Rabelais was probably one of the most imaginative writers of the European Renaissance era. In his famous book Pantagruel, he once wrote “Science without conscience is the ruin of the soul.” In my opinion, Rabelais’s sentence should really be engraved on innovation centers‘ walls as it epitomizes that “tech things” can’t do everything.
Almost every business in the world is undergoing their own digital journey, powered by easily understandable technology and new businesses models. But this gets to be a problem when every problem tries to be solved with these so-called “tech things.” When it comes to completing most repetitive tasks, tech seems to have an unfair advantage (take the Boston Dynamic’s video as an example of how robots can even seem human in the way they perform tasks). But where technology is not able to replace humans lies in the ability to create meaning. Outsourcing tasks to robotic automators might be good for the bottom line but it can be detrimental to the soul of a company.
This can first be manifested with employee attraction, retention and moral. Younger generations have been very vocal about their desire to work somewhere that gives them a sense of meaning, usefulness and personal fulfillment. Tech companies are the first to realize how important talent is to their ability to out innovate their competitors. The rest of the economy will soon follow suit. Companies of all types will increasingly have the obligation to focus on being human or else risk losing some valuable human capital.
Technology has a way of creating hierarchy and silos within organizations just as easily as it tears them down. To truly listen to employees, especially the ones tasked with the day to day operations, companies will have to be good listeners. Sometimes this means intuiting other’s emotions in a way that robots might never be able to do.
Another way that solving everything with “tech things” can hurt an organization is with its connection with the customer. The future is client-centric. Consumers will become so used to having the convenience and personalization in every part of their lives that they will come to expect a higher level of service. I was recently reading this article about the trend of having more, rather than less, building services be performed by a human and was struck by the term “human operating system.” We are so used to thinking about tech stacks that we often forget the important human process that must happen in order for buildings to provide their highest level of service.
I might be a little biased. First, because I am French. We have a history of high hospitality that has been exported around the world. In order to give this (dare I say “French”) level of service you need to have the kind of connection between the servicer and the services that can only happen through direct human interaction. I am also biased because I work in real estate. My company Covivio is a diversified European real estate operator with everything from residential to co-working. We try to remind ourselves constantly that the digital tools that can be so useful should not be idolized. In a consumer-driven business we have to understand the importance of keeping the human connection between us and the customers that we serve. Rabelais was right, science without a conscience has no soul and soul is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity.