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    "I'd rather be a cow manager than a people manager"

    I want, sometimes, to stop reading, writing, and thinking about robots, automation, and how technologies are changing the nature of work, workplaces, and people. I'd rather focus on the NBA.

    But every time I think I will take a break from the robots something too interesting pops up, and I have to share. From the New York Times this week, check out the piece titled, With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It's Milking Time,   (a short excerpt of which is below):

    Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves.

    Desperate for reliable labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers, which feed and milk cow after cow without the help of a single farmhand.

    Scores of the machines have popped up across New York’s dairy belt and in other states in recent years, changing age-old patterns of daily farm life and reinvigorating the allure of agriculture for a younger, tech-savvy — and manure-averse — generation.

    “We’re used to computers and stuff, and it’s more in line with that,” said Mike Borden, 29, a seventh-generation dairyman, whose farm upgraded to robots, as others did, when disco-era milking parlors — the big, mechanized turntables that farmers use to milk many cows at once — started showing their age.

    “And,” Mr. Borden added, “it’s a lot more fun than doing manual labor.”

    Robotic milkers. Awesome. And in that one specific example of robot application we see borne out several of the most common drivers that are spearheading all kinds of automation efforts in all manner of settings and industries.

    Apply technology to improve a repetitive and manual task? Check.

    Make up for a labor shortage that makes the traditional approach to this work no longer possible? Check.

    Appeal to the next generation of workers and leaders that are familiar with and expecting technology to play a role in their workplaces? Check.

    Finally, and most importantly perhaps for readers in HR/Talent jobs - Technology and automation as a liberator - freeing up managers to focus on more important tasks and less on low-value, less appealing tasks? Check.

    In fact, the money quote in the Times piece underscores this last point completely:

    The Bordens say the machines allow them to do more of what they love: caring for animals.

    “I’d rather be a cow manager,” Tom Borden said, “than a people manager.”

    That quote from the dairy farmer is priceless and kind of telling as well. The cows might be hard to manage at times, but they are much easier than trying to manage people.

    And with the robots, Mr. Borden can focus on what really matters to his business - the cows.


    It's tough to succeed a legend

    From the sports world yet another enduring and timeless lesson in talent and career management. Here is the headline - Manchester United sacks manager David Moyes

    Some backstory.  

    Manchester United is one of the most well-known and successful soccer clubs in the world. They are the defending champions of the English Premier League, (arguably the best league in the world), and regularly compete at the highest levels of European club soccer in the Champions League. At the end of last season, Manchester United's longtime and legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down, capping a stellar managerial career with his 13th Premier League title in 26 seasons at the helm.Farewell Mr. Moyes

    Ferguson was (and will probably will always be, given the nature of English soccer), by far the most successful club manager of the Premier league era. For USA readers who might not be familiar, think of Ferguson as some kind of combination of John Wooden, Vince Lombardi, Phil Jackson, and Red Auerbach. Except even more successful and globally famous.

    The kind of legend with the track record of exemplary performance that is tough, if not impossible to replace. No matter who stepped in for Ferguson, even Ferguson's hand-picked successor Moyes, it was going to be an almost impossibly difficult pair of shoes to fill.

    When someone has been so astronomically successful, over such a long period of time, and achieved legendary status in the organization and industry, then no matter how prepared and talented the successor is, it is going to be almost impossible for them to match (or even approach) the standards that have been established before them.

    Succeeding a legend, in sports or in any business really, is such a risky, dicey proposition that it makes sense for super talented people to avoid it at almost any cost, tempting and enticing as it may seem.

    Again, taking it back to the sports angle: Can you name the coaches that succeeded John Wooden, Vince Lombardi, Phil Jackson, or Red Auerbach?

    The answer is, 'Of course not.' No one remembers them because the combination of almost impossibly hard to match performance standards and the huge shadow that their legendary predecessors cast proved to be a combination even previously successful and competent performers, (like David Moyes), could not overcome.

    Trust me, you DO NOT want to try and succeed a legend.

    You want to be the person that succeeds the person who succeeds the legend, just after they fail.

    Postscript: This isn't just a sports phenomenon. Ask Tim Cook how things are going at Apple these days.


    On Nobel Prizes and Email Responsiveness

    I have a 'hate-hate' relationship with email.

    No matter how much time I try to spend on email the 'task' is never completed, there is always another message that needs a response, (or the person who sent the message at least thinks it needs a response), and most responses just spawn even more messages, the digital version of the old myth of the Hydra, when cutting off one of the monster's many heads simply resulted in two more appearing in its place.

    Plus, I am bad at email. Bad in the sense that I actively try and manage the time I spend reading/sending emails so that I don't reach the end of the day with nothing really to show for it, except an endless, meandering trail of email threads. If sending/responding to email is all you do in a day, then you can never be really happy I don't think - you can never complete anything. Which is the reason, even when I am really, really busy, that I try to blog every weekday. No matter how insipid, irrelevant, and lacking in insight any given post might be, it is always done. And there is some satisfaction in that.

    Also, if you are someone reading this post that has been (persistently) trying to get my attention via email lately, you probably are nodding with understanding and also probably cursing me out under your breath. I will get back to you, I promise. I mean it. Really.

    It is from this place, that this piece caught my attention the other day. Titled, Richard Feynman Didn't Win a Nobel by Responding Promptly to E-mails, it shares some insight into how a great and successful scientist manages to stay productive and focused. One way, certainly, was by not getting bogged down or distracted by non-essential tasks, (like 90% of emails). Feynman also says 'No' a lot - basically to any request for his time and attention that takes away from his main goals - doing great science.

    From the piece:

    Feynman got away with this behavior because in research-oriented academia there’s a clear metric for judging merit: important publications. Feynman had a Nobel, so he didn’t have to be accessible.

    There’s a lot that’s scary about having success and failure in your professional life reduce down to a small number of unambiguous metrics (this is something that academics share, improbably enough, with professional athletes).

    But as Feynman’s example reminds us, there’s also something freeing about the clarity. If your professional value was objectively measured and clear, then you could more confidently sidestep actives that actively degrade your ability to do what you do well (think: constant connectivity, endless meetings, Power Point decks).

    That is a really interesting take, I think. Tying most jobs and workplaces inability to measure success unambiguously and objectively with the perceived need to spend time on those activities that 'degrade your ability to do what you do well.'

    You spend countless hours doing email and sitting in status meetings because that seems to be what you should be doing, but I bet that often it is because no one knows what it is you really should be doing.

    So the lesson from Feynman? Figure out what you do really well, and then focus on that as exclusively as you can. If you get good enough at it, and it is valuable enough to the organization, then you get to decide what other nonsense you can ignore.

    Until then, better get back to your email. Me too.


    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 181 - Wellness for the Modern Workplace

    HR Happy Hour 181 - Wellness for the Modern Workplace (an update from ShapeUp)

    Recorded Monday, April 21, 2014

    Hosts: Steve BoeseTrish McFarlane

    Guest: Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Co-founder and CEO of ShapeUp

    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve and Trish talked with Dr. Rajiv Kumar MD, Co-founder and CEO of ShapeUp, an online wellness platform for companies and health plans that leverages the power of a trusted social network to improve the health of large populations.

    ShapeUp is the leading global provider of clinically-proven, social networking-based employee wellness programs that help people exercise more, eat healthier, and lose weight. Founded in 2006 by two medical doctors, ShapeUp has pioneered an innovative approach to behavior change that leverages the power of social networking, gaming, coaching, and financial rewards to improve the health of large populations and reduce healthcare costs. ShapeUp's social wellness platform covers two million lives across 128 countries and is used by more than 200 employers and health plans.

    On the show, Dr. Kumar shared an update on the state of wellness and corporate wellness programs today as well as ShapeUp's approach and vision of wellness as a very social activity at its core. Additionally, we talked about the role of technology in the support of corporate and individual wellness goals. Mobile, gamification, wearables, and social concepts have transformed both the activities and the design of wellness programs in the last few years.

    You can listen to the show on the show page here or using the widget player below:

    Check Out Business Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Steve Boese on BlogTalkRadio


    Additionally, you can subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show on iTunes, or for Android device users, from a free app called Stitcher Radio. In both cases just search for 'HR Happy Hour' and add the show to your podcast subscription list. 

    This was a fun and interesting show, and I hope you check it out. Many thanks to Rajiv and everyone at ShapeUp for joining us this week.


    Happy Friday, Sad Robot

    I'm on vacation today, (don't hate), so submitted for your brief amusement and reflection is the coolest thing I saw all week - an animated short call Bibo, about a lonely robot that sells ice cream.

    Take seven minutes this weekend and give it a watch. (Email and RSS subscribers will have to click through).

    Have a great and long weekend all.

    I hope you find all the eggs, or whatever it is you are looking for.