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    Entries in Technology (198)

    Thursday
    Apr242014

    "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.

    Tuesday
    Apr222014

    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.

    Wednesday
    Apr162014

    Stealing jobs back from the machines

    We've been hearing the alarm bells, (heck many of us, well mostly me) have been ringing those bells, the ones that are tolling for the eventual and perhaps even imminent demise of the American worker, destined to be replaced by a robot or an algorithm.

    Automation is continuing apace and advances in computing power, combined with development of more sophisticated robotics and smart machines that create and communicate massive amounts of data are causing a perfect storm of sorts. Routine work is likely to be automated out of human hands, lower-complexity service jobs are under threat, and even many types of 'knowledge work' are becoming targets of the relentless pace and unwavering progress of automation and technology.

    It is a story that keeps getting repeated so often lately that it is simultaneously getting tired and self-fulfilling.

    That's why this piece, 'Gods' Make Comeback at Toyota as Humans Steal Jobs from Robots , from Bloomberg about what a possible brighter future of work and human worker's co-existence with the robots might look like was both surprising and instructive.  The piece is about how at Toyota, long a leader in applying advanced theories, processes, and technologies to the manufacturing environment, was actually introducing (or re-introducing, I suppose), more human-powered and manual labor-based processes into many of its plants. 

    Why put slower, more expensive, more likely to mess up, and definitely more likely to need a rest after 8 hours or so humans back into the manufactring flow? 

    From the Bloomberg piece:

    Inside Toyota Motor Corp.’s oldest plant, there’s a corner where humans have taken over from robots in thwacking glowing lumps of metal into crankshafts. This is Mitsuru Kawai’s vision of the future.

    “We need to become more solid and get back to basics, to sharpen our manual skills and further develop them,” said Kawai, a half century-long company veteran tapped by President Akio Toyoda to promote craftsmanship at Toyota’s plants. “When I was a novice, experienced masters used to be called gods, and they could make anything.”

    These gods, or Kami-sama in Japanese, are making a comeback at Toyota, the company that long set the pace for manufacturing prowess in the auto industry and beyond. Toyota’s next step forward is counter-intuitive in an age of automation: Humans are taking the place of machines in plants across Japan so workers can develop new skills and figure out ways to improve production lines and the car-building process.

    Learning how to make car parts from scratch gives younger workers insights they otherwise wouldn’t get from picking parts from bins and conveyor belts, or pressing buttons on machines. At about 100 manual-intensive workspaces introduced over the last three years across Toyota’s factories in Japan, these lessons can then be applied to reprogram machines to cut down on waste and improve processes, Kawai said.

    In an area Kawai directly supervises at the forging division of Toyota’s Honsha plant, workers twist, turn and hammer metal into crankshafts instead of using the typically automated process. Experiences there have led to innovations in reducing levels of scrap and shortening the production line 96 percent from its length three years ago. Toyota has eliminated about 10 percent of material-related waste from building crankshafts at Honsha. Kawai said the aim is to apply those savings to the next-generation Prius hybrid.

    Really interesting and perhaps this story foretells one likely scenario for the future of work - a kind of hybrid and peaceful co-existence and co-operation between human and machine. One where each actor can supply and focus on what they do best. The machines are precise, indefatigable, obedient, unerring. The people focusing on creativity, adaptability, recalling institutional memory and lessons. Then the combination of the two leading to the best outcomes for both (and the organization). The humans 'learn' then teach the machines to carry out these learnings. 

    Which is kind of the way it has always been until recently, when it seems like we have allowed the advances in automation to allow us to forget that we humans still have much to offer and much to teach the machines.

    Monday
    Apr142014

    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 180 - Putting People First

    HR Happy Hour 180 - 'Putting People First' (Live from Ultimate Connections 2014)

    Recorded Thursday, April 10, 2014

    Hosts: Steve Boese, Trish McFarlane

    Guest: Cecile Alper-Leroux, Vice President of Product Strategy, Ultimate Software

    Last week Steve and Trish were able to attend Ultimate Software's Annual Connections User Conference in Las Vegas and sit down with Cecile Alper-Leroux to get an update on some of the exciting developments and happenings at Ultimate Software as well as talk about some of the ways that putting People First - in software design, in the approach to talent management, and how that leads to the best outcomes for both individuals and organizations is the key to sustained success.

    Ultimate Software, across their thousands of customers, supports over 15 million people records in the cloud. Cecile shared with us one of the primary considerations that Ultimate takes into account when building software for so many people - the almost radically different expectations people have in their relationship with any technology. People's personal lives are filled with technologies that are adaptive, responsive, fun, engaging, and are also simple to use. Those expectations and demands are now being placed on the technologies that we use in workplace as well. Cecile shared the key things to consider: provide user value, hook users in early with a great experience, and be useful and help them get their jobs done.

    We also talked about the ridiculous labor laws in France and how we all want to live there.

    Ultimate Software through their innovative technology solutions, focus on designing software experiences that place the individual's needs at the forefront, and from the deep experience that comes from over two decades of supporting their thousands of customers, have evolved to become one of the most important and influential HR technology solution providers in the industry today. 

    This was a really fun and interesting show and I encourage you to give it a listen.

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

    Listen To Business Internet Radio Stations with Steve Boese and Trish McFarlane 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 informative show and I would like to thank Cecile and everyone at Ultimate Software for allowing the HR Happy Hour Show to be a part of Connections 2014. 

    Friday
    Apr112014

    What's bigger than the World Series? Watching people play video games

    This is a short update in a semi-regular series of 'If you are not paying attention, the world is probably a lot different than you think' department I offer up this nugget courtesy of The Atlantic - 'More People Watched the 'League of Legends' Video Game Championships that the World Series'.

    Here is the opening from The Atlantic piece, click over to read the rest if you like, but unless you are a fairly serious gamer the first paragraph is probably all you need, (or I need) to make the point:

    In October, some 15 million people tuned in to watch Major League Baseball’s World Series in the United States. But that’s nothing compared to the other big sporting tournament that took place around the same time: In late September and early October, 32 million people watched the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship, according to a new report (pdf) from SuperData, a games research company.

    Additionally, over 18,000 people (real, actual people) filled the Stapes Center in Los Angeles to watch the finals live. Also, it wasn't just the World Series total viewers that were topped by viewers of League of Legends - the NBA Finals Game 7, the average for the NCAA College Basketball Final Four, and the BCS College Football National Title game all fell short of the 32 miiion people that tuned in to the League of Legends finals.

    Why mention this story? Well, it is a Friday and in a nod to yesterday's crowdsourcing post, I kind of am out of other ideas. But seriously, I think this is an incredibly interesting story. Think about it in your own work or personal context - would you ever have thought about the growing popularity of watching other people play video games?

    It sounds so silly, right? Who would actually want to watch someone else play a video game?

    I am not really sure, but if you think about it for half a minute (and non-emotionally), watching 'real' sports like baseball or football is just as silly as watching people play video games. What is the difference really, except just that baseball and football have been around longer. But those of you who take 4 hours out of your Sunday afternoons to watch your favorite NFL team all Fall/Winter don't have the right to claim any kind of intellectual high ground over the video game fans.

    In fact, most of the people who watch the pros play video games do it to try and actually improve their own game playing ability - something that can be said for very few football or baseball fans.

    The world is not at all what we think it is at time.s I think it helps our work in HR and Talent, although I could not tell you precisely how, to keep aware of what is going on out in the big, scary world where millions of people are watching video games when you are watching football.

    Have a great weekend!