Power as autonomy

We are perhaps most familiar with a conceptualisation of power as influence, one of two types of power investigated in a 2016 study reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The power of influence expresses a desire to control others. It can also involve taking responsibility for others. A second type of power, power as autonomy,has little to do with others in the sense that this type of power is not a product of wanting to control others. Rather, it allows a person to ignore and resist the influence of others and thus to play a role in shaping individual destiny – it expresses the desire to be free. The researchers in the study found that people crave power not be the master of others, but to be the master of their own domains and to control their fates. An increase in power as autonomy seems to quench the thirst for more power. (An increase in power as influence does not have the same result.)

Generally, when people say they want power, what they really want is autonomy. And when they get that autonomy, they tend to stop wanting power.” – Julie Beck, in The Atlantic

These findings are fascinating within a digital context, where the battle to spend time ‘wisely’ is so real. Time spentonline is the metric that most designers chase – this is because more time spent online means more time to collect information about you, your behaviours, your preferences, and to experiment with different advertisements to increase their impact. The stickiness of platforms is thus purposefully designed in, with features such as push notifications drawing us back to platforms left only minutes ago. A mobile phone on a desk has been shown to decrease scores on cognitive tests. The mere presence of a smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive functioning, even though people feel they’re giving their full attention and focus to the task at hand. This applies when the phone is on silent and face down. One could argue this is power as influence at its best.

Our battle of ‘time well spent’ has a dark side, in that most of what gets captured about us is below our conscious awareness. You may have started to pick up on ads and YouTube content pushed to you that seem eerily congruent with aspects of your life that you do not recall explicitly sharing. There are two kinds of very profitable online ads. Contextual ads are based on content on a website. Search for a car, for example, and relevant ads pop up. These ads do not need to know or to have stored your personal data. Behavioural ads are the second type, and they are based on a personal profile that is compiled through your online activity, and even offline activity in some cases. They follow you around from website tomobile app based on your private information and they enable online discrimination, manipulation and the creation of filter bubbles. Our digital modi operandi provides fertile ground not only for the gathering of your life’s daily details but also for experimentation and ‘nudging’ your behaviour towards a desired outcome. The sophistication and pervasiveness of these influences makes them hard to ignore. If both kinds of ads are profitable, why does a ‘dark’ footprint of all your activity need to be stored? Is this an affront to your power as autonomy, your power to shape your own destiny and to feel free in your choices?

Tristan Harris, former ethicist at Google, thinks so. He is in the business of helping the tech industry to more consciously and ethically shape the human spirit and human potential.

‘By shaping the menus we pick from, technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them with new ones. But the closer we pay attention to the options we’re given, the more we’ll notice when they don’t actually align with our true needs… Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano.’ – Tristan Harris

A self-described expert on how technology hijacks our psychological vulnerabilities, Harris poses valid questions, such as, how often is tech interrupting you from what you really mean to be doing? Is tech, with all its pings and pop-ups, stealing time from you? And a personal favourite of mine, for the shift in thinking it provokes: “What does the future of technology look like when you’re designing for the deepest human values?”

New tools are available to us. Exploring their usefulness may help combat feelings of subjugation from the power of influence we are exposed to, and build our power of autonomy. One such tool is DuckDuckGo, a search engine that does not track activity and also allows the user to control how much of their activity gets shared. DuckDuckGo uses contextual advertising. CEO Gabriel Weinberg is devoted to protecting privacy amidst the rampant data framing prevalent online today. Companies are making money off of your private information online without your consent. The Internet should not feel so creepy.

The DuckDuckGo Mission: “Too many people believe that you simply can’t expect privacy on the Internet. We disagree and have made it our mission to set a new standard of trust online.”

We focus optimistically on everything that tech can do for us, and so we should. But as Harris notes, living moment to moment with the fear of missing something isn’t how we’re built to live. Technology could be helping to create more meaningful interaction. The metric of ‘time well spent’ is a radical departure from the metric of ‘time spent online’. We can ‘nudge’ this in the right direction.

For more on this topic, watch the Ted Talk “How better tech could protect us from distraction”, by Tristan Harris. Also read Gabriel Weinberg’s article “What if we all just sold non-creepy advertising?

This article first published on Talent Talks Africa.

It is easier to copy a model than to create something new. But fine tuning old lines leads to dead ends.

The more we compete through ‘match and beat’, the less we gain. The world has never moved this quickly, yet it will never again move this slowly.  Exposure to the unknown will amplify. Machines already perform most repetitive, monotonous and dangerous tasks better than humans. What if, as Peter Thiel asks, we could combine new technologies with the human capacity to innovate? Could humans work miracles?

The more we create, the more we thrive. The moment of creation is singular. Every time we create something fresh and strange, we go from zero to one. The challenge of our time is how we free our human energy for creative work. It is also how we, as humans, bring purpose to that work.

“By creating new technologies, we rewrite the plan of the world.” – Peter Thiel

 

 

Clever fusion

South Africa’s expanded unemployment rate has risen from 6m in 2001 to 9.6m in 2018. With these significant unemployment figures looming large, it can be challenging to keep a positive outlook. Until you pay a visit to Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator.

Harambee means ‘we win when we pull together’. If you don’t know them, Harambee is an ambitiously successful and spirited youth employment accelerator, designed in 2009-10 to tackle youth unemployment through partnerships and scale. Harambee was incubated in 2011 by Yellowwoods with a group of 5 funding employers and just 40 young people. They certainly have come a long way. To date they have placed over 55 thousand young people into paid employment and their plans are to shift this number to 100 thousand by the end of the decade.

We know that if a young person gets and keeps their first job, they are much more likely to remain employed for the rest of their life. But employers shy away from recruiting young and entry-level employees, not least because of the gaps presenting between the education system and the skills required in the world of work. Redressing educational and psychosocial issues caused by poverty can also increase costs for employers, and up perceived risks, creating a barrier for young people hoping to enter the workplace.

Harambee tackles these issues head-on by assisting with formal placement (demand-led) and through empowering young people with personal and skills development. And they have a unique approach. Unlike employers who typically use school grades as a basis for entry-level screening, Harambee assesses learning potential and measures what is described as ‘fluid intelligence’ – the ability to learn quickly in a new environment. This helps with understanding the person’s likelihood of performing in an opportunity. “78% of young people would have been excluded for entry-level positions based on their math scores, yet the learning potential assessment indicates that around 90% would be suitable for most entry-level jobs” says Nicola Galombik, co-founder of Harambee.

Although not every candidate can be placed, joining Harambee offers development opportunities and connection into a network where future placement is a possibility – jobs seekers emerge more prepared to meet the demands of entry-level roles. The dedicated mobi site is absolutely free for young work seekers who are unemployed and have been looking for a job. Offices are located in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban and Cape Town however Harambee services any part of the country where there is demand. Employers benefit from access to pools of talent previously undiscovered or inaccessible. It seems a win-win on all sides. So what underpins this success?

Harambee take pride in their relatively flat structure. And there is no doubt that there is a special energy about the place. But what really impresses is their adoption of tech to make a big and purposeful impact. Harambee has used machine learning and big data solutions to tackle the challenge of youth unemployment in South Africa, earning them a keynote spot (one of two organisations only) at the Google NEXT 2018 conference in Silicon Valley. They are developing an alternative pathwaying platform using a pretty smart, world-leading algorithm described as having the rules to include and not exclude. It takes account of the zigzagging young people are used to and reflects the kind of disruption characteristic of the gig economy. The platform analyses skills and suggests routes to employment (rather than just matches to jobs), and this could include short-term contract work. Harambee can access their data and understand both employers and candidates better. ‘Data we are gathering allows us to shine a light on all the great things (young people) can be and are’. Accolades are aplenty and include The CX Game Changer Award from Genesys for customer experience innovation, providing global recognition for their contact centre, and a nomination for the 2018 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

It is this fusion of clever, cutting-edge tech and deep human respect that comes home on a visit to the Fox Street offices. Sam Varney, Manager of Solution Analytics, showed me around, explaining the what, where and how of what they do. As a man with a large empty container passed us, Sam explained that young people are offered a sandwich and a piece of fruit before training. Full stomachs help people learn. There is also a room full of clothing supplies to assist candidates to get kitted up ‘right’ for interviews and the first few weeks of work. Simple, human things make a big difference indeed.

As Sam walked me to the lift at the end of my visit, she told me how lucky she feels to be part of Harambee, to be able to go to work there each day. And I left feeling like the good stuff can and does happen, driven by ambitious people connected to a larger purpose, and enabled in ways like never before thanks to technological advancement.

Take a look at the Harambee website and consider ways to get involved, as an individual or an employer. You can also direct young people who are unemployed to the mobi site. Who knows, perhaps this could be the seed of tackling tomorrow’s important stuff.

Harambee is an independent, not-for-profit social enterprise that works with individual businesses, government agencies, local and international donors, industry sector associations, youth-serving organisations, assessment specialists, behaviour change experts and technology providers. I visited them to see what they were doing, and this write-up was published by Talent Talks Africa where I am a regular columnist. You can view the first publish here.

Find Your Digital WeirdThere is much opportunity to show up these days. Social networking platforms are like stages for shining and showing off your personal and professional experiences, quirks and skills. We can connect, debate and create, at scale. It’s true. Technological advancement brings access like never before. New tech helps us to get heard, find opportunities and get things done, not to mention magnify individual good, says futurist Graeme Codrington.

Unsurprisingly, this level of access also applies to personal information about ‘us’. According to digital thought leader Mike Saunders, two years ago the World Economic Forum (WEF) had already named data the new currency. If you are not paying for a product, such as an online social networking platform (most of us are on one at least), then you should understand that you are the product.

So whilst we throw up concerns around privacy, and indeed we are right to question, perhaps we should focus our questions beyond whether we have privacy or not, to whether we are happy with the trades we are making in exchange for our personal information. Good questions to ask are, what information does this platform hold about me, and what are they doing with it? What value does it add for me?

Take Alexa. Alexa is a cloud-based virtual personal assistant that is continually updating its intelligence, something like Apple’s Siri. You ask or command and Alexa responds. You may be searching for information, such as news, weather, traffic or for a new recipe, or asking Alexa to play your ‘tunes’ or the radio. But you can also use Alexa to get things done. You can ask it to create to-do lists, shop, order an Uber and control smart home products (think temperature, alarms). “Keep up with your busy lifestyle and maximise the potential of the smart devices that you own with increased convenience” says this website, with its blog helping you to compare Google Home and Amazon Echo, so that you can make an informed decision on design, features and capabilities. Alexa is a paid service, and it is learning all the time, based on what you feed it, and you benefit. There is your trade.

On LinkedIn, the free version, you get to profile yourself professionally and to tap into the opportunities presented through a global living network. You are the product – just like you are on Facebook and Instagram, if you are not paying for the service. As inspirational speaker and strategy facilitator Siphiwe Moyo reminds us, it is not just millennials, everyone has options and choice and we should be exercising that choice. Exercising choice means becoming aware of what your options are, and understanding them well, so that you can make informed choices or trades, and really take advantage of what a digital age offers.

Dorie Clark, Harvard Business Review contributor shows us how we can do this in her work Standout. She grew up in a very small town in North Carolina – pre-Internet era – and felt incredibly frustrated with the lack of opportunities. She argues that too many of us still believe that heads down and hard work hard equals recognition and career success. Clark teaches us how to develop big ideas, leverage affiliations and build a community of followers. The process of finding great ideas and getting them heard makes it possible for us to change the world for the better (previously quite difficult, when we were non-digital). But is also the best form of career insurance. You capitalize on your unique perspective and knowledge and inspire others to listen and take action. Recognize your own value, cultivate your expertise, and put yourself out there, she says. It is no surprise that her examples Seth Godin, who in his book, “We are all weird” notes:

 

“The choice to push all of us toward a universal normal merely to help sell more junk to the masses is both ineffectual and wrong. The opportunity of our time is to support the weird, to sell to the weird, and, if you wish, to become the weird.”

 

In the workplace of tomorrow, robots will perform repetitive, monotonous tasks. They can do them better and faster than we can. That means our human energy is freed up to focus on what we are evolved to do. New tech can actually unlock human potential. Is it unlocking yours? And where are you showcasing that?

#FindYourDigitalWeird 

The article was written for and first published on TalentTalks.

Getting on with AI

At the 2017 Robot Art Competition, robotic painters produced paintings like graduating art students, described as ‘aesthetically ambiguous’. The bearded face of a man stares out from one canvas, another depicts human emotion with jagged, gloomy stripes of black and purple.

AI is a field of computer science that mimics the natural learning process of the human brain by creating artificial neural networks. Developing machines that think is not new. World War II code-breaker and mathematician Alan Turing trailblazed the idea. Virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri use AI engines to respond to enquiries. Siri can learn by using the feedback it gets to refine the results it provides. That’s why you can ask Siri to call ‘Dad’, once you’ve told it what name in your contacts is your father.

Most of us don’t intimately feel the impact of AI in our lives, or perhaps recognize it as the engine behind Siri, for example. And some of us assume ‘not in my lifetime’. Since WWII, we have come a long way. And with Google, Facebook and Microsoft investing heavily in AI systems, the future will start to look a lot closer.

AI is already advanced enough to enter into companies by way of virtual assistants, and in industries such as banking, as virtual tellers and advisors. AIs are good at processing huge amounts of data, and that’s valuable for services such as fraud detection and security surveillance. They are being used in law and medicine, not only to read and assess documents but to make recommendations, while advances in robotics are allowing doctors to perform surgeries remotely. It’s possible that soon simple surgeries will be performed by AI. South Korea has already introduced a tax on robots. They fear robots may take away jobs leading to mass unemployment. And Elon Musk is worried about AI. Speaking from a vantage point of being intimate with cutting-edge AI tech, he thinks AI could pose a threat to humanity. An AI already exists that can solve the Raven Progressive Matrices Test, an intelligence test of visual and analogical reasoning, better than the average American. Then there is Pepper, the humanoid robot featured in the cover picture, designed to read emotions by analyzing expressions and voice tones. (See this interview with Pepper.)

In future, diversity at work will include AI’s

We should learn to get on well, says Benjamin Wolh in his article ‘How artificial intelligence and the robotic revolution will change the workplace of tomorrow’, because diversity at work in the future will certainly include AIs. If robots are great at many things we don’t like or are not very good at such as performing repetitive, monotonous tasks, concentrating for long periods of time and quickly searching vast databases of information, we should welcome automation of tasks. We could do ourselves better service by putting our unique human attributes to work.  But what does it mean to be human, what value do we bring? In a sense, a lack of better insight in this area is part of the problem.

Liz Ryan, Founder of the Human Workplace, will tell you that we have lost ‘humanity’ in the workplace:

‘There are people in this world who cannot tell you what they think and what they believe. They simply don’t know. They are programmed to be the person they think someone in authority — a hiring authority, for instance — wants them to be.’

For the longest time we have been working hard at managing down the human factor. Humans have posed challenges to the idealistic, ultra-productive workplaces.  They have emotions, they get sick, they get tired, and they get ‘sick and tired’.  Humans can relate and create however, and when in FLOW and working together, they can innovate new and better futures.

Working alongside machines will involve learning how to be better at being human

Michael Harré, AI enthusiast and lecturer in Complex Systems at the University of Sydney, says that living and working with AI will push us to rethink basic assumptions about our sense of self. He believes that we will have to revise what we think consciousness actually is. Preparing for a robotic future of working more alongside machines, will force us to learn how to be better at being human.

The truth is, AI is coming for a lot of the jobs we know now. Whole careers will be innovated out of existence. But we will also innovate whole new careers into existence. People who are flexible and open to learning will continue to be in demand, says Harré, as will those who are more willing to be agile within the jobs they take.

We need to rethink what it means to be human, and what’s deeply valuable about that. Given we’ve spent a lot of time taking the human elements out of workplace, that’s going to be a big shift for some.

 

By Gaylin Jee 

Accenture launched their Technology Vision report earlier this year, which identifies the top IT trends impacting organisations over the next 3 years. The theme of the report is “Technology for people, by People”.  They say this people empowering focus is not just an idea. Rather, it’s a real and purposeful call to action. Because with great opportunity comes great responsibility, and everyone needs a share in both if we, as individuals and as a collective, are aiming to shape a positive future for all.

Leaders, unsurprisingly, have a weighty role to play. They can actively design tech so that it augments and amplifies human capability. Human amplification, according to Accenture, can unleash unimagined levels of creativity, ingenuity and productivity. If played fervently, this amplification role of leaders could help people to do more, to achieve more. Indifferent, unresponsive, or even hostile approaches to tech (yes we see them all in business still), are likely to obstruct the important job of rethinking and re-establishing the company place in the next evolution of business and society.

Tech Trends 2017 Accenture

Here are the 5 trends from the report they say we should be working with, and not against:

  1. AI is the new UI: AI will become the new user interface (UI)—underpinning the way we transact and interact with systems.
  2. From platform to eco-system. We need a rich and robust ecosystem, not just a platform strategy, to lead in the era of intelligence.
  3. Workforce Marketplace: The traditional hierarchy is still dying, and it’s being replaced with a ‘workforce marketplace’. In this future you do the inventing, people. You participate in an open talent exchange, as employees, freelancers and crowdsourced workers. Intelligent companies design for this model.
  4. Design for Humans: In place of learning how to use tech, we teach tech how to enhance our lives, and make them better. Tech learns to adapt to how we behave as humans. An interesting trend, read more – Design for Humans: Inspire New Behaviors.
  5. The Uncharted: We increasingly go beyond new products and services, to new digital industries. That means new standards must be set, and there are newfound responsibilities to define the associated regulations and ethical norms.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the impact of technology innovations can be positive, because the power lies with us ̶ with people.” – Paul Daugherty, Accenture.

Paul makes a good point. We can adapt technology to fit our needs. We’ve just got to make that personal choice, to opt in, so we can get savvy about it.