The interaction between innovation and human labour doesn’t necessarily result in one triumphing over the other
Technological innovations and automation don’t necessarily eliminate human labour, but they certainly reshape it. This should be a simple and obvious fact, but it is actually the conclusion of a complex process analysing the current social, organisational and economic systems. What is happening today is what has always happened during previous industrial revolutions. Which is why it may be useful to read Reinventing Jobs: A 4-Step Approach for Applying Automation to Work, by Ravin Jesuthasan and John W. Boudreau.
The book is based on the professional experience of Jesuthasan (a member of the World Economic Forum’s Steering Committee on Work and Employment) and Boudreau (a professor of management and organisation at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business) and revolves around one main idea: in order to effectively introduce automation it is necessary to break down individual job positions, analyse the tasks and performance levels of each, and then decide what might be automated. There is no ‘replacement’ of labour, but rather a concerted attempt to rethink and reposition jobs within a productive organisation.
In other words, adopting automation in a company doesn’t mean eliminating people, but re-examining their work to pinpoint how it is structured and how it might be reconfigured and optimised.
The book discusses this sort of approach, combining theory and practice and ultimately arriving at the conclusion that the most successful business structures are those which manage to truly optimise the coexistence of human work and automation. The process is broken down into four basic steps: deconstruction of job position, assessment of its components, identification of automation possibilities, work optimisation through a combination of automation and human labour.
The two authors examine every aspect relative to the symbiosis of human work and automation, ending with a valuable piece of advice: ‘While we reflect on the staggering and rapid progress of work and automation, let’s remember that people are not powerless. The future of work is wholly in our hands. Using technologies to replace human jobs, strengthen them or create new ones is, and always should be, our own knowledgeable and informed choice.’
At about 150 pages, Jesuthasan and Boudreau’s volume is a quick and easy read, but its concepts deserve to be pondered carefully.
Reinventing Jobs: A 4-Step Approach for Applying Automation to Work
Ravin Jesuthasan, John W. Boudreau
Franco Angeli, 2019