The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. – Bill Gates
I’ve always been a little puzzled by the kind of people who want to know everything before they can make a decision. The ones who collect tons of data and try and analyse everything, working out all the stuff you could possibly work out.
What usually happens is that the person doing all this work then has to show it to someone else who doesn’t think that way – and who then makes a decision based on what their gut is telling them. It’s rare that you find anyone actually listening to the analysts.
The pandemic is a rare situation where you can probably see an A/B test taking place across the world. In general, the reaction of people is to ignore, then reluctantly accept, then overreact and look for someone to blame, and then start to do something, and say it was all part of a plan all along. Many countries listened to their scientists, some didn’t. Some had draconian policies, some didn’t.
The quote by Bill Gates is about automation, but it’s really about more than that these days. It’s about the application of knowledge. The challenges we face now are less about machinery and more about how people work with machines and it’s not that clear how you can do this well.
For example, anyone trying to sell a software solution will talk about how it will do everything. Or, more often, how it will help you to do something. Take images, for example. Once upon a time you needed a graphic designer to create attractive templates. Now, you can make things that look pretty good in minutes. Or you can stitch video together and create a clip that explains a particular point. And this is a good thing.
In the relentless quest to make things easier to use, however, we end up often making things that aren’t worth using. But that’s ok as well, isn’t it? We now access information almost exclusively through recommendation algorithms. When was the last time you found something without searching for it? The algorithms do the job of matching us with the “best” stuff out there, helping us avoid the ever-increasing pile of everything else. At the same time some good stuff probably gets missed because it’s not the kind of thing that’s pushed up to the surface by the algorithms.
An article by John Kay in Prospect Magazine makes the argument that business as we knew it is no longer relevant. In the past you had to raise lots of money to do something – build a railroad, start a factory. The big businesses of now, however, don’t need money. They need brains. And technology – mostly computing tech. Stock markets have stopped being a way to raise money for a business and become a way to release money for founders. The number of listed firms you can invest in has been dropping, and the options are increasingly moving towards private ownership – which could actually be a good thing allowing companies to engage in long-term thinking without the burden of quarterly disclosures to a feverish and excitable investor population.
You don’t need much analysis to come to the conclusion that if you want to be recommended you have to be liked – and that’s something that humans do. But you’re probably liked for what you do – and that’s a result of how you use technology. Master the art of technology and the art of being human and you’re probably in a good place for a while.