The Speed Read

The Speed Read with Quentin Hardy: The evolution of technology and the modern workplace

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It’s not a newsflash: The world is changing fast; mostly from technology. More data, more communications, more capabilities, more competition.

Everyone is adjusting, with varying degrees of speed and success. How we manage this transition has much to do with how we approach taking on new tools, new skills, and the organizational changes that follow all such adoptions.

What can we do to get the most from the new things available to us? Welcome to this month’s installment of The Speed Read, the “evolution of work” edition.

There is a well-documented history of technology impacting society, whether it’s the printing press enabling people to share unprecedented amounts of information, steam engines first enabling people to dig deeper into the Earth then spurring the Industrial Revolution, or internal combustion remaking global commerce. 

What’s less noticed are the ways each of these examples, and other technology advances, remade the way we work. Early printing shops were among the first businesses with a formal division of labor, and primitive types of advertising. The Industrial Revolution didn’t just create factories, revolutionizing migration and cities; the time clocks to measure working hours changed how we sleep. Trucks, jets, and cargo containers gave us the global supply chain.

Changes that have taken place in our work often mirror the most important aspects of the machines themselves—movable type and division of labor; standardized industrial measurement and pay per hour of work; flexible transport and diversity of suppliers.

Each point is information about our current transition: We should focus on its most important aspects to see how work will be affected. A recent report from my colleagues at Google Cloud is a good way to start thinking about how.

What is “most important” now? Information, whether that is data or communications, in unprecedented amounts, is the basis. Then add to that the key elements that steer its organization, whether in large-scale databases with advanced analytics, or modern cloud-based human collaboration systems—lots of information, acted upon in different ways by diverse agents, nonstop.

Companies will likely be sorting through ways to optimize this for their own teams for some time to come. We already have tools, like cloud-based collaboration systems, and strategies that show how, though. 

In this video, Danielle Krettek of Google’s Empathy Lab has a number of fascinating points about building effective Artificial Intelligence agents, or as she puts it, having tech’s EQ (emotional quotient) match its IQ. Among the most interesting points, for machines or people, is the need for effective support to accompany any information exchange among people. Tap the other person’s humanity, without obsessing on conveying your own. In what you vend, seek to have a whole presence, not simply a transactional product.

Not surprisingly, this turns out to be pretty good relationship advice too.