Article (January-2019)


Recognising on-going experiences & nature of work

Dr. Vinayshil Gautam

Designation : -   Internationally Acclaimed Management Expert. Chairman, DK International Foundation

Organization : -  


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On account of 'innovation' current record of humanity may be several notches below its record of a decade ago. In the last ten years there is nothing comparable to the innovation of a flying machine (an aero-plane); a telephone; cables beneath the sea and the list can go on. The preceding generations had created high standards of creativity. It was rooted in the sound principles of enhancing efficiency. However, fantasy belief in contemporary capacity at innovation is entirely understandable. Not only do many people consider the present exceptionally 'innovative' but are often liable to consider a contemporary 'overwhelming experience' as 'unique'. The repetitive character or universality of an over-whelming experience, is often lost.

Consider the experience of 'love' as an emotional experience. It appears so over powering and unique when one passes through it for the first time. Little does one recognize how almost everyone has passed through it at one time or another. Similarly when one 'loses love' it appears catastrophic. Little does one recognize that sooner or later one would pass through that experience again, and it would be again almost, just as moving. Any one does fall in love multiple times!

At a collective level the story is similar. The present is always overwhelming. Illustratively, when it rains in the monsoon season the roads flood, water is seen all around and even driving of vehicles can mean ploughing through depths of water. The experience is overwhelming. One overlooks the fact that the flooding of roads and ploughing through water may not be because of the rains but because of bad drainage. It has happened before and will happen again. It appears overwhelming because that experience lights up on dim memories and is huge.

In both the cases - of love and rain--a little bit of analysis would help.

On the streets of Shanghai, even in the midst of torrential rain, there is no water logging on the roads. The drainage system is immaculate. The speed of drainage is quicker than the speed of accumulation of water.  Hence the sequential step of feeling overwhelmed, in managerial terms, is finding a solution.

Similarly when it comes to love, it is no great discovery, for anyone that love does wane, just as it rises again. Hence, when attracted towards someone, one should realise that what appears unique is not all that unique. When the circumstances change and time passes, in a very large number of cases, the experience would repeat.

Having talked of the feeling of love at an individual level or at the collective level feeling of being overwhelmed by flooding of roads in rain, it is important to realise that uniqueness is not always that unique.

When one applies this analogy of 'personal/collective experience of being over whelmed' to the larger universe of 'nature of work'--interesting insights arise.

The current era of work analysis has a huge overlay of focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence. It is fashionable, remunerative and exciting to talk of it. A feeling of uniqueness is generated and it tackled with high energy. Much time and resources are spent on analyzing, extrapolating and scenario building on the future of work because of electronically based devices. There is nothing wrong with that.

Only one needs, however, to remind oneself that ever since the beginning of time, there have been many seminal patches of human history when equally big if not more, seminal changes have taken place.

Illustratively, the discovery of zero is far more fundamental and central revolution to human growth than artificial intelligence. Other parallels of similar type can be sighted. Similarly, the discovery of fire is far more seminal to human history than atomic fission.

One has talked of the individual, the collective, and scientific breakthroughs. All this affects the nature of work. This is a continuing process.

The key thought is, that the current interest in the 'future of work' is a part of a continuous effort mankind has made, through history, to understand work and reduce its drudgery.

Consider pulling water out of a well. Clearly, it is labour intensive work. The invention of a pulley altered that. There are many examples where technology has altered the drudgery of everyday life.

It doesn't take a genius to recognise that routine is boring and there is excitement in the new. It is equally true that every 'new' becomes 'old' after the first exposure. It happens with relationships, people, and machines and very nearly with everything else.

Two observations remain to be made. What appears overwhelming may not be a natural experience but fallout of crass negligence or inefficiency. One has referred to, earlier, to flooding of Indian roads in the rains. This is not a 'natural' uniqueness but a uniqueness born out of banality of roads constructed inefficiently.

A natural uniqueness is elevating. The experience arising out of banality can only be used for learning.

As indicated, concern with the 'nature of work' is as old as the rivers. One should be looking at issues like machine learning, artificial intelligence and more, just as one of the challenges of our generation.

There are other segments of work environment at different levels of technological evolution. There the changes in 'nature of work' will be on a different gradient: environment by environment.

Indeed, there are many concurrent universes of change in the 'nature of work'. Harnessing them for profitability would be business.