Revolution 5: Man and the machine
As project managers, we more often than not find ourselves between man and machine.
“To be, or not to be, that is the question:” William Shakespeare (from Hamlet, spoken by Hamlet)
In this section of “Hamlet”, he contemplates living and dying, and he is making a comparison of the two. This play remains notorious, even though Shakespeare wrote it ages ago. We can associate with Hamlet in the course of our lives.
While I hope we do not contemplate life or death, sustainable living and survival have become hot topics in recent times. The modernised versions are; “To be successful or not to be”, “To be relevant or not to be”, “To compete with the machine or to become obsolete”.
Change is inevitable, and technology is accelerating it. Coffee gets dispensed from machines, cars drive themselves, we make travel arrangements on the internet, and people feel dispensable. Or is that just a perception?
The 5th industrial revolution presents a welcome surprise. It speaks about the collaboration between technology and humans to create efficiencies never possible to conceive before. Alas, as humans, we are needed. It is evidently “humanly impossible” for technology to completely replace our cognitive virtues.
As Gal Horvitz said in a journal article on the 5th Industrial Revolution, we need humans to make decisions and drive action. Perhaps there is an argument for the ability of algorithms to take “big data” and present us with feasible solutions to complex business problems, and workflow systems could drive integrated project schedules and execution. But will these solutions facilitate sound decision making and performance in the end, and if not, why not?
While pondering over the most significant root causes of delayed decisions and lack of execution, the following come to mind: budget, priority, stakeholder support, poor acceptance of change, lack of buy-in. To secure budget and project priority, we need to convince, persuade and negotiate. To get stakeholder support and to obtain buy-in for delivery and change, we need to “Raleigh the Troops!”. We need people skills: sincerity and empathy, passion, motivational skills, and that “gut feel” that on many occasions, saved the day. There are still no substitutes for these qualities. Neither is there or can there be any substitute for the positive impact or influence of a good role model.
As project managers, our focus has been on policies, methodologies, processes and procedures for too long; computing logic can emulate these elements and machines is likely also to do the work faster, better and cheaper, and perhaps make us redundant.
Have the more technical functions occupied our minds and distracted us. Many of us have not been able to reroute to meet changing times. In the 5th industrial revolution, we should be harnessing the aspects that make us human and unique. We should be focussing on sharper emotional skills to complement technological advancement. Believe it or not, the best pearls of wisdom on emotional intelligence are not recent.
In 512 BC, Sun Tzu calls it the “Art of War”. Dale Carnegie, in 1935, described it as “How to win friends and influence people”. More recently Daniel Goleman called it “Emotional Intelligence” or “EI” (1995) (factoid: Goleman says he got this terminology from an academic journal article by two psychologists (John Mayer and Peter Salovey)).
In “The Art of War” one would have expected only a guide on the operation of violent war or at least an instruction to martial arts. However, surprisingly it contains vast amounts of emotional intelligence tips (note that Sun Tzu developed these insights in the late 6th century BC (and BM “before machines”)). What is the message? Understand yourself and other people (including your adversaries), “Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”, and practice wisdom “The COMMANDER stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness.”
Two more famous “Art of War” quotes stand out:
“excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”. The alternative to fighting is finding common ground through discussions. As project managers, we recognise this wisdom, but sometimes it is just easier to become impatient, and this is so destructive.
“Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.”. The essence of successful project management is leadership at all levels, and Sun Tzu’s recipe still works today.
Moving to Dale Carnegie now: It was in 1935 that he emphasised how essential relationships with others were. Note the irony; this book was written during the “Great Depression” when unemployment was at its highest in history. Throughout the depression, Carnegie remained successful. Was it because he had a very astute understanding of emotional intelligence?
Carnegie has been the Da Vinci of the basic rules of emotional intelligence. He has laid a good foundation for others. Reading his book today, it still creates an “Aha” moment, even though it is a recital of the obvious.
Carnegie’s key lesson is to make people feel valued. Once they feel valued, they will open and contribute effortlessly. In project management language, he provides the theory for networking, managing stakeholders, achieving “diversity and inclusion”, facilitating decisions, and building winning teams.
Now to Daniel Goleman and his book on “Emotional Intelligence”. If we relate his work to Maslow’s higher needs, he speaks to the fun part of life where we solve problems, are creative and find a higher purpose. Are Maslow’s higher needs the similar to what we today know as emotional intelligence? Goleman reminds us that reaching higher levels of emotional intelligence requires effort. We must manage our relationships with others. First, we must do some introspection. We must know who we are, including our strengths and weaknesses, trust our abilities and accept ourselves.
A more confident self changes how we engage with and motivate others. We seek motivation from inside, form human bonds, have empathy, and realise the consequences of speaking or acting without contemplation. Taking a tip from Psychology Today, we must manage our own emotions and the emotions of others. It seems we have come full circle as humanity. We must again rely on our cognitive and emotional skills for sustainable living and ultimately survival, just as we did before artificial intelligence arrived. Some may argue that things have never changed. These skills have always been the most important. I agree with that, but rapid change can throw us off-kilter, seeing technology as the enemy rather than an enabler. It is, I think, about finding a balance.
Colleagues, as project managers, the 5th Industrial Revolution is real and on us. If we embrace what cannot be achieved by technology while respecting technology as our partner, our human contributions will remain critical. Let us contemplate for a moment whether there is common sense in competing with artificial intelligence? Should we not instead capitalise on our edge: the intelligence of emotions.
Kospanos, V (2017) Industry 5 . 0 – When Man Meets Machine. PNMsoft Blog
Tzu, S. (Kindle Edition). The Art of War. Amazon Classic.
Carnegie, D. and MacMillan, A. (1988). How to win friends & influence people. New York: Simon and Schuster Audio.
Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional intelligence. London .: Bloomsbury.
Psychology Today. (2020). Emotional Intelligence | Psychology Today. [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/emotional-intelligence
Published at pmmagazine.net with the consent of Eileen Marx