Human Robots | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Posted On November 2, 2015

Much of the industrial arbitrage industry is based on developing tight and clear SOPs (standard operating procedure) for work, putting it into large factories in India where very bright people are asked to operate with tightly defined parameters and conform to them very rigorously and then go home. Unfortunately, in doing so, we inadvertently created human robots.

We put these people in air-conditioned environments, restrict their capability for independent thought and expect flawless execution from them. How is this different from a robot?

Why don’t we go the whole way and automate those functions now performed by human robots? We’ve done all the preparation. We have the procedures defined. We’ve eliminated the variability. Why don’t we just go to the next stage? In fact, I think that will happen.

Vishal Sikka, CEO at Infosys, is the person who first brought to my attention his observation that in many respects we treat our most precious resources like robots and operate them like machines. This speaks well for both his insight and also for Infosys in moving to address this issue.

Although the human robots model created real value for customers as well as service providers and also created employment for hundreds of thousands of people, it also had some negative effects. People don’t want to be treated this way.

We need to allow these people who have been conditioned into robotic types of behavior to think on the right side of their brains as well as the left side of their brains. We need to liberate this very talented workforce from their highly constrained environment and tap into their creativity, which separates humans from robots.

Another effect of the human robots model is that it opens the door to full automation and changing the method of service delivery. With automation, we no longer need human robots. But then what do we do with these people?

I think we need to create a fundamentally different people model. We need people with different skills that are not robotic in nature. It will change how we recruit, train, incent, measure, and manage people. And it will require change in the way we provide for context, connection, and communicating with customers and engaging in problem solving.

Adam Smith, a Scottish philosopher about the market economy, warned that people who perform a few simple operations in which the effects are nearly always the same have no occasion to exert understanding in removing difficulties or applying inventions and consequently lose the habit of such exertion.

Besides heeding Smith’s warning, automation is here and forcing the services industry to change. It will be interesting to watch the development of a different people model that can deliver even more value than the human robots provided for many years.

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