Tea drinking robots

July 3, 2020

…on a building site near you an animated discussion starts to get even more heated.

“I’m telling you every building site owner is going to replace their labourers with robot brick-layers”

“And I’m telling you, not here, not until the robots can scratch their arse and drink tea?”

“Man, listen to you, you just don’t get it. They just lay bricks, you can even save the cost of tea.”

“There is no just about bricklaying. That’s your trouble. You got yourself a spreadsheet, a glass fronted fridge full of cool-aid, and a banker who can’t remember your name but has asked you to mortgage your children, and suddenly you think you are James fucking Dyson. Bricklaying is not about laying bricks.”

“Are you for real? I am telling you the robot bricklayers are more accurate, less wasteful and can work 24 hours a day without needing to scratch their arse or drink over-sugared tea. You cannot seriously turn this down”

“I am being deadly serious. You want to cut down a forest to plant a tree. You want to replace craft with function, pals with plastic and pride in achievement with a line of code. This really isn’t just about laying bricks.”

…At this point, I think we should leave them to it. I am sure there will be a mediation App with a $25 a subscription you cannot cancel popping up a screen near them any minute now.

Back in our worlds, as we emerge from the pandemic, like a storm that has passed through, there will be things lost we can never replace and memories that will be painful for years to come. We will need to adapt, and some things will never be quite the same again. However, in time there will be opportunity, and when there is, we need to be very clear how we ask our leaders to meet our needs. Our needs will be more than expediency, more than the lowest possible cost, and more than what “efficiency” alone can offer.

Leaders must show their people how they are proud of their individual contributions; to be valued for not just what they do, but how they do it as well. To be clear that everyone is more than a component of a vast cost versus income equation. At the same time, leadership is helping us see that we are all contributing to something more important than our individual pieces alone; to feel part of a team effort (even if we work remotely from each other) and that we are all connected to the end result. It is also helping us to be proud of who we work for, comfortable with how we trade and the impact we have on society and community.

If bricklaying was just about laying bricks, then bring on the robots. However, the wall is just one aspect of value. The person who builds the wall has pride in their skill, a sense of contribution to something more important, a memory of a difference made and of something that is a testimony to values which will live on long after they have left the site. That person is valued by their employer and colleagues, by their friends, family and community. That person has created something of value and something which will be valued perhaps for generations to come.

This level of contribution is not just a “soft” benefit. These things tie families and communities together and they create a foundation on which teams find they can do extraordinary things. We never just lay some bricks when we build a wall.

Does this mean we should never automate, or innovate or find a cheaper way? Of course not. It is part of life to see things evolve and improve and change. It is part of life to sometimes be disappointed and part of life to occasionally have to move on.

However if we could go back to the building site near you, and eves-drop on the conversation we left a moment ago, the issue was never about the greater efficiency of the robots. The issue was seeing that efficiency was only one aspect of value.

There are always multiple levels and types of value, and sometimes value is hidden from plain sight. Leadership is knowing the true value of something and the consequences of change. Leadership is to tread softly on our dreams.

Perhaps when we have taught our robots to drink tea, we can have more faith in the world they offer.

Take care.

Paul x

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