I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of “connecting the dots.” I believe everything is related to everything else. No culture, idea, historical event, or current event exists in isolation. All of history, and all of humanity, is connected in an infinitely complicated web of people, places, things, events, and ideas.
Every Business Artist needs to understand the times we’re living in. There is so much going on in the world today–and so many ways to consume information–that it feels impossible to keep up. But if you look closely, you’ll see patterns.
In my forthcoming book, The Business Artist, I’ll go into a lot more detail about how we can move forward. But for now, in this post, let’s take a look at where we are so we can better prepare for the challenges ahead.
Every Company is a Tech Company
Our current climate in business is one where we are increasingly at the mercy of technology and algorithms. Every company these days is a tech company. EdTech, FinTech, AgriTech, PharmaTech, BioTech. It doesn’t matter what industry it is—at its heart, every company has a “tech” heartbeat, whether tech is used in creating new products or in how we deploy them.
In the past, technology was concerned with using resources to drive competitive differentiation. Today, technology is focused on data and human performance using the tools of code and algorithms.
It’s important that we look at the data story. A good journalist “follows the story.” If we follow the data story, we’ll learn that data has gone from letting algorithms help us get across town using GPS, to controlling us to the point where we are completely lost without it.
Think of the person who uses Google Maps to drive two blocks away rather than using their own sense of direction and common sense.
Our lives are largely controlled by code and data. We may not see it, but it regulates our behavior in ways we don’t even realize, and it has the power to do this even more. This isn’t a rant against technology. It has played a beautiful role in driving human efficiency. But when we become enslaved by it rather than thinking for ourselves, we lose our sense of identity. With fewer humans doing more of the thinking, we will struggle as a society to grow and innovate as we become passive consumers rather than creators.
Are Algorithms Really Helping?
It’s not that algorithms don’t help our lives. They do. But they have passed that milestone long ago. Now they control our lives to the point where we have lost ourselves and our ability to think creatively, as well as our business artist capabilities.
To fight against a sense of powerlessness, I advise everyone to always probe deeper into their likes and dislikes. If you find yourself disliking something, challenge yourself by asking 'why?' Similarly, when you find something appealing, don't just accept it - question yourself and uncover the 'why?' behind your preference.
On a broader cultural scale (or perhaps we should say a worldwide scale), we have to ask what happens when computers push humans out of the job market and create an entire class of people who no longer contribute to society. All you have to do is look at current capabilities in all manner of AI to see how irrelevant and outdated many current jobs will become in the not-too-distant future.
Even as I write this, Hollywood writers are on strike, partly because they can’t agree with studios on the role that AI should play in the creation of scripts and content. (That’s not the only reason for the strike, but it’s been a significant part of the issue.)
To look at it from another perspective, what will happen to democracy when Google and Facebook come to know our likes and our political preferences better than we know them ourselves? It may sound far-fetched but it’s not. The implications of the technology that already exists are frightening at best.
What will happen when we rely too heavily on sales and business dashboards to manage people, to have coaching conversations, to grow and develop talent? Leadership and business success require us to understand the nuances in a way that the coding algorithms cannot always account for. Everything in code was at one point developed by a human being. Even when we add machine learning, where computers write their own instructions, we have flaws in the way we train the computer.
Are We Headed for a Dark Reality?
Computers, data, and algorithms cannot duplicate human intuition. If we keep moving on the same path, we will lose the elements of culture and business that make us human. The business artist will eventually become extinct, relegated to a footnote in business history books.
Shortly after the COVID-19 restrictions began to lift, a CEO of a large technology company told me,
“I’m encouraging all of my sales teams to get back on airplanes to go visit customers face to face. Not because I think it’s necessary for sustaining our relationships, but because I think it’s necessary for them to get their mojo and energy back, to listen and learn from the world and not fall into the trap I’m seeing where many think they can just live behind a desk now and be fulfilled.”
He hit the nail on the head. If things remain unchanged, we’re headed for a reality in which no one will be fulfilled and business artists no longer have a voice. An obsession with data and algorithms is how we arrived at our current reality where business seems disconnected from relationships and human interaction.
It’s not a positive picture, but I believe in telling the truth. Fortunately, Business Artists have the power to change people’s perceptions and make a real difference. I’m honored and excited to serve you and walk alongside you on this journey.