Do machines have hearts? Being Human in this 'Machine Age'.
Updated: Mar 25, 2019
You're probably asking "What does Be Human really mean?" To me, it means increasing authenticity, finding compassion in challenge, and setting yourself and your team up for growth and success!
I was 8 years old when my Mum sat me down on top of the counter, next to the cash register, in the Tea Room (convenience store), that my Greek parents owned in South Africa. I was wriggling with excitement because they had just got their first NCR powered cash register and I got to punch in the numbers and hand the customers their change and receipt. The previous model was manual and had a handle on the side that I got to turn every time my Mum punched in a number to open the register. The new NCR machine cut the cash-up time at the end of the night in half and my parents were able to be home to say goodnight to us. Fast forward 7 years and I was working the latest NCR cash register with built in logic that allowed me to press 3 buttons and produce the days earnings, on an enormously lengthy print out. This enabled my Mum and I to cash-up and get the banking ready for the next day, within half an hour. At this point my parents were running, a convenience store, a chicken franchise, a pizza franchise and a restaurant. Three years after that, I was at University, managing a restaurant, standing in front of a Micros computerized point of sale (POS) that sent my order to the kitchen, updated stock count and printed the bill for my customers.
My parents retired before the experience of customer fulfilled mobile orders and Square POS became a thing… You see, throughout the digital transformation of the cash register over the 35 years that my parents worked in the food services industry, what you didn’t see was my father’s ankles, and neither did he. After all of those years of standing in front of the cash register or attempting to sit on a very uncomfortable high chair, my fathers ankles had swollen so much that they were indistinguishable from the rest of his legs. Add to that, chronic back pain, varicose veins and muscle cramps. The business world was digitally transforming, working with machines and the experience sucked...
So why is this story important and how is it relevant to being human in this machine age?
Well a few things...I think this story illustrates that when we are focused on developing the features of the product, in isolation of the impact that product may have on the human using it, we land up solving for a small symptom of a bigger problem. It also speaks to the fact that we have been digitally transforming, disrupting and working with machines since we moved from an analogue rotary phone to a digital touchtone phone and likely even before that. So can we stop talking about digital transformation like it’s a new thing and start talking about human transformation in a digital world? Please!! The difference today versus 20 years ago is speed and impact. We are impacting each other in a very significant and prolific way at a speed that is resulting in short-term gains with unknown long-term consequences, in some cases.
Being human in this machine age is about being conscious. It’s about Ubuntu, the universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity and Philotimo, doing the right thing for the betterment of the greater good. It’s about asking why? (Thank you Simon Sinek), for what purpose and how does this change our world for the better? At the core, it’s about hear(t), listening to our hearts, which the folks at HeartMath are proving, is the command centre and where our thoughts and intuition are generated. Now before I lose you let me break this down. This is how “Heart” shows up for me.... compassion, connection, curiosity and communication. They are all related to each other. You can’t have one without the other.
I think this starts with having a tremendous amount of empathy for yourself and for others. I spent the better part of my 20+ year career in tech, automating, innovating and digitally transforming organizations with what would be deemed success, if the measure of success was delivering on time, in scope and on budget. If the measure was adoption and impact, I would’ve failed miserably. Why? Primarily because I felt I was doing these projects and programs to people as opposed to with them and for them. In the later part of my career I discovered human centered design (design thinking) and as a creative I was hooked. Everything should incorporate design and you should always design with the human in mind. In order to do that though, you have to create deep empathy for the person or thing you are designing for, put yourself in their shoes and experience what and how they may be experiencing the world from their perspective. In the case of my parents, perhaps if someone at NCR had observed how they worked, where they worked, and who they interacted with they may have had some insights into how to design a completely different experience for them as opposed to just perpetually improving on features of the product. They didn’t really solve the bigger problem of two working parents wanting to be home for their children and not standing for 16 hours a day in one spot because the cash register was too big and clunky to move around. Compassion and empathy, as I discovered in this process, go hand in hand with being incredibly mindful (present), which leads me to my next C...
What is connection? As an empath, mastering that part of the Design Thinking process wasn’t difficult, what was difficult was how mindful I had to be during this process. As a coach it’s an essential part of my practice to be fully present with my client. When I am able to be fully present it creates congruence between my heart and mind and opens me up to possibility. I am able to be vulnerable and in so doing it enables my client to open up and be vulnerable with me. Voila, connection! The catch... we live in a world of a million squirrel moments... Neuroscientists have proven that the very presence of our cell phone is a distraction to the brain. In this overstimulated world we live in, where’s the pause button? Without the ability to PAUSE, clear our heads of all the noise, we are not able to truly listen, truly be present and connect. There is a company that I collaborate with called Orijin Design and they have a genius product called The Thinking Egg. If you’ve met me, worked with me or know me, you likely have one of their Thinking Eggs and if not you will. You put it in your pocket and it reminds you to take a pause, slow the F down and truly connect. This is a Canadian company that is supporting our human transformation in this digital world. We need to connect and relate to each other otherwise we isolate ourselves and that is becoming a bigger problem. Connection is not just 1000 likes on an instagram post. Social media is highly addictive and gives the same dopamine rush as alcohol, gambling and smoking especially in developing brains. Should we start treating these types of releases as we would a clinical trial for a pharmaceutical? I am not saying let’s go crazy and start putting rigorous regulations on tech products and services, what I am saying is let’s start being Mindful about the longer term impact on the well being of our society.
On this human transformation journey in this digital world it is essential that we develop continuous learning cultures. Getting curious about the self, what our triggers are, how and why we react to certain situations, is vital to self awareness and self improvement. When we get curious and start to ask powerful questions, we have insights and insights are where the learnings happen. Going back to my parents story, think about the impact if someone had come out to the store, put themselves in my Mum and Dad’s shoes, been super present and open and asked powerful questions. How many insights would they have had and what type of experience would they have created to positively impact my parents world. It was never about the technology, in this case the cash register, it was about time and spending time with the people they love.
This leads me to getting curious about solving the right problem. Quick story; Two days ago my credit card stopped working, the expiry year was 2022 so naturally I was concerned. Nothing had changed other than I had requested a change of address because this particular bank, doesn’t have this as an online feature. I called the bank and the customer service agent was lovely, and genuinely interested in figuring out what had happened. She told me my card had been cancelled even though, the only communication she could see was the change of address. She reinstated my card and we were good. An hour later the Supervisor called me back and apologized. You see, the initial person I spoke to had become curious and started to ask her supervisor questions about the strange occurrence. It turns out, the bot had made a mistake and read the address update as a cancellation so she reinstated my card. The interesting thing is, in my mind, they were solving for the wrong problem. This could’ve all been avoided if they had given me the ability to change my address online as opposed to sending in a request to have a bot do it. Communication by the customer service agent and her supervisor was excellent, I felt listened to and that my problem was being taken care of, which leads me to my next C...
I can see the eye roll because this should be a no brainer and yet it’s not. Part of being able to develop deep empathy for someone, ask powerful questions and create meaningful connections, is your ability to be an effective listener. You can be a great orator but a shitty listener. Active listening and developing that muscle through a coaching approach, is a game changer. Playing back what you think the other person said makes them feel heard and validated, it also gives you an opportunity to get clarity and alignment if you didn’t quite get what the other person meant. Texting has made us efficient communicators but not effective ones. It is also creating a society of avoidance. It takes a lot of courage to pick up the phone and talk to someone about an issue. Talking to someone is still the most effective way to communicate, we are sensory beings and being able to hear someones voice or better yet, see them, gives us more data points to help us respond in a constructive way. I had to educate my son the other day, on how to communicate through text. I explained to him that if he wouldn’t say what he texted to his friend face to face, then he shouldn’t text it.
Where to from here?
Being human in this machine age is a lot harder but we already have what we need to impact our world for the better.. each other. My generation has begun to move into executive leadership roles across the globe. Independent, entrepreneural, conscious leaders squished between the generation before us and the one after us like a honey sandwich. Digital natives who built the bridge from analog to digital, the very foundation that this next generation is now thriving on. Let's commit to continuously be the bridge from where we came and shine a heart light on where we are going, with compassion, connection, curiosity and communication. I am very lucky to work with incredible humans who are focused on impacting the world we live in, in a positive way and solving problems that we will all benefit from. They are tech entrepreneurs, creatives, artisans and above all they are humans transforming in this 'Machine Age'.
Machines don’t have hearts. Humans do. Be_Humanxo