Why You Should Care That Facebook’s Getting Really Good at Facial Recognition

by Geoff Colvin

Thousands Gather For Mass Poker Tournament

It speaks volumes about your own tech strategy.

If you’re a CEO or manager in the U.S. right now, you know that technology is the big, secular factor holding the most danger and opportunity for your business. You’ve got really smart people in your company working hard on how technology can make you more competitive, help you avoid disruption, and maybe even let you disrupt other businesses.

But you should remember that even the smartest technology experts are consistently getting one thing wrong: the speed with which technology is advancing. Let’s take a look at the news of the past few days:

—Software developed at Carnegie Mellon University last week annihilated a group of the world’s best poker players in a No-Limit Texas Hold ’Em tournament. This is highly significant. Twenty years ago, IBM software beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov by modeling millions of scenarios per second. But that approach wouldn’t work against Go, a game too complex for modeling all possible scenarios; so Google combined neural networks and machine learning to beat world champion Lee Sedol last year. That shocked artificial intelligence experts. Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, wrote in Scientific American, “Such an event was prognosticated to be at least a decade away.”

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Three Big Mistakes Leaders Make When Managing Millennials

by Geoff Colvin

And how to fix them.

Millennials have become the largest demographic in the workplace. But managers of all ages have struggled to find the best way to connect with a wave of twenty- and thirtysomethings who do most of their typing with their thumbs, work wearing earbuds, and claim they can hold meaningful conversations while monitoring five open browser windows. Many leaders have fallen back on stereotypes about the generation (see the previous sentence), only to find that they’re neither true nor useful in managing.

So now what?

It’s time for Managing Millennials 2.0, based on finer distinctions derived from years of experience and current data. Three helpful insights stand out:

 Different Generations Aren’t Different Species.

On many important dimensions, millennials are remarkably like Gen Xers and baby boomers. Contrary to stereotype, in a recent IBM IBM 0.59% survey only 18% of millennials said “managing my work/life balance” is one of their top two career goals, vs. 22% of Gen Xers and 21% of baby boomers. Millennial employees are less likely than Gen Xers to use personal social media accounts for work purposes, says the same research. And millennials’ preferred method of learning new work skills is—brace yourself—face-to-face contact.

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Why Leaders Need to Know What Machines Can’t Do

by Geoff Colvin

Some jobs really must be automated; others need the human touch.

When stock markets plunged early this year, managers at USAA’s investments division noticed something odd. Customers who routinely conducted business online were suddenly lighting up the phones. USAA had nothing new to tell them—its fundamental advice hadn’t changed, and they could have found that guidance online. Yet clients deeply wanted to talk to a real human being, and never mind why. They just did.

That reality illustrates a high-stakes decision that confronts managers in every industry: choosing which employees must be replaced by technology and which must not be. Growing numbers of jobs at every level can be performed by ­machines—not just faster and more cheaply than humans can do them, but better. In many of those jobs, such as in factories, failing to replace people could doom a company through uncompetitive costs. Yet in other jobs that machines can do well, such as giving financial advice, replacing too many humans could be a fatal error. How to decide? Three situations in particular seem to justify the costs, and quirks, of people.

When customers value the human touch. Many decisions that in theory are calculable—where to invest, whether to sue, how to respond to a medical ­diagnosis—are in fact laden with emotion. Many people need to interact with a person before choosing a course of action. In finance, law, medicine, and other fields, workers who handle those interactions most adeptly will be the least susceptible to replacement.

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The Hardest Part About Running for President

by Geoff Colvin

Donald Trump

It’s the world’s longest, highest-stakes ironman triathlon.

Running for president must be one of the most stressful activities a person can engage in. I realize that firefighters, hostage negotiators, Navy SEALs, and others go through times of indescribable stress, but they pass. Running for president takes two years, and as far as I can tell, you never get to rest.

Now that New Hampshire is voting, the candidates must make hay in South Carolina and Nevada while also preparing for Super Tuesday, just three weeks from today, when 14 states choose convention delegates. Taking a break only damages your chances. It’s the world’s longest, highest-stakes ironman triathlon. That’s why, long ago, the political operatives who worked on the campaigns of John, Robert, and Edward Kennedy would check themselves into a hospital on the day after election day.

Our topic today is stress because it’s a centrally important issue for all leaders and it is, like sleep, an issue that big-deal leaders are supposed to laugh at. Sleep? Who needs it? Donald Trump claimed in a debate that he got along fine on three hours a night. Stress? It goes with the territory. Don’t whine about it. But in reality stress hurts you and can kill you, and, like sleep deprivation, it’s an issue that all leaders need to confront.

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Q & A with Geoff Colvin on Humans Are Underrated

with Geoff Colvin

Q: Many argue that robots will soon take all our jobs and make humans irrelevant. Yet you don’t hold this viewpoint – why not?

A: Because for sound economic reasons, we won’t want technology to do that. We are hardwired from our evolutionary past to value human relationships, and as a practical matter we must use those relationships to solve the most important human problems. Make no mistake – technology is profoundly reordering the value of human skills, and many people will continue to lose their jobs to technology. But the economy will reward people with different skills, primarily skills of human interaction.

Q: In fact, in the book, you write: “Viewed on the scale of the entire economy, technology’s advance indeed has not cost jobs, despite widespread fears. Quite the opposite.” Can you talk more about this?A: Technology has improved the material well-being of humanity more than any other force in history, by a mile. It has lifted billions of people out of poverty and has raised living standards spectacularly. Nothing else comes remotely close. Yet people have continually feared the effects of technology. Since those fears have always proved unwarranted, it’s tempting to dismiss today’s fears as just more of the same. But they aren’t.

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