This is the second in a series of posts Live from The Drucker Forum, where some of the PostShift team are reporting back the insights and conversations had whilst they are in attendance at this fascinating event. Catch up on the first post here.
Andrew Hill introduced the first day of Drucker Forum by quoting Peter Drucker’s article The Manager & The Moron (1967):
“At present the computer is the greatest possible obstacle to management information, because everybody has been using it to produce tons of paper. Now, psychology tells us that the one sure way to shut off all perception is to flood the senses with stimuli. That’s why the manager with reams of computer output on his desk is hopelessly uninformed. That’s why it’s so important to exploit the computer’s ability to give us only the information we want—nothing else. The question we must ask is not, “How many figures can I get?” but “What figures do I need? In what form? When and how?” We must refuse to look at anything else. We no longer have to take figures that mean nothing to us and read them the way a gypsy reads tea leaves.”
The morning sessions on Day 1 of the Drucker Forum echoed this rather sceptical view on technology, stressing how emerging technology is becoming a bigger part of everyday life and creating challenges for organisations and societies. Different hypotheses were shared:
- Machines improve faster than humans and will out perform people every time we develop a new technology
- Technology will further change the make-up of jobs and consequently a large number of people will be unemployed
- We are servants and all we can do is understand our master, the software
- Using technology to manage employees will cause further distance from real problems and people, because management requires emotions and being in touch with employees
- Data and digital communication create information overload
By lunchtime we, as pro-technologists, were slightly frustrated with why no-one was raising the opportunities to be weighed against these threats. Key questions we had – such as, how we can solve the issues stemming from technology-driven disruption? – were left unanswered. However, we were happy with the change of sentiment and pace that took place after lunch, and judging by the rising energy-levels in the room, we were not alone!
The next three panels tackled some meaty questions:
- Do we need leaders vs. technocrats to create a ‘good society’?
- How can technology liberate rather than constrain human capacity?
- Are sharing economy, collaborative consumption and on-demand platforms winner-takes-all business models?
Each discussion was inspiring in its own way. Few answers were proposed but good reflections and a few minds in the audience were blown. However, we feel one crucial aspect is still missing – how can we, in practice, use technology to enhance human capabilities for society, for businesses and within individual people’s lives.
In the quote above Drucker said “That’s why it’s so important to exploit the computer’s ability to give us only the information we want—nothing else”. We (respectfully, of course) beg to differ. If we move forward in the way Drucker described, we will only produce filter bubbles and the issues we have today will escalate. For example, as stakeholders in the future, we need to have more input into the moral and ethical standards built into decision-making algorithms. We should do this by taking a maker approach and see technology as an enabler to changing the world. It is crucial that we use technology’s capabilities to present us with information that we need (but may not know of) and what others and society need us to care about.
We have noticed a worrying trend that conversations are often divided between technologists and analogises (some would argue that this divide correlates with digital native and digital immigrants, but this does not have to be the case). It is true that the technology we see today, especially for enterprises, tends to steer us towards a neo-classic style of management. But, we have the opportunity to change that. Instead of alienating technology and sitting on the sidelines observing the Cisco, Google and Microsoft’s of the world build the infrastructure that will shape our organisational structures, cultures and processes, we believe that managers (as well as designers, sociologists and anthropologists) must get involved in developing technology that can support the values that we want to see flourish in organisations.
We hope that the speakers today will take this as an encouragement to talk about how we can all take action!
To read more about Postshift’s take on the role technology plays in our organisations structure, practices and cultures, you can read:
- Who is building the institutions of the Twenty-First Century ?
- The limits of social technology within existing organisational structure and culture.
- Organisations in the age of algorithms