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How Human is Automation?

By Mike Bonifer 2 years ago
Home  /  Organizational Effectiveness  /  How Human is Automation?

Sarah Brennan, who has a popular HR Technology blog, recently wrote about the state of HR Tech in the wake of a downdraft in the LinkedIn stock price.

Around the same time, I began hearing buzz around HR automation, which sounds, to my ear, like an oxymoron, like the work it does is turn humans into automatons. Organizational storytelling can keep that from happening.

My history as a storyteller is rooted in Disney. One of the great joys of working at Disney when I started there was watching the legendary Disney animators animate by hand, with pencils, on paper, a practice that was in its last days at that time. Animation was getting automated, like HR is today. It was like working at the buggy factory when the internal combustion engine came along–a huge change in how work got done, and in the skills required of the workers doing it.

Today, take away the cartoony accoutrement, and we’d be hard-pressed to tell Disney’s animators’ workspaces from those of its IT developers. This is where the enterprise HR tech solutions don’t do it for me. They flatten work that’s already been flattened onto screens. Consequently, they can be like another coat of paint on organizations already wearing a lot of coats. More splatters of color on start-ups whose operations already look like Jackson Pollack paintings from all the investor input.  On global companies for whom the color of the new coat always a neutral shade, and the idea of Yet Another Enterprise Paint Job dismays their employees and flattens them emotionally.

The opportunity we are seeing with HR tech is to dimensionalize it in our workspaces. What do we mean by that? You know how CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) added dimension to the old Disney hand drawn style of animation? Advances in technology made all kinds of new effects possible. Shading, lighting, movement, textures, depth–all these new dimensions made the animation more lively, and engaged audiences as never before. Our opportunity today is to do that, not for Wreck-It-Ralph, but for ourselves. How? The same way the animators do. With storytelling. The different being that ours is not story-as-product like it is for an animation studio, ours is the living story of the organization.

The leaders of a storytelling organization use story as a primary sensemaking and guidance system. Storytelling helps them get more value out of data by contextualizing it quickly and intuitively. It adds emotion, meaning and a sense of purpose to the operations of the company and to its customer communication. Story is the beating heart of the organization.

One day, there will be a CEO of a successful global company whose workspace will look more like a music studio than what we think of today as an office. Every working day, she will compose and perform 30 minutes of music. Some days it will be a solo performance. Other days it will be in groups that can range in size from two to 200. On occasion, she will deejay, and play mashups of other peoples’ music. Instead of a conference room, she will have a concert room. The workspace will be wired to translate the CEO’s music algorithmically into different functional languages that are shared across the enterprise, offering insights, guidance, and context for operational activities. The CEO knows her communication will resonate with her company’s network, because that’s what stories do, and her music is a story engine.

We’ve seen enough slivers of this future to know it’s a possibility.  World building, intelligent workspaces, biomimicry, VR , AR, improvisation, MIDI, Agile development, Minecraft, Walmart’s morning chant, gamification, Narrative Science, neuroscience–it all works in the direction of the future CEO who’s as much an artist/storyteller as a strategic thinker. For now, it’s fiction. It’s a better future, anyway, than filling out fields in flat forms all day long, in a Brazil-Meets-Office Space movie, a dark comedy about enterprise HR Automation designed to make humans more like machines, instead of the other way around.


  Organizational Effectiveness, Process, Solutions
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 Mike Bonifer

  (57 articles)

Mike Bonifer is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer for bigSTORY, a company of strategists & practitioners who are first in the world to utilize quantum storytelling, an emerging organizational science that accounts for how stories are created, live in networks, and influence behaviors. Throughout his professional life, Bonifer has been in the forefront of emerging storytelling practices and technologies. As the publicist on Tron, the author of The Art of Tron, and the writer and producer of Computers are People, Too, he explained computer-generated imagery to the analog world. As a founding producer of The Disney Channel, he pioneered the Walt Disney Company’s entrance into cable television with the legendary documentary series, Disney Family Album. As the producer of the award-winning website for Toy Story, he introduced movie fans around the world to Pixar’s extraordinary storytelling. He co-founded Network LIVE, which lives on as Control Room, producer of some of the biggest online music events in the world, including 2007’s Live Earth concerts for the environment, for which he served as Chief Storyteller. In 2007, he wrote and published GameChangers – Improvisation for Business in the Networked World, and, with Dr. Virginia Kuhn of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, co-founded GameChangers, a learning company that applied improvisation to business communication. His work with GameChangers dramatically improved the performances in units of companies such as Skype, Gap Inc. The Walt Disney Company, United Airlines Media, Gawker Media, NetApp and GE. He has conducted university workshops in Public Health, Entrepreneurship, Engineering, Sociology and Cinema; collaborated with Alan Alda on a workshop for the Viterbi School of Engineering at USC; explained quantum storytelling to physicists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; coached Ron “The Gangster Gardener” Finley on his famous TED Talk on urban gardening; and returned to his old hometown in Indiana, to tell stories about the legendary smalltown Hoosier baskeball team, his childhood heroes,The Ireland Spuds. He was the featured storyteller at the 2014 San Miguel International Storytelling Festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He and his son, Alex, perform a two-person improv act called BonBon, the only father-son comedy improv act in the world (that they know of). In 2015, he will tour Panama, Guatemala and Nicaragua on behalf of the Notre Dame Executive Education program. With bigSTORY, Bonifer and Jeremi Karnell have created a home for one of the most remarkable advances in storytelling of our lifetimes. A way of seeing the world through the lens of the stories we create together. A theory that accounts for the brilliant possibilities that await us when your story and my story become our story.