Leadership and the 4th Industrial Revolution

Each industrial revolution was catalyzed by a significant world event, change or shift. One could argue that the advancement towards the 4th Industrial Revolution was accelerated by the pandemic. A global lockdown wherein 6 billion people were ‘cut-off’ from their world. They had no choice but to digitally connect on a large scale.

The 4th Industrial Revolution

4IR is a synthesis of AI (artificial intelligence), robotics, the Internet of Things, and so forth. 4IR has evolved and has affected a coming together of the physical and digital worlds. From a workplace and people perspective, the most significant impact will come from automation and AI. Automation implies that the nature of work for most people will evolve. Manual labour, routine tasks, low-level repetitive tasks, and certain industry jobs will disappear as automation and AI start to take over.

That is to say, this would open the opportunity for a different level of thinking and engagement from people, saving them from a life enslaved to the ‘grind’. Of course, organizations must be backed up by organizations willing to invest in people and advance their capacity to engage with the new technology.

What is Technology doing?

Stafford Masie says: “believing in technological progress is about believing in the potential of humankind”. He continues to say that “Technology is enabling abundance in everything”. Moreover, this abundance creates the resulting business model. Driving this, he says, is ever-present connectivity. In other words, the Internet of Things. However, he challenges us to rethink this concept, calling it the Internet in Things. “Machines do very little without us, they need us. We need to input data”. But, instead of large physical computers with numerous separate components, “the computer is disappearing”.

We are entering a future of connectedness. Where the cellphone in each person’s hand connects us to everything. Siri or Alexa knows the music we like. Furthermore, other inanimate objects sense our next thing.  Promoting behaviour change.

The next step, says Masie, is to become innovators ourselves. “We need to change South African culture away from consumption to creation”. Instead of getting your children a new phone, give them open-source technology so they can build the next iPad. In the same vein, let them hack the electronics in your home. And eventually contribute to and build the future technology.

Humanity in the 4th Industrial Revolution

He says the onus on leadership is not to understand technology more, but it is to understand humanity more. This new world needs humans but for different reasons. No longer would organizations need humans to perform repetitive and laborious motions. But rather, organizations will raise the level of human engagement. In addition, enable their contributions at high levels of innovative thinking.

From a study which Hamel conducted more than a decade ago, he found the human ability which grants competitive advantage to be:

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The first 3 qualities at the bottom of the pyramid, get the organization into the ‘game’. However, Passion, Creativity, and Initiative afford the real competitive advantage. These are the qualities that ignite innovation. And without leveraging 4IR, the benefit of our new world is powerless. It is guaranteed that leadership unlock and unleashes these qualities.

Can Artificial Intelligence replace everything?

AI and automation may displace routine and repetitive jobs. However, AI and automation cannot replicate initiative, creativity, or passion. This is reserved for humanity! It is the qualities or characteristics that technology cannot replicate. Which will become even more attractive and sought after. Resulting in significant differentiation for organizations.

While 4IR, technology, digitalization, and the virtual world may be the markers for post-pandemic workplaces – this will not change the reality that humanity will rise. That technology will enable us to recover our humanity, and triumph as humans. That is to say, offering the best of ourselves, not the ‘disenfranchised, disconnected, dehumanized’ versions of ourselves. Leaders offer us the bridge to crossover.

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