“If we get AI right it is the last frontier for humanity. Everything beyond AI will invent and create on our behalf beyond that.” ~Mo Gawdat, Former Chief Business Officer of Google X
How does this statement sit with you? Right now, there is a lot of concern about artificial intelligence (AI) will impact work and more importantly our world. A lot of it is cause for concern and yet there is a part of me that remains hopeful that only the very best will come of this next frontier in technology and human civilization.
Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting in a Q&A session with Mo. If I’m honest with myself, I went to his keynote on “moonshot thinking”, his breakout session on “happiness” and then came for more via his Q&A wth the media/analyst crew. His position on AI is palatable and realistic. His perspective on humanity breathtaking. Mo shared that “Technology has never really taken away jobs.” It reminded me of something I have been sharing with HR professionals around our progressive steps towards cognitive technology. Change is inevitable and with every technological advancement there has always been a shift and dropoff. Older less efficient jobs drop off and more efficient ways of operating and living emerge. It isn’t something to be scared of, it is a shift to participate in.
In HR, we have survived just barely by adapting to the changes and shifts in business. This next shift towards smarter technologies is one where we will not simply be able to adapt and survive. We need to be a driving force, steerer of the wheel, participant in a societal shift. That means rather than worry about all of the ways we stand to lose in a world of AI, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Robots that we imagine all of the ways we could be more efficient and valuable.
My friendly advice:
1) Learn more about the emerging technologies so you aren’t blindsided by what’s to come.
2) Offer up time and resources to make it better. There is no HR Tech without the HR community. You should want to improve what is out there for the sake of our industry.
3) Start thinking about new ways to add value. That is to say, if some of your day-to-day duties get delegated to technology tomorrow, what else can you do to serve your respective organizations?
It’s about building capacity and capabilities. Let’s focus less on where we will lack as an industry and make some decisions on where we can increase our value.
Speaking of places where we can increase our value, Mo is no longer with Google X. He left that post on the heels of losing his beloved son, Ali. In return, he made a profound and selfless decision to help people become more happy. In fact, he has a goal of helping one billion people become happy over the next five years.
While we can’t completely own the process of another person’s happiness, I believe we have a huge impact on it in the workplace as HR professionals. His call-to-action of working towards happiness is one you don’t normally find at an HR conference. Nonetheless, it resonated with me, because I have been on a personal mission to focus on happiness in all aspects of my life.
In my Growth on my Terms podcast episode below, you will hear Mo and I sharing about how less is truly more in life. He drives this point by talking about how he was wildly successful in his twenties owning everything a young man could want at the time; yet feeling woefully unfulfilled. I echoed this sentiment in sharing a snippet of the comparison I did of my own happiness when I went from working in Corporate America versus when I went to work in my business full-time.
To the point of “less is more” and speaking to the relativity of having a fortune, great job etc. at your disposaal, Mo said: “It can be harder and better at the same time.” Yes to this! He is and I am evidence that you can go through really difficult times and even within those times; things can be exponentially better than before the struggle.
All in all, Mo Gawdat is brilliant and has heart. Please take the time to listen to his discussion on life, technology and the pursuit of happiness below.
Also, I promised Mo I would get the word out about his “One Billion Happy” initiative. If you are moved after listening to his talk, please head over to: www.onebillionhappy.org. Also, check out his book and free resources on happiness at: solveforhappy.com
Disclosure: I amnot being paid by Mo or anyone on his team to make these statements. I am merely a passionate supporter of his work.
“Bureaucracy is a global thing. “ ~ Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School
I had the opportunity to sit in on a Q&A session Day 1 with Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School at Unleash 2018 in Vegas. Long before this Q&A, he had wooed me with his words and refreshing perspectives on the disease of bureaucracy as it pertains to the workforce.
One of the reasons why I believe I was unable to flourish in Corporate America was because of my disdain for bureaucracy and politics. “Disdain” is a strong word, but completely applicable here. It wasn’t that I was beyond adhering to the structure or constructs that existed in the organizations that I worked for. It was that those constructs and structures always felt constricting and for all intents and purposes they didn’t appear to have a positive impact on the workforce. To this point, Gary shared in our session that he thought “Very few businesses worry about the environmental costs of bureaucracy and CEO’s only recognize the cost of bureaucracy vaguely.”
The reason why businesses can’t bother to care about these environmental costs is that the function of bureaucracy is to control and maintain order. Gary suggests there are likely really great reasons why bureaucracy existed, to begin with, but maintains it isn’t very useful given the world we live in today.
To some, I may have been pre-maturely seen as an anarchist who wanted things her way and had little respect for rules. The reality is as Gary Hamel asserts: “The pressure on the employees in the US is far more impactful than anywhere else in the world. US companies have an even more transactional lens for people at work.” To put it plainly, those who participate in the US workforce are seen as expendable and a means to an end. It is this line of thinking that ensures that our employee engagement numbers never budge or budge ever so slightly year-to-year. US workers are mere cogs in the wheel and we know it. Not only do we know it, we aren’t collectively empowered to stop it, because of course money.
I was and I am currently one of those people who believe that there are alternatives to bureaucracy. In our Q&A, Gary shared: “You have to believe there are alternatives to bureaucracy. It’s hard to imagine what you haven’t seen.” There is a great conflict in the world at large, but most certainly one at work too. It is the battle of old ways of thinking versus new ways of thinking. In the former example, it is hard for older establishments to wrap their minds around any other work arrangement/relationship that isn’t grounded in having to control how people think, work and show-up. They haven’t been privy to the evidence that suggests an alternative, and even if they had seen the promise of another way of managing people; it is likely a very uncomfortable notion to imagine a workforce where people work autonomously and on their own terms without being infantilized at work.
“Why don’t people have the ability to design their own job or choose their own boss, or approve their own expenses? We are so used to people needing parents or infantilization at work. “~Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School.
Transparency for what?
Another pet peeve I have had with organizations I have been a part of was the lack of transparency. This goes hand-in-hand with the infantilization that goes on in many companies per Gary Hamel’s keynote on “Humanocracy”. Imagine for a second being an adult in every other aspect of your life. This is probably not a hard vision to conjure. You have a family that relies on you, bills, debts, and a healthy dose of responsibility. Yet, daily you report to a job that doesn’t think you worthy of sharing information that may affect your livelihood. Perhaps the business isn’t performing well financially. In most cases, that company you report to would rather cease to exist than to confide in the very people who make it profitable daily. It’s a ludicrous concept and surely antiquated. People should be trusted to show up and work as the adults that they are. Professor Hamel shared with us that: “Transparency needs to be a core principle for how we do business. Let’s be a little more open and have a little more freedom.”
What is the path forward?
“Evolutionary goals and revolutionary steps is the path forward. “
Gary challenges leaders to “employ radical business models while imagining a radically different workplace”. Questioning old hypothesis is a start as well as challenging your own embedded assumptions. Professor Hamel also maintains that we ought to “find a migration path between the past and the future”. “If you are a traditional company it is a much harder transition to moving from bureaucracy”. Aversive strategies to shifting out of bureaucracy do not work. It is about a gradual migration path”.
Some other sentiments shared by Professor Hamel worth further exploration:
- HR is the fastest growing function of the organization but has the least buy-in and respect within the organization. We need to ask ourselves why we struggle to self-actualize when this premise is true.
- The world is changing too quickly to be tied to hierarchical constructs. Why are you holding onto hierarchical constructs? Is it because it truly works for you or is it about control? It is worthy of some further exploration.
- Technology will be used to disempower more than empower.
- Technology is used to aggregate and exert control.
- Employees come first, customers’ second, shareholders last. If your employees aren’t happy, it is safe to say no one will be happy. Nurture your people first and everything else in business will flourish.
Gary is ingenious in the way he sees the world. He had a lot more to say, so as such I am sharing my Growth on my Terms podcast recording of the Gary Hamel Q&A. Have a listen and reflect on where your organization is and how you can begin to reimagine work while envisioning a gradual migration to less bureaucracy and more trusting professional ties and relationships.
Before I get to my story, a quote from a 2017 Forbes article titled: “How Empathetic Are You, Really?”. On empathy, the author Liz Guthridge says:
“Being empathetic is similar to cooking. You may know the recipe for how to prepare empathy. But until you actually use the recipe a few times, taste the results, see how everyone reacts and adjust the recipe, you and your guests don’t know how satisfying and nourishing your efforts will be.”
Empathy continues to be a challenge in life and at work. For most people, empathy has conditions and limits. It goes something like this, “if I agree with what you are saying and how you say it pleases me; I will support the breathe with which you are speaking your truth”. If by chance, you share something that fundamentally debunks a point of view or has earth-shattering ramifications for a particular position someone holds, empathy is (more often than not) enqueue to meet an imminent death.
I have both written and spoken about some thorny subjects in the past year. I knew going into it that there would be people who praised me for my bravery and others who would chastise me for sharing my truth. When I speak up on issues, topics or instances that matter to me it is just that — it matters to me. That I have something to say about matters of societal and economic importance as someone who also happens to be an HR professional should not rub people the wrong way in 2018. Working in any industry (and more importantly HR) is not an opportunity to operate as if dumb, deaf and blind nor is it a sentence for being mute when it matters most.
Last month, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at Connections 2018, an annual user-centered event curated by Ultimate Software designed to engage, enlighten and empower their user community. During my Women in Leadership panel, there were two women who questioned why a white man was moderating my panel and moreover why most of the event’s speakers were white males. Admittedly, it was an awkward moment and not one we had solved for in our discussions about managing questions as a panel. A part of me was overjoyed that someone saw the obvious inequity of the panel. The other part of me felt sorry for my moderator, Jason Lauritsen who I personally chose to be the moderator and is someone who I do believe is inherently good despite the gender and race he belongs to. Time stood still, but something had to be said.
Empathy in motion…
I shared the truth and posed a question. I shared that I had been asked to moderate and asked the two women how that made them feel? They perked up and said that would have been much better. In response, I said: “Really? Not for me. Why should I moderate a panel of all white women in 2018?” To which an Asian woman yelled out: “What is wrong with that?”. What I shared with the group is that I wanted the ability to speak my truth as a panelist, not as someone on the periphery of the discussion. I went for what I wanted and chose Jason as a moderator because I admire him as a person and because we cannot exclude men from the discussion of how women are treated in society and in the workplace.
I have my views and strong ones at that. Nonetheless, my views are always rooted in experiences and fact and never devoid of the ability to see how it may affect another human. My panel could have been one big feminist party where we talked about how the patriarchy needs to die and how Ultimate got their programming wrong and how patronizing it must be for me to be the only black woman on the panel. What would have been accomplished by this? Isn’t this part of the problem and what we have always done?
That question was a twist of fate that I ultimately thanked those two women for. It opened us all up to have a more authentic conversation than was possible with my carefully-curated script of questions. We moved on to share openly and listen to one another’s experiences. From that moment on, we weren’t just listening we were feeling every word uttered in that room. Isn’t that the hope and prayer for empathy and also the challenge in exercising it?
The truth we all need to embrace and settle with is we are all right and all wrong at the same time. Life is a continuous cycle of contradictions. For every view you hold, there is at least one instance to debunk the position you hold. Even in a world of contradictions, it still means that what I experience is true for me. My experiences and knowledge of the world cannot be diminished or diluted. You can challenge it, but it cannot be dismissed as a data point. Dismissal is the typical reaction to hearing things we don’t want to accept. Empathy means that even if your individual or collective truths tell you that anything I say is bogus it warrants further investigation or at a minimum your heartfelt consideration if you can muster it.
People are not naturally wired to say or do what is convenient for others to feel good about a situation. This is also a part of the problem we have at the moment. Stop looking for convenient truths and answers to serve your agenda. Instead, ask yourself if what you hear, see or read could have the slightest possibility of being true. If your answer is “yes” (and it should because anything is possible), then it requires extra effort to understand on your part.
We are recalibrating as a human race which means an industry founded upon human relations should be doing the same. I challenge professionals everywhere to do the following:
1) Say less. People are finding their voices again and feeling more and more empowered to speak out. This is not the time for you to debate them and take up space. Instead, say less and hold space for the most vulnerable in our workplaces and society to share their truths.
2) Stay curious. Some of you grew up in towns of 1000 with not a dose of cultural or ethnic difference to color your world, yet others of us have grown up in complex environments with a myriad of influences. In both regards, there is a need for more curiosity, fewer assumptions, less convenient truths and judgments. Be open to learning a new perspective.
3) Exercise your empathy muscles. The road to becoming more empathetic is not linear. You will fail, you will be awkward, you will resist it at times. Still, you ought to try to be more empathetic and willing to endure all of that at the same time. I know it is a tall order, but what if it could shift budding interactions with people you admire or help someone you love feel more heard and understood? Trust me it is worth it.
For the livestream of my Women in Leadership panel click the link below:
Connections 2018 Women in Leadership Panel
Here is Jason’s account of the Women in Leadership Panel and lessons learned:
Gender at Work
May we all rise to the challenge of exercising more empathy.
Let’s start by defining what a “coon” is. A “coon” is a black person who values what white people think of them more than they care to honor their culture and the suffrage of the racial group they identify with. A “coon” seeks to be accepted and praised by white people while seemingly enjoying any and all humiliation, marginalization, bias, prejudice or mistreatment expressed towards them by white people.
“Coons” are the bud of innumerable jokes within the black community and at the same time equally loathed by others in the community. For the purpose of providing an example, Omarosa Manigault is widely known as a “coon”. She is a black woman who despite what everyone else sees as an ego-maniacal racist in our current president (who I will not name) decided to join his cabinet as Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison for the White House. To some, it just looks like she had a previous relationship with 45 and as a result of their friendship – she took a job she was offered. Sounds simple? Except, there is a little more to it if we dig deeper. I cannot say with any certainty what her specific motivations were for taking a job with the devil himself.
However, if I am to use the data that I have available, I will wager that she took the position to further her waning notoriety and influence. The fact that she did that knowing many of the disgusting views her former boss held is why she gets labeled a “coon”. Like a good “coon” she also thought as many of them do – that it would be different for her because she has presented herself as a supportive, non-threatening black woman. She was willing to sacrifice her own self-worth and maybe even some of her natural self-serving ways of being to be associated with a white supremacist. This is seen as self-hatred in the black community and while it has often been reduced to the derogatory nomenclature of “coon” this is the existential problem we are dealing with as it pertains to individuals who follow this pedigree.
In communities of color, individuals are never standing for themselves alone. As a person of color, you represent yourself and your community. It is a heavy burden to bear, but still, it is a fact-of-life we all assume and understand from an early age. There is a myriad of reasons why black people become “coons” a few examples are:
1) You grew up around white people your entire life and were taught that they are vehicles to progress your social status making your mere association with them a positive catalyst for your existence.
2) You grew up being taught “white is right” and that black people are in a constant state of striving towards learning and knowing more, but never achieve mastery when juxtaposed against white people.
3) You were taught that “white people” are trustworthy over people of color in every situation and always have your best interest at heart. Note: This is synonymous with the messaging and positioning of slavery times that Massa was beating you for your own good in an effort to refine your heathen and innate ways.
4) They secretly or unknowingly hate everything about being black or (more generally a person of color) because their conditioning tells them that everything from their religion to cultural norms lies well outside of what white people think is normal, so they choose to manufacture a representative of themselves that they think is more socially-appealing.
Being deemed a “coon” is the extreme of self-hatred black people harbor towards themselves stemming back to slavery times. However, I would wager that all of us whether we are deemed a “coon” or not sacrifice a little of our existence every day in ways that make us cry ourselves to sleep or pray for a “better” way of living. My entire career has included opportunities, trade-offs, and circumstances in which I had to assess whether being loyal to my culture and people was more important than a paycheck. Personally, I have always chosen the people over the perceived losses I may incur. I’m not ignorant to the fear that is attached to walking that road of choosing values, ethics, and community over livelihood and prestige.
Sometimes you have to bite your tongue and get to a certain place before you can exude the bravery. It takes a lot more self-exploration and integrity to honor yourself above self-serving activities that serve to forward a white agenda shrouded as an opportunity for progression for your career, life etc. Trust me, I get it.
Thankfully, I have the courage and license to confidently decline opportunities especially when they are in gross misalignment with who I am and what I stand for. That means if you ask me to take lesser roles on a project or in curating an event where white people who are less qualified than me have the spotlight, the answer will be “no”. If I have to sign-on to do any work that will adversely impact my community in any way, the answer is: “no”. Unfortunately, money and influence are everything to some so much so that they have absolutely nothing without it. That is an existential crisis of epic proportions. Money and influence are great, but at what cost? In Omarosa’s case, she thought she was making a power move and ending up coming up short in the end. How you start is how you end.
When we talk about diversity, inclusion, and equity in the HR world, do not stop short of understanding whether your policies, rules, and culture create cultural pitfalls designed to make people of various marginalized groups choose “white” over choosing themselves. It is a dangerous pitfall and one that breeds resentment. There aren’t enough town halls, focus groups, culture days or employment branding to save your retention efforts if you continue to make people of color choose your agendas over what is important to them. A word of caution.
This week’s theme for #BlackBlogsMatter is “The Tao of Woke”. As a result, I decided to speak about the state of “wokeness” and what it should mean for you as we continue to navigate difficult themes around race relations and society.
The word: “Awake” is defined as: “to stop sleeping or wake from sleep”. “Woke” being a derivative of “awake” must then be related to that definition. You are not “woke” if you wear kente cloth and are vegan. You are not woke if you wear ankhs and have changed your name back to something more tied to African culture. You are not “woke” if you are white and have 3 black friends, where faux locs, watch Good Times reruns in your free-time, listen to Jadakiss and act as a part-time activist on social media for black liberation. You may not even be “woke” if you are out there daily as a full-time activist for equal treatment across the spectrum of societal issues concerning people of color.
Please know there is nothing wrong with any of those things I mentioned. Full transparency, I have an ankh tattoo. What I am saying is that being “woke” is not a function of those things or evidence that you have your sights on seeking the truth. It is more often than not that people do a mashup of these things in an effort to be seen as culturally-aware or even culturally-sensitive.
To be “woke” you have to awaken. To awaken you have to stop sleeping. Being “woke” is a matter of consciousness and in that state of consciousness, you must also have a conscience. In other words, you have to care, be aware and open to seeing things as they are; not what you think they are. The state of our country is in a disarray not just because 45 is at the helm, it is in a disarray because of decades of neglect, discord, and greed among a few things I will not mention here. If you are awake and seeing things clearly, you understand that narratives like “black people are in dire straits and suffering” is not only not true, but you would know that if there were such an instance in being Black in America that it has more to do with the disproportionate ways we are educated, compensated, and treated legislatively that contributes to poverty in our communities and even crime.
There is a state of consciousness you have to be in to not merely accept the neatly-packaged narratives you are fed by the government, media and even loved ones. To be “woke” you have to be willing to discover the unabashed truth. You have to be willing to speak honestly about what you find. It is a state of being that will not allow you to turn a blind eye to the suffering and truths of others. Being woke means you lead with heart over head understanding that it was never in the plans for any human to suffer on their journey here.
To be woke is to explore yourself coming to a place of understanding for that which is most integral to your values and morality. Wokeness is having all of that knowledge in a world of representatives and boldly deciding to show up as yourself every day regardless of the consequences.
Is it easy? Not at all. Is it worth your time and effort to get there? Absolutely.
Let us not make the term “woke” another social banality that we get so tired of hearing that we missed the message and lesson it tried to teach us.
As humans and as professionals in a human-centric industry, we owe it to ourselves and to the people we serve to try a little more every day to awaken to the truth of other people’s experiences. You may not understand it fully, but exposing yourself to narratives that make you uncomfortable is a start.
I hope you will take the steps necessary to quiet your ego, speak less, and allow space for other people to speak their truths. If you can do that at a minimum, you are well on your way to being “woke”.