One of my favorite things to do on Friday mornings is to listen to Matt Heinz and Brent Adamson’s “Coffee with Brent/Matt.” If you aren’t watching it, you should. It’s huge fun–and every once in a while they get onto some really interesting issues.
Brent made a comment, “There’s room for humanity in business…..”
It struck me oddly, my initial reaction was, “Well duhhhh! Thanks for the insight, Brent.” (One of my missions in life is to harass Brent, and he, gleefully, reciprocates.).
But on reflection, I realized that his observation is an indication of how “we”–all of us, have lost our way.
Business and commerce exist because and for people! It’s all about people seeking to achieve, seeking to satisfy the wants, needs, dreams of each other. Business is would not exist if some group of people wanted to do something and another group of people could help them do that (either through buying or selling.)
Try to imagine a business world–completely devoid of people. Would ChatGPT and Bard, start prompting each other for ideas on how deal with Bing? Would Pi and Chatsonic conspire to seize share from ChatGPT, Bard, and Bing? Why would they care? What objectives would they have in doing it? What revenue objectives would they have? Would they independently go to a buying bot to purchase more servers to support more conversations? Do they even have Venmo or Paypal accounts so they can pay each other? Does ChatGPT charge Bard $20/month for it’s coaching and advice?
These tools and technologies, any tool technology, doesn’t exist for their own benefit, they exist to serve the needs of people who use the tools. Perhaps They make these people more efficient. Perhaps doing things humans can’t easily do. Perhaps to enable humans to spend their time on doing things that only humans can do. But the need for these tools would be non-existent if it weren’t for people.
And this extends to any tool or technology. They are created by people to serve people, directly or indirectly.
Business is about and for people. Business exists only because of people wanting to do something, wanting to change, wanting to grow, wanting achieve.
Why is the statement, “There is room for humanity in business,” be so profound?
I think that it’s an indication of how badly “we” have gone off target. We’ve forgotten about people interacting with people. We’ve forgotten that if we don’t have this interaction, there is no need for business.
The issue of whether there is room for humanity in business is not an issue about the technology. It’s an issue about people interacting with each other and how too many are trying to “dehumanize” these interactions.
We are driven to mechanize everything we do. While much of that is good, it frees people to do things that only people can do, we have mechanized and dehumanized our engagement with those people. People are replaceable widgets. If one isn’t performing the way we want, we replace that person. People want to be heard, they want to be valued, and if they don’t find it in the organization they work for, they go someplace else, and then another place, and then another place. People thrive on true “connection.” (Not connections.)
Increasingly, we find human to human interactions too messy and time consuming. So we start to displace those with machine to human reactions. And people feel know longer feel heard, that they don’t count. They don’t feel included or cared for. They are frightened or confused, they need help. They may not understand, they may be blind to an opportunity.
I decided to have a conversation with ChatGPT. I mean, who needs people. I posed the question, “Is there room for humanity in business….”
The conversation was disappointing. As I asked questions, ChatGPT made statement after statement. It provided best practices and “insights” that one could read in any business book, personal development book, whatever. Nothing I didn’t know or hadn’t read anywhere.
But the big missing thing was the fact that ChatGPT never posed a question. “Dave, can you explain a little more about why you are asking this question? Has something happened in your interaction with clients? Is there something that has happened that causes you to ask this? Why is this so important to you now, you’ve never asked me before?” It never sought to understand more deeply, never cared about why I asked the questions and what I wanted to achieve. It didn’t seek to understand me. It gave me principles and issues to think about, but didn’t provide me a framework about which one or two might be important for me.
Understanding these are key to our business success. We know that business is not the exercise of logical answers, facts and data. We know people struggle, they don’t know what they should be doing, they don’t know what they should be thinking about, they don’t have confidence, they are confused and overwhelmed.
We see research study after research study identifying why people fail to buy, why a project may fail, why a business may not achieve it’s goals. The facts and data are seldom the issue, but how people respond to and act on those is usually the issue.
Yet, we continue to design the humanity out of our processes. Perhaps, because it’s messy and inefficient. Perhaps because our own vulnerabilities, uncertainties, and fears arise in these conversations.
But we seem committed to a path of designing humanity out of business, failing to recognize, if it weren’t for other humans, we would not be able to achieve our goals or even conduct business.
The fact that Brent and so many others are asking the question, “Is there room for humanity in business,” is a huge red flag for all of us.