System Thinking and Transformational Skills: the basics for Courage and Empathy

In a recent article titled Job stealing robots? Millenials see hope, fear in Automation, Cathy Englebert, CEO at Deloit writes: “I told him: “Don’t worry—I’ve never met a machine with courage and empathy.””

But will Cathy’s empathetic assurance be true in the near future as Robots are being developed to show empathy and care for sick patients and elderly! Robots with empathy are being developed for personal care and yes even replace a loved one!

In our opinion courage and empathy have to start at CEO level.

Sr. managers and executives interested in their bottom line at all cost replace human centered activities with machine – robots, drones and AI – centered activities. Before they take on the next project they need to think: Is this project to replace hundreds of workers really necessary? Are there alternatives where human employment can co-exist with efficiency and cost reduction?

But such empathetic view can not start with one CEO or Sr. executive. It requires collective wisdom that people without jobs – and decent wages – may end up being the angry mob, the enemy of any society. The irrational outcomes in the recent Presidential election is a clear example of what can go wrong when larger sections of the society do not see any hope in their future.

Such empathy also has to start with the public at large. We see self-check out at large supermarkets and mega-stores. One can not be sure if the cost reduction by eliminating a few workers at the check out counters are being passed on to the consumers. Assuming that to be the case, does any one in the public at large think that they would forego the few cents cheaper price on the items and insist that the jobs at the check out counters be replaced?

Recently I was speaking with a young engineer who was working on a Robot application project. I asked him, “Why are you working on this project?”. He promptly replied, “I need to eliminate X no. of jobs”. I asked him “What happens if the people who loose the jobs are your friends and relatives or neighbors?” He was shocked and dumb founded. Robots do have a place for better safety, consistency, eliminate worker fatigue, etc. But implementing robots merely as cost reduction devices and to eliminate human centered work lacks empathy and courage.

These are the kind of “cooperation between humans“that we need today in every sphere of activity, if we don’t want to become a mere machine, robot, and AI dominated society.

It  also requires higher efficiency and greater impact per person. Today when computers and systems can do everything — read, write, document, compute, analyze and decide – and augmented with these capabilities they can replace much of the human centered capabilities, it is incumbent on all of us to find ways to enhance the skills of our people to face this on onslaught and come out ahead. This challenge and need may be the untold thousand lb. Gorilla in the room for education at all levels and HR development.  These needs have to be overcome through sustained education and pratice of System Thinking and Transformational Skills.

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