Tag Archives: productivity

WHY ROBOTS WILL NOT DECIMATE HUMAN JOBS

Slow economic growth is the mantra of political campaigns and economic angst. Growth in economic output per hour (“labour productivity”) achieved an annual pace of 3 percent for a full half-century between 1920 and 1970. Since 1970 that rate has slowed to about 1.5 percent, and in the last six years productivity growth has slowed further to a lamentable 0.5 percent annual rate.

Robin Gordon’s  book The Rise and Fall of American Growth attributes this enormous contrast between rapid growth in 1920-70 and slow growth after 1970 to the basic nature of inventions. Growth in the middle of the 20th century was propelled by the invention in the late 19th century of electricity, the internal combustion engine, the telephone, chemicals and plastics, and the diffusion to every urban household of clear running water and waste removal. America made a transition from 50 percent of the working population on farms to a largely urban nation, and the drudgery of household work – carrying water in and out, doing laundry on a scrub board – made a transition to modern bathrooms and kitchens by the 1950s.

The digital revolution associated with computers has since 1960 dominated the sphere of innovation, as office work transitioned from the typewriter and old-fashioned calculator to the new world of personal computers, spreadsheet and word processing software, the internet, and search engines. But the impact of this revolution in boosting productivity growth lasted only one decade (1995-2005), a much shorter impetus than occurred earlier in the century when productivity growth achieved its 3 percent annual pace for five decades from 1920 to 1970.

Why? The computer revolution altered office work but did not extend into everyday life as had the earlier inventions that brought us electricity, motor vehicles, and the modern kitchen and bathroom. Smart phones were introduced by Blackberry in 2003 and by Apple in 2007, but their uses are primarily to boost consumer enjoyment through social networks and game-playing, not a part of the market economy that creates jobs and pays wages.

Why has productivity growth been so mediocre, a 0.5 percent annual pace since 2010? In my view this has occurred because most of the benefits of the digital revolution were over by 2005. Everywhere you look, from corporate offices to check-in desks at doctor, dentist, and veterinarian offices, the equipment on the desks is the same as in 2005, as is most of the software.

This slackening of the pace of economic growth due to the minor impact of new innovations has both a pessimistic and an optimistic aspect. Slow productivity growth dampens the ability of business firms to provide wage increases to their workers. But slow productivity growth also means that steadily growing output continues to provide new jobs, 15.5 million of which have been created in the U.S. since early 2010.

But how can so many jobs be created in a world of technological hype of robots taking over the economy? Aren’t robots about to decimate jobs, throwing half the population out of work as has been predicted to occur over the next decade by the two Oxford economists in 2013, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne?

Robots are nothing new; the first industrial robot was introduced by General Motors in 1961, and by the mid-1990’s robots had a major role in automobile factories, welding together body parts and freeing human workers from the noxious fumes of the auto paint shop. But robots have made little impact outside of manufacturing. Even Amazon’s high-tech warehouses use robots just to move shelves to human workers, who hand-select the items to be shipped as well as the packing material, and pack the shipments by hand.

But outside of manufacturing and wholesale warehouses, robots are hard to find. I play a game called “find the robot.” In my daily strolls in and out of supermarkets, restaurants, doctor and dentist offices, my nearby hospital, offices in my own university, and the vast amount of employment involving elementary and secondary teachers, personal trainers, and old age caretakers, I have yet to find a robot.

In my journeys, the closest thing I have found to the introduction of a robot in the service sector is that in a local casual dining restaurant, there are kiosks on the tables to allow patrons to pay their bills without human intervention. But offsetting that is the fact that my local supermarket recently removed its self-checkout electronic kiosks to be replaced by human express checkout agents, apparently due to excessive fraud as customers slid expensive items by the dumb credulity of the self-checkout kiosks.

The Frey and Osborne pessimism about jobs is total fiction. They predict over the next decade that 55 percent of airline pilot jobs will be eliminated. Sorry, but government regulations require two pilots in a commercial aircraft, and a switch to one pilot per aircraft is nowhere in sight. They predict that 92 percent of retail checkout clerk jobs will be eliminated, but there is no robot-like replacement of retail clerks in sight beyond the 30-year-old invention of bar-code scanning.

Surely multiple-function robots will be developed, but it will be a long and gradual process before robots outside of manufacturing and wholesaling become a significant factor in replacing human jobs in the service, transportation or construction sectors. And it is in those sectors that the slowness of productivity growth is dragging down the economy’s overall performance.

My book concludes that the rapid economic growth of the mid-20th century cannot be repeated. Those “Great Inventions” were too important and too pervasive to happen again anytime soon.  But let us not forget, the corollary of slow productivity growth is the rapid creation of jobs, as we have witnessed in the last six years and will enjoy for the foreseeable future.

Robert J. Gordon is professor in social sciences at Northwestern University and the author of The Rise and Fall of American Growth, one of six books on the shortlist for the 2016 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, to be announced Nov. 22

EMPOWER EMPLOYEES AND UNLOCK PRODUCTIVITY

Empowering people is such a key to unlocking productivity, yet so few do it well. Bill George of Harvard asks the question for Huffington Post.

Stepping into a Zappos Call Center is like walking into a circus. Phones ring, voices rise, and laughter bounces around the room. If you closed your eyes, you’d think you’d entered a loud family reunion, not a billion dollar company.

Zappos employees work in a fiercely proud culture. Only 16 years after founding Zappos, CEO Tony Hsieh has made the online shoe-retailer into one of best places to work in the world. Zappos employees not only love their work, they care deeply about others in the community.

How did Hsieh do it? He did it by empowering his employees to lead. In Eyewitness to Power, David Gergen writes, “At the heart of leadership is the leader’s relationship with followers. People will entrust their hopes and dreams to another person only if they think the other is a reliable vessel.”

There was a time when leaders thought their role was to exert power over others. No longer, today’s best leaders — people like Ford’s Alan Mulally, General Motors’ Mary Barra, and Google’s Larry Page — recognize their leadership is most effective when they empower others to step up and lead. That’s exactly what the new generation of Gen X and Millennials expect from their leaders, and they respond with great performance.

Tony Hsieh focuses on relationships first and business second. In good times and bad, Hsieh’s communications are authentic, funny, and informal. He speaks directly and personally to his colleagues. As Hsieh says, “if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff…will just happen naturally.”

Hsieh reflects traits of an “empowering leader.” These leaders have discovered that helping people find purpose delivers superior results than forcing subordinates to be loyal followers. By giving others the latitude to lead, they expand their own potential impact.

So, how can you empower others? In Discover Your True North, I profile five things great leaders do.

  1. Treat Others as Equals: We respect people who treat us as equals. Warren Buffett, for example, gives equal attention to every person he meets. He has the same sandwich and Cherry Coke combination with a group of wide-eyed students as he does with his close friend Bill Gates. Buffett does not rely upon his image to make people feel he is important or powerful. He genuinely respects others, and they respect him as much for those qualities as for his investment prowess. By being authentic in his interactions, Buffett empowers people to lead in their own authentic way.
  2. Listen Actively: We are grateful when people genuinely listen to us. Active listening is one of the most important abilities of empowering leaders, because people sense such individuals are genuinely interested in them and not just trying to get something. The leadership scholar Warren Bennis was an example of a world-class listener. He patiently listened as you explained your ideas and then thoughtfully contributed astute observations that came from a deep well of wisdom and experience.
  3. Learn from People: We feel respected when others believe they can learn from us or ask for our advice. The best advice I ever got about teaching came from my Harvard Business School (HBS) colleague Paul Marshall, who was one of HBS’s greatest teachers. He told me, “Bill, don’t ever set foot in an HBS classroom unless you genuinely want to learn from the students.” I have taken his advice into every class I have taught for the past 12 years, telling MBA students and executives, “I feel certain I will learn a lot more from you than you do from me.” The students find that hard to believe at first, but they soon see how their feedback helps me understand how today’s leaders and MBA students think.
  4. Share Life Stories: When leaders are willing to be open and share their personal stories and vulnerabilities, people feel empowered to share their own stories and uncertainties in return. On Thanksgiving eve in 1996, I sent an e-mail to all Medtronic employees, expressing my gratitude for the support Penny and I received following her ordeal with breast cancer and chemotherapy. We were overwhelmed by the number of people who spontaneously shared their stories with us.
  5. Align around the Mission: The most empowering condition of all is when the entire organization aligns with its mission, and people’s passions and purpose synchronize with each other. It is not easy to get to this position, especially if the organization has a significant number of cynics or disgruntled people. Nonetheless, it is worth whatever effort it takes to create an aligned environment, including removal of those who don’t support the mission.

Leaders of every organization have an important responsibility to articulate how their company contributes to humankind. At Medtronic, our mission was to restore people to full health and wellness. At Disney, it’s to make people happy. Even at the most “boring” business-to-business company, the business can play a powerful role in improving the lives of its stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, and community.

With leadership comes responsibility. As Clayton Christensen wrote, “No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement.”_______________________________________________________

It’s time to lead authentically as God designed us to do.  You can do so by focusing on empowering others. “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

 

Empower people and unlock productivity

Empowering people is such a key to unlocking productivity, yet so few do it well. Bill George of Harvard asks the question for Huffington Post.Rowing eights

 “Where is the spiritual value in rowing? It is in losing of self entirely to the cooperative effort of the crew.” — George Yeoman Pocock, boat builder, 1936 Olympic gold medal winner

Stepping into a Zappos Call Center is like walking into a circus. Phones ring, voices rise, and laughter bounces around the room. If you closed your eyes, you’d think you’d entered a loud family reunion, not a billion dollar company.

Zappos employees work in a fiercely proud culture. Only 16 years after founding Zappos, CEO Tony Hsieh has made the online shoe-retailer into one of best places to work in the world. Zappos employees not only love their work, they care deeply about others in the community.

How did Hsieh do it? He did it by empowering his employees to lead. In Eyewitness to Power, David Gergen writes, “At the heart of leadership is the leader’s relationship with followers. People will entrust their hopes and dreams to another person only if they think the other is a reliable vessel.”

There was a time when leaders thought their role was to exert power over others. No longer, today’s best leaders — people like Ford’s Alan Mulally, General Motors’ Mary Barra, and Google’s Larry Page — recognize their leadership is most effective when they empower others to step up and lead. That’s exactly what the new generation of Gen X and Millennials expect from their leaders, and they respond with great performance.

Tony Hsieh focuses on relationships first and business second. In good times and bad, Hsieh’s communications are authentic, funny, and informal. He speaks directly and personally to his colleagues. As Hsieh says, “if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff…will just happen naturally.”

Hsieh reflects traits of an “empowering leader.” These leaders have discovered that helping people find purpose delivers superior results than forcing subordinates to be loyal followers. By giving others the latitude to lead, they expand their own potential impact.

So, how can you empower others? In Discover Your True North, I profile five things great leaders do.

  1. Treat Others as Equals: We respect people who treat us as equals. Warren Buffett, for example, gives equal attention to every person he meets. He has the same sandwich and Cherry Coke combination with a group of wide-eyed students as he does with his close friend Bill Gates. Buffett does not rely upon his image to make people feel he is important or powerful. He genuinely respects others, and they respect him as much for those qualities as for his investment prowess. By being authentic in his interactions, Buffett empowers people to lead in their own authentic way.
  2. Listen Actively: We are grateful when people genuinely listen to us. Active listening is one of the most important abilities of empowering leaders, because people sense such individuals are genuinely interested in them and not just trying to get something. The leadership scholar Warren Bennis was an example of a world-class listener. He patiently listened as you explained your ideas and then thoughtfully contributed astute observations that came from a deep well of wisdom and experience.
  3. Learn from People: We feel respected when others believe they can learn from us or ask for our advice. The best advice I ever got about teaching came from my Harvard Business School (HBS) colleague Paul Marshall, who was one of HBS’s greatest teachers. He told me, “Bill, don’t ever set foot in an HBS classroom unless you genuinely want to learn from the students.” I have taken his advice into every class I have taught for the past 12 years, telling MBA students and executives, “I feel certain I will learn a lot more from you than you do from me.” The students find that hard to believe at first, but they soon see how their feedback helps me understand how today’s leaders and MBA students think.
  4. Share Life Stories: When leaders are willing to be open and share their personal stories and vulnerabilities, people feel empowered to share their own stories and uncertainties in return. On Thanksgiving eve in 1996, I sent an e-mail to all Medtronic employees, expressing my gratitude for the support Penny and I received following her ordeal with breast cancer and chemotherapy. We were overwhelmed by the number of people who spontaneously shared their stories with us.
  5. Align around the Mission: The most empowering condition of all is when the entire organization aligns with its mission, and people’s passions and purpose synchronize with each other. It is not easy to get to this position, especially if the organization has a significant number of cynics or disgruntled people. Nonetheless, it is worth whatever effort it takes to create an aligned environment, including removal of those who don’t support the mission.

Leaders of every organization have an important responsibility to articulate how their company contributes to humankind. At Medtronic, our mission was to restore people to full health and wellness. At Disney, it’s to make people happy. Even at the most “boring” business-to-business company, the business can play a powerful role in improving the lives of its stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, and community.

With leadership comes responsibility. As Clayton Christensen wrote, “No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement.”

It’s time to lead authentically. You can do so by focusing on empowering others.

Follow Bill George on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Bill_George

ROBOTICS THE WAY OF THE FUTURE

A robot from South Korea took home the $2 million first-place prize after winning the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge Finals.

The DRC-Hubo robot from Team KAIST was much faster than the other robots, completing the eight tasks in a winning time of 44 minutes, 28 seconds on the eight tasks.

The DRC is a competition of robot systems and software teams vying to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters.  It was designed to be extremely difficult.  Participating teams, representing some of the most advanced robotics research and development organizations in the world, are collaborating and innovating on a very short timeline to develop the hardware, software, sensors, and human-machine control interfaces that will enable their robots to complete a series of challenge tasks selected by DARPA for their relevance to disaster response.

Technologies resulting from the DRC will transform the field of robotics and catapult forward development of robots featuring task-level autonomy that can operate in the hazardous, degraded conditions common in disaster zones.

Amazon is already  using robots in its latest warehouse to make immense savings in people, warehouse space, time to process orders and eliminate mistakes.

Christians, particularly in business and education, need to be aware of the speed with which this is occurring and pray and adapt accordingly. How we deal with this rapid technology change is what is critical to God. How we look after and equip our employees is foremost.

Bill Gates has prophesied that robots will be as commonplace in 2025 as computers are today. Five years ago we spent as much time on computers as people now spend on mobile devices. Perhaps five years from now people will spend more time interacting with robots than they now do with mobile devices.

Improve productivity by hiring people with disabilities

randy-lewis
Retired Walgreens Senior Vice President Randy Lewis and his son, Austin. Lewis is the author of the new book, “No Greatness without Goodness: How a Father’s Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movement.

The book isn’t only exceptional reading for business leaders who want their companies to become more efficient and profitable, but it also provides nuggets of wisdom and real life lessons for people who have the desire to build stronger and more meaningful relationships with those around them: friends, neighbours and co-workers.

During a speech in front of 5,000 Walgreen’s store managers at a conference in Las Vegas, he shared that “nearly 70 percent of individuals with disabilities and 95 percent of people with severe cognitive disabilities, like his son Austin, would never hold down a job.” This is not because people with disabilities cannot do the work, it’s because many employers fail to realize that hiring people with disabilities will actually increase the overall performance among all of their employees.

In the book, Lewis details how, with the inspiration from Austin, and the encouragement of his wife and strong support from the team at Walgreens, the company’s distribution centres not only met their first hiring goal of having 10 percent of its workforce being people with disabilities by 2011 — with some centres having 40 to 50 percent of their employees being those with disabilities — but they also witnessed increased productivity at the distribution centres that had hired people with disabilities.

Lewis also highlights in his book that there any many types of disabilities, especially in regard to employment, but what people need to keep in mind, be it at work or in public, is that people are people, regardless of whether their disability is visible to the world or not. “When hiring people with disabilities people ask me: what kind of disabilities can you hire? Or what kind of disabilities can you not employ? That’s always a common question.” Lewis said that what he and others discovered is that every disability is a spectrum. “We haven’t found a disability we can’t employ; we just can’t employ everybody on the entire spectrum. Just like with people ‘without disabilities,’ we can’t employ everybody on the spectrum of the typically able,” he noted. “I think the biggest thing that people overlook is that they’re people. They see their disability, they’re afraid about making a mistake; they’re afraid about using the right words. They feel uncomfortable and they fail to see the person,” he shared. “By the way, if you make a mistake with the right intent, with love, it doesn’t matter, people see that. They see the intent.” “Leaders need to love. If they don’t love, then they’ll never gain the trust. Here’s the deal: worthiness. Worthiness — that’s what Austin taught me; that everyone is worthy,” Lewis emphasized

Lewis reminds us not to forget this important truth.  “Work is what sustains us and love fulfills us“.

“So if the book helps to remind somebody that, oh by the way, I’m infinitely important in this universe. And, by the way, so is everybody else. Then my job is done,” Lewis said.

“Use every opportunity to help others see meaning in their work. They will be transformed from brick layers to cathedral builders”.

“An important lesson for employers is TLC, T is for teach, L is for love and C is for challenge. If you only remember one of the three, remember love.” said Lewis. He also adamantly believes that there’s a longing inside people to make a difference in the world, because everyone has value. We are worthy, that’s the good news of faith. I’m part of something bigger and I’m loved and I’m worthy,” he explained. “I’m one person and everybody’s an infinitely important and worthy person too.” Recognizing that people have intrinsic value to God and his Christian faith are two things that Lewis is not afraid to share, because it has provided strength for his family, and enabled him to impact the world by helping employers see that people with disabilities, once given the opportunity, can become valuable employees. “God has gotten a lot bigger as I’ve gotten older. Fear has kept me quiet in the past when I should have spoken up. It has kept me still when I should I should have acted. “There were times when I was afraid, and that’s when faith came in, and knowing that I was not alone,” he said. “Throughout this process, I was not alone.” Lewis noted that some people believe that what’s been achieved at Walgreens was a monumental and difficult task, but he said that not taking action, when he could have, bothered him much more than any potential failure.. Lewis also highlights in his book that there any many types of disabilities, especially in regard to employment, but what people need to keep in mind, be it at work or in public, is that people are people, regardless of whether their disability is visible to the world or not.