Why data will become irrelevant in the Future World of Work


Last year, I wrote about my hopes for the world of work in 2016. Looking back at those ideas a year later, I realise we have made only miniscule movement in impacting these hopes and addressing how our work is changing. As tempting as it is to move to the next best thing, perhaps the focus this year is not on workplace trends for 2017, but in continuing the long and trecherous path towards achieving those hopes for 2016. So, let’s take a moment of pause in the new year to reflect on why 2017 is now, more than ever, so important for us to pay attention to what is happening in the world and choose to think and approach the world of work differently.

It would only be in an isolated bubble if i didn’t take some time to recognise the world in which our organisations live in today, and how that impacts the world of work. There are a lot of people writing and thinking about how to make sense of the world we know today. With this decade’s political surprises, economic uncertainty, and violence and terrorism, we are all called upon to take stock of where we are and where we might be headed.  Using history to help us understand the future is a wise place to start.

The Age of Industry

In the late 1700’s, the age of industry came to be with the Industrial Revolution. Through this age, people left their communities, farms, and tribes to gather in cities and contribute to manufacturing and production. It was through the age of industry that the Taylorism scientific approach to management began. Slowly, Taylorism brought us into the early and mid 1900’s until the age of industry began to shift. 

The first computer was introduced in the mid 1900’s, and from then on, technology began shifting the focus of western industry away from manufacturing and production. This had a huge influence to society. Firstly, many industrial jobs were either outsourced, off-shored, or automated; quickly computers and robots began replacing human beings. Secondly, technology made accessing information much easier. Customers began educating themselves, and for the first time, were more informed about the products and services they wanted and expected. Thus, most humans in the workplace adapted to shift their contribution from assembling products to creating ideas and innovating, to radically rethink the way products and services were delivered to customers. The only way to survive was to stay one step ahead of the customer.  Thus, the age of information was born. 

The Age of Information

Enabled by technology, organisations and people began to rely on the collection and interpretation of data from the masses to make sense of the world. Data provided interesting insights, and we began to rely on its tangibility to sell our ideas to each other. Big data and artificial intelligence made us even more ambitious with data, allowing us to collect and synthesise massive amounts of data and automatically analyse what it all meant, not to just tell us about human behaviour, but predict it. No longer do we need to think about walking in our customer’s shoes, we rely on data to tell us what our customers need. 

Don’t get me wrong, this is all great. Data has transformed our world, and collecting and accessing data via technology has changed the way humans operate in the world. However, at what cost?

Where to From Here?

The costs have been greater than many realise. We’ve stopped observing, taking moments to pause and see what is happening around us. We rush to the data to tell us what to see. Of more consequence, we’ve abdicated our own sense and intelligence to rely on data to tell us what to do. Yet, how many studies have recently shown up with data that seemed quite obvious? How about the recent 75-year study on happiness by Harvard that told us the key to happiness is healthy connections and relationships with fellow human beings?
Was anyone surprised by that outcome?

Or how about Google’s study on team effectiveness, which revealed that the most effective teams have emotional sensitivity and intelligence. Don’t we all know how important it is to work with people who care about each other?

We are now sitting at the edge of a global society that is overwhelmed, overworked, hyper-connected in a very impersonal way, and frankly, feeling helpless. Put simply, we have too much data and we simply cannot process it all. We have lost the balance between our intellect and intuition. For those who have been following the news, the world is beginning to respond to get back to balance, or in terms of science, homeostasis. The more recent popularity of Burning Man and self-expressive festivals, the mindfulness movement, the re-ignition around spirituality, work/life integration, and push for authenticity in the workplace is asking people to reconnect with what they can trust the most. Not data….but ourselves. Our own intuition, our own wonderful ability to understand something instinctively without the need for conscious reasoning, or in plain terms, “trusting our gut” or “going with a feeling”. We make decisions everyday based on our gut, but not in the workplace. In the workplace, we have abdicated responsibility to data to tell us “the truth”.

The Age of Intuition

My realistic optimism gives me hope that we as humans have adapted and endured and that we are at the edge of a very great global shift. The world of work will change. The data will simply be too much to handle, and we will, as history always tell us, revert back to the basics. As an evolved species, we will be asked to hone our intuitive skills to make decisions in such a complex world that no data will ever be able to make sense of it all for us. The Age of Intuition will demand that each of us ask ourselves the tough questions and build the trust amongst each other to follow our collective intuition without relying on the data, processes, and structures that have glued together our organisations today. The frameworks aren’t working anymore, and more than ever, we will have to work together. Our data driven world simply isn’t sustainable anymore.

Don’t let data take the lead, rather, let it support your intuition. The next time you find yourself running towards data, stop and ask yourself what your gut is telling you. To be a true innovator is to do something so radical that there is no data that can explain it. In our times, it has always been how the greatest leaders have shone. 

Other articles by Allison:

Image credits: Rights managed

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