anywhere 24 hours a day if we wanted to. It is essential however, to strike a healthy balance. Many of us have a myriad of apps open at any one time and this can limit our ability to deeply focus on tasks without being constantly distracted. Multitasking is an enemy of productivity and the struggle now is how to design into our
daily flow, periods of uninterrupted work. This is a real challenge for many people and it is those who manage to do this well who will ultimately succeed. Without a high level of wellbeing, all of us, both personally and professionally will suffer so we have to act now.
Rise of AI and the move towards decentralisation
Two key areas of technological development are shaping our world more than ever – these are; artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain.
Artificial intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, namely computer systems. Specific applications of AI include natural language processing, speech recognition and machine vision. In general, AI systems work by ingesting large amounts of labelled training data, analysing the data for correlations and patterns, and using these patterns to make predictions about future states. For example, a chatbot that is fed examples of text exchanges can learn to produce lifelike exchanges with people, or an image recognition tool can learn to identify and describe objects in images by reviewing millions of examples. AI programming focuses on three cognitive skills: learning, reasoning and self-correction.
The aforementioned highlights the machine learning element or ‘soft’ AI and most of us are familiar with these types of algorithms working away in the background when we use Google, Facebook, Amazon etc. Who has been on a Youtube video spiral based on the recommendations..? The ‘hard’ AI is the next level and the one of concern as this is when the machines start to think for themselves rather than basing their ‘behaviour’ on being fed information. Great minds of our time such as Elon Musk and Richard Branson have all voiced deep concerns about ‘hard’ AI.
Blockchain is fast becoming well regarded in many industries and the use cases are plentiful; finance, supply-chain, cyber security, voting, anti-counterfeiting etc. Essentially, blockchain is a decentralised, immutable and secure ledger of transactions that by its very nature, is significantly more secure than a database and has ‘trust’ built in from inception. A blockchain therefore removes the third party from transactions (think: banks, custodians, estate-agents etc.) so it’s turning the centralised world as we know it on its head.
Mindset for success
As these two exciting technological advancements accelerate us into our increasingly digital futures, it begs the question, “Where do we as humans fit into the mix?” Here are a few pointers to consider:
- We must remember that our technology works for us, not the inverse, therefore setting rigorous boundaries for its use is key. Create a company ‘Tech charter’, communicate it well and stick to it.
- When possible, maximise human face-to-face contact as this is where true connection happens.
- Over communication can easily overwhelm collaborators so agree on ‘how’ different types of collaboration should be conducted and on what channels and platforms. Using three types of file sharing platforms for projects is a recipe for disaster. Focused communication wins.
- At a Comex company level, don’t be afraid of the technology, leverage it! Set up a sandbox to experiment with AI and blockchain and share your findings with the team.
- Challenge the 60 minute meeting default. How about 15, 30 or 45 minutes instead with 2, 3 or 4 attendees..?
- Actively encourage and support your collaborators to disengage to re-engage by building a meaningful life outside of work. Work hard, play hard and foster well-being.
Jeremy Peter Williams 08.03.2022