Tag Archives: harvard university

The Brewing Crisis Over Jobs

Everyone has heard the old anecdote about the frog in a pot of water. If the temperature is raised slowly, the frog won’t react, eventually allowing itself to get boiled. That’s where we’re heading as a country when it comes to technological advances and the threat they pose to millions of jobs.

Seemingly every day, there are new stories in the media about artificial intelligence, data and robotics — and the jobs they threaten in retail, transportation, carrier transport and even the legal profession. Yet no one is jumping out of the pot.

Let’s be clear: This is not science fiction. In just recent days, there have been articles on Amazon’s automation ambitions, described by the New York Times as “putting traditional retail jobs in jeopardy,” and on the legal profession bracing for technology taking over some tasks once handled by lawyers.

As reported in Recode, a new study by the research firm PwC found that nearly four out of 10 jobs in the U.S. could be “vulnerable to replacement by robots in the next 15 years.” Many of those will be truckers, among the most common jobs in states across the country.

See also: Why Trump’s Travel Ban Hurts Innovation  

Yet when President Trump hosted truck drivers at the White House recently, he dedicated his remarks to the threat of healthcare without uttering a word about the advanced driverless semi fleets that will soon replace them. His Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin shockingly said in an interview last week that we’re “50 to 100 years” away from artificial intelligence threatening jobs.

It’s easy for sensationalist headlines about AI to dominate, like those about Elon Musk’s warning that it poses an existential threat. Yet the attention of people such as Musk, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking should be a signal to Trump and Mnuchin that AI and related robotics and automation are moving at a far faster clip than they are acknowledging. It should be on the administration’s radar screen, and officials should be jumping out of the boiling water.

Solutions won’t come easy. Already some experts suggest a universal basic income will be necessary to offset the job losses. We also have to help our workforce make the transition. Educational institutions such as Miami-Dade College and Harvard University have introduced advanced programming courses that take students from zero to six programming languages on a fast track. More needs to be done. This should be the most innovative decade in human history, and it has to be if we’re going to avoid a Mad Max dystopia in favor of a Star Trek future.

Of course, there are those who say similar warnings were raised as technology revolutionized agriculture and other industries along the way. They might argue that then, as now, those advances led to more jobs. We would all welcome that and the potential these changes will represent for improving lives.

See also: Can Trump Make ‘the Cyber’ Secure?  

Technological advances could greatly reduce the cost of living, make housing more affordable and solve some of the biggest challenges whether in energy or long-term care, an issue painfully familiar to so many families. It may also help improve quality of life in the long term, as men and women gain greater flexibility to spend time with loved ones rather than dedicating 40 or more hours a week to working and so many others commuting.

In the near term, however, the job losses that are possible could inflict tremendous economic pain. We are far from where we need to be. That will continue to be the case until policymakers, educators and innovators come together to address the reality before us. We won’t solve this overnight, but we can’t afford to wait until it’s too late.

This was written by Vivek Wadhwa and Jeff Greene.

social

The Keys to Forming Effective Teams

America loves teams and team players, even outside of sports. What’s not to love? Team players are selfless—they set aside their personal goals and focus their talents on coordinating efforts with their fellow team members to achieve a common goal. Teams personify cooperation and collaboration and synergistic effort. And, of course, we’ve all been taught that teams inevitably generate better outcomes than individuals do.

So it’s good to be on a team, and teams do good work, which means teams and teamwork are iconic realities of life in America—socially, educationally and professionally. It really doesn’t matter whether you are a toddler, a college student, a retail clerk or a corporate executive, today you regularly find yourself slotted onto teams (or onto committees or into small groups) where you are expected to behave like a good team player.

And how does a good team player behave? According to leadership coach Joel Garfinkle, “You just need to be an active participant and do more than your job title states. Put the team’s objectives above yours and take the initiative to get things done without waiting to be asked.” He identifies five characteristics that make a team player great:

  1. Always reliable
  2. Communicates with confidence
  3. Does more than asked
  4. Adapts quickly and easily
  5. Displays genuine commitment

Seems obvious, but think of your most recent team experiences. Were your team members behaving that way? Were you? Not likely, and J. Richard Hackman, a former professor of social and organizational psychology at Harvard University and a leading expert on teams, knows why. When interviewed by Diane Coutou for a 2009 Harvard Business Review article (Why Teams Don’t Work), he said:

Research consistently shows that teams underperform, despite all the extra resources they have. That’s because problems with coordination and motivation typically chip away at the benefits of collaboration.

Problems with coordination and motivation interfering with team collaboration and performance—doesn’t that sound like a rather modest challenge that could be resolved with more effective team management? Sure, to a certain extent. Teams are often too large; they are thoughtlessly staffed (proximity and position rather than proven talents and ability to produce results); and they are routinely launched with murky objectives, vague group member accountabilities and no formal support network for team process management. In other words, most teams don’t meet the five basic conditions Hackman, in his book Leading Teams, said teams require to perform effectively:

  1. Teams must be real. People have to know who is on the team and who is not. It’s the leader’s job to make that clear.
  2. Teams need a compelling direction. Members need to know, and agree on, what they’re supposed to be doing together. Unless a leader articulates a clear direction, there is a real risk that different members will pursue different agendas.
  3. Teams need enabling structures. Teams that have poorly designed tasks, the wrong number or mix of members or fuzzy and unenforced norms of conduct invariably get into trouble.
  4. Teams need a supportive organization. The organizational context—including the reward system, the human resource system and the information system—must facilitate teamwork.
  5. Teams need expert coaching. Most executive coaches focus on individual performance, which does not significantly improve teamwork. Teams need coaching as a group in team processes, especially at the beginning, midpoint and end of a team project.

But there’s another challenge, and it is presented by the people who don’t want to be team players. People who, when added to a team, immediately focus their attention and effort not on being a good team player but instead on dodging work, avoiding exposure and manipulating the conscientious team players into doing more than their share of the work. This is known as social loafing (or slacking), and it describes the tendency of some members of a work group to exert less effort than they would when working alone. Kent Faught, associate professor of management at the Frank D. Hickingbotham School of Business, argues in his paper about student work groups in the Journal of Business Administration Online that social loafers can’t be successful, however, unless the other team members permit the loafing and complete the project successfully: 

…the social loafer must find at least one group member that CAN and WILL achieve the group’s goals and ALLOW themselves to be social loafed on. “Social Loafer Bait” is the term used here to describe the profile of the ideal target for social loafers.

This problem isn’t new. Max Ringelmann, a French agricultural engineer, conducted one of the earliest social loafing experiments in 1913, asking participants to pull on a “tug of war” rope both individually and in groups. When people were part of a group, they exerted much less effort pulling the rope than they did when pulling alone. According to Joshua Kennon, Ringelmann’s social loafing results were replicated over the years in many other experiments (involving typing, shouting, clapping, pumping water, etc.), leading psychologists to believe that humans tend toward social loafing in virtually all group activities. Kennon shared two other conclusions:

  • The more people you put into a group, the less individual effort each person will contribute;
  • When confronted with proof they are contributing less, the individuals in the group deny it because they believe they are contributing just as much as they would have if they were working alone.

I recently asked a group of friends and colleagues who have been involved in group work at school or in their jobs to respond to a brief, unscientific survey on how they deal with social loafing. Their response pattern is shown in parentheses, and, although respondents varied in age from 20 to 50-plus, answer patterns didn’t seem to vary by age group:

You are working on an important, time-sensitive project with a group of people. One of the group members is slacking off, not contributing to project work. What do you do about it? (choose one)

  • Ask/Tell the slacker to commit to the project and start contributing (40%)
  • Report the slacker to the project sponsor (3%)
  • Complain about the slacker to other team members (10%)
  • Work harder to pick up the slack and ensure the project is successful (30%)
  • Follow the slacker’s lead and reduce your commitment and effort (0%)
  • Other (17%—Most respondents who chose this reported they would employ more than one of the listed strategies)

How effective is the response you identified above?

  • Solves the problem (27%)
  • Partially solves the problem (53%)
  • Fails to solve the problem (17%)
  • Causes other problems (3%)

Respondents who took some action (talking to the slacker, or reporting the slacker to the project sponsor) were much more likely to report that their actions solved all or part of the problem. Complaining to other team members failed to solve the problem—no surprise there. And even though 30% of respondents elected to address the slacking problem by working harder to pick up the slack (earning themselves a “social loafer bait” ID badge), the effect of doing so was mixed, spread fairly evenly among solving, partially solving, failing to solve and causing other problems.

What’s not clear is why we are so willing to tolerate social loafing in group projects and why we are so reluctant to call slackers out and hold them accountable. According to Kerry Patterson, co-author of the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High:

93% of employees report they have co-workers who don’t pull their weight, but only one in 10 confronts lackluster colleagues.

I suppose the reality is that unless work groups are tightly managed, they offer excellent cover for slackers—relative anonymity, little or no pressure from team members, great individual performance camouflage—with only a slight threat of exposure or penalty for not being a good team player. So the solution to the social loafer problem probably involves not only changes in how groups are formed, resourced and supported but also changes in the group work dynamic to eliminate the cover and camouflage and to illuminate how each individual contributes to the group work effort. (This is sometimes accomplished in university student work groups by using a formal peer review process to help group members hold each other accountable.)

As you might expect, Google is serious about teamwork (all Google employees work on at least one team), and Google wants teams to be successful. A recent study of team effectiveness at Google determined that five team dynamics (psychological safety; dependability; structure and clarity; meaning of work; and impact of work) are more important to successful teams than the talents of the individuals on the teams. To help teams manage these dynamics, Google developed a tool called the gTeams exercise, described by Julia Rozovsky of Google People Operations as:

…a 10-minute pulse-check on the five dynamics, a report that summarizes how the team is doing, a live in-person conversation to discuss the results and tailored developmental resources to help teams improve.

According to Rozovsky, Google teams reported that having a framework around team effectiveness and a forcing function (the gTeams exercise) to talk about these dynamics was the part of the experience that had the most impact. That’s not surprising, because any “forcing function” that puts a public spotlight on ineffective or unacceptable behavior makes it easier to identify and eliminate that behavior.

Given the concentration of talent at Google, I imagine the social loafers there probably boast a more refined slacker “craftiness” pedigree than most of us normally encounter. Still, I am betting the Google slackers aren’t very pleased with the light and heat generated by the gTeams exercise spotlight.

How to Be Happier and More Motivated

The sub-title of a great little book, “Happier,” by Tal Ben-Shahar, is “Can you learn to be happy?” Ben-Shahar explores that question through a series of short chapters, summarizing the most popular course at Harvard University today.

This book might seem a strange topic for my posts (as a writer on customer insight), but my coaching work with customer insight leaders has taught me the power of positive psychology. The book is also short (168 pages), fun and very accessible, so a suitable complement to some of the weightier tomes that I’ve reviewed.

For those not familiar with the positive psychology movement, it was properly launched by Martin Seligman in his opening address when becoming president of the American Psychological Association. He proposed that, instead of just focusing on mental illness or helping clients address weaknesses, psychology could focus on ways of fostering joy, flow, strengths, etc. in individuals. In other words, to help clients focus on their strengths and how to be happier rather than seeking to address weaknesses or unhelpful thinking patterns. Professor Seligman has dedicated his subsequent career to this goal. This topic has also, of course, become popular with politicians on both sides of the “pond,” and I’m sure you’ve heard of the work on measuring well-being in society.

Anyway, this book by Dr. Ben-Shahar, who teaches a course at Harvard University on happiness, is more of an accessible self-help book. It’s packed with personal anecdotes, simply communicated psychology and practical exercises for you to put into practice. Divided into three parts, these cover: What is Happiness?; Happiness Applied; and Meditations on Happiness. These are further broken down into 15 chapters, so many are less than 10 pages and an ideal short-read. Within each chapter, you’ll find at least one “time-in,” a moment for you to stop and reflect on how you’d answer a personal question. At the end of every chapter is an exercise for you to try. A number of these are suggestions of new rituals to put into place over weeks or months, not just quick fixes.

Personal favorites for me, from the exercises, have been:

1) A gratitude journal: noting down, before you go to sleep, at least five things that made you happy that day and for which you are grateful.
2) Reflecting on your four quadrants of Rat Racer, Hedonist, Nihilist and Happy — to learn from experiences about what really makes you happy.
3) Mapping your life: measuring how you spend your time and how this matches those things that give you most meaning and pleasure.
4) Goal setting: to set long- and short-term goals to move toward what you really want to do with your life.

I’m conscious that without reading the book, a lot of this could sound like just American positivity, with fake smiles and overenthusiastic language. However, there really is so much more to it than that. Ben-Shahar does a great job in helping the reader understand the combination of meaning and pleasure that can help you be happier and the joy to be found in the journey rather than assuming happiness is a fixed state at which you arrive. As well, his personal anecdotes and the amount of time given to personal reflection and practical exercises continue to keep the theory grounded in the practical, day-to-day reality of your life.

I was initially very skeptical of this movement and a book with such a title. Overly positive people who appear to be in denial about their circumstances and full range of emotions don’t do it for a natural skeptic like me. However, as I’ve had my eyes opened to the academically grounded theory here, I have found it very useful in my own life and with clients. My time mentoring future leaders over years had already taught me that you make more progress helping people play to their strengths rather than improve their weaknesses.

In the second part of the book, Ben-Shahar addresses how to apply the theories of part one to education, the workplace and personal relationships. The workplace chapter focuses a number of pages on how individuals can find their “calling” — what Marshall Goldsmith would call their “flow” — that conjunction of meaning, pleasure and strength that make for the most fulfilling work. It is also pragmatic about crafting your existing role and work rather than assuming everyone takes this discovery as a Damascene conversion experience and rushes off to a new career. The personal relationships chapter is also a good reminder about expressing love, knowing the other person and expressing gratitude.

The final part of this short book contains a series of seven shorter chapters or meditations on different aspects of happiness, from self-interest to beyond the “happiness revolution.” The conclusion to this work ends on a practical note, focusing us back on the here and now, thus what we are going to put into practice today. Overall, the book does well at avoiding false expectations but also helping readers try different ways of thinking and new practices in their life that could make them intentionally happier.

During much of my coaching work with customer insight leaders, we come back to the source of motivation for that individual and the meaning and pleasure that keep them motivated to lead effectively and consistently over the long term. So, I would encourage any leaders to not be put off by what sounds like a fluffy title and try engaging with this short book. It may just reignite your passion and motivation to make a real difference through work that makes you happy.