Back in June of this year, some of us at Post*Shift entered the Drucker Challenge, an essay competition linked to the related Drucker Forum. Ea & I were delighted to find that our essays were selected amongst the top ten entries, and we are excited to find ourselves at the Forum, spending two days with some truly inspirational leaders from both academia and the world of work. At the speakers’ reception last night, the Forum was often referred to as the ‘Davos of Management’ – some pretty high levels of expectations have been set! So here we go…

Claiming our humanity – managing in the digital age

As we kick off at the Drucker Forum here in Vienna, it continues to amaze me how pertinent and relevant Peter Drucker’s corpus of writing continues to be. His work sought to always emphasise the primacy of the human being in the field of management – technology can enhance and enable the discipline, but should never replace it. However, we find this concept to often be missing in management thinking. With a focus on data-driven decision making, automation of knowledge tasks and ever higher levels of efficiency, as well as the future trends around monitoring the workforce through wearables, we are witnessing organisations slipping back into Taylorism and other outdated approaches.

Andrew Hill from the FT laid out for us the key challenges to be addressed over the next few days:

  • How does technology change us? And how can we change tech?
  • How can we change our own behaviour to take full advantage of these changes in technology?
  • How can we shore up soft, human qualities?
  • How can we harness tech to enable and enhance positive human qualities?

Many of the smartest minds today highlight the need to avoid complacency over the continued march of automation – Elon MuskStephen Hawking and Tom Davenport are just a few that have been mentioned so far. To date, the focus of automation has been on outside the realm of knowledge workers. However, we are starting to see individual tasks that are intellectual, but repetitive, going the same way – towards automation (or in a best-case scenario, augmentation). Jobs such as legal support, financial trading, journalism and, yes, consulting are now seeing tasks that took up large portions of their work being delivered through technology. Consequently, the makeup of jobs and how value is created will change across all industries. A key concern for us should therefore be to understand what tasks and processes must be led by human judgement, supported by technology and what can be left to technology alone.

Creativity, then, is the key to building a forward-looking, exciting career portfolio. Roles which require nursing and care working roles, which require human interaction and empathy, or artistic and creative roles will continue to remain the focus for humans, because they continue to bring something unique and personal to human characteristics. As Mårten Mickos pointed out, no robot can (yet?) replicate the flaws of humans – so maybe there is hope!

We will try and share shorter posts on some of the key themes of the conference over the next two days. There is a lifestream for the event, which you can find here, or of course the Twitter stream is incredibly active at #GPDF15.

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