Finding Human Purpose in an AI World


Happy New Year!

Lately, I have been engaged in conversations about how AI may change our work, our careers and our lives. What can we do to plan ahead? What will be automated? What will not be automated? Perhaps the better question is who will be automated. How do we prepare?

No bots were harmed in the writing of this article. :)

Okay, I may have been a little hard on Alexa in the last few days, but hopefully, she will forgive me. Happily, Alexa lacks impatience, anger, and ego (I think). Alexa does seem to also be short on reason, self-actualization, and purpose. Or is she? In the past year, Alexa, and a few of her algorithmic friends have shown us bias, manipulation, and some other hidden qualities, which even the folks who wrote the the algorithms, did not intend. AI seems to be seeking our attention, our time, and our decisions, based on values, which are not our own.

But this article is not about AI. It’s about humans.

I have been coaching several amazing people in the last few months to help them to figure out where they want to go in business, and more importantly, how to get there. I love this work and I am excited about helping people design purpose-driven work which starts now. My clients include a producer, a writer, an entrepreneur and a political candidate, all who want to leverage their energy and talents to change the world, or at least part of it. The projects are as exciting as the people and include building a new video network, accelerating a charitable organization, empowering youth to change the world and building a better city.

Invariably, we end up talking about qualities which cannot be automated because they are intrinsically human.

Here are just a few strengths which are helping my clients navigate change-

Creativity

Truth

Passion

Empathy

Integrity

Authenticity

These attributes may become increasingly important in the road ahead.

This past Fall, I was lucky enough to meet one of my heroes, Bruce Mau, who embraces all of these values every day. At EDIT DX, Bruce Mau curated an exhibition on Massive Change and led a workshop, which I was lucky enough to participate in. Bruce Mau grew up in Sudbury, Ontario and has been pushing the boundaries of design to change the world ever since. In a long-list of ambitious and successful projects, Bruce has re-designed a country, a university, a museum, and even Mecca. Bruce Mau has written/and or designed over 200 books on design, and won awards all over the world. If you want to learn more, I recommend Glimmer by Warren Berger or any of the big beautiful books by Bruce Mau.

David Byrne once accused Bruce Mau of being an ‘irrational optimist’, and yet if you look at what Bruce (or David for that matter) has accomplished so far, this is not a bad thing. Here’s what I learned from Bruce Mau this Fall, about looking forward. If changing the world is not on your to-do list, these principles also work for your business, your career or your life.

This is the best time in human history. In the last two centuries, those living in extreme poverty around the world has decreased from 94% to 10%. Those who have a basic education has increased from 17% to 86%. Global literacy has increased from 12% to 85%. Those living in a democracy has increased from 1% to 56%. Vaccination has increased from zero to 86%. Yes, there are still massive problems to solve, new wicked issues and lots of work to be done, but together, we have accomplished some good in the last 200 years. What are you going to change in your lifetime?

Social responsibility is not an office or a title. It’s a way of thinking about leadership. It’s what you do when no one is watching and it should be the responsibility of not just one person, but everyone in your company. It’s about who you are and who hire. Every action tells a story. Do what you say. Say what you do. Make life better for your employees, your customers and the world.

Design is not an island off the coast of reality. It’s good to begin with fact-based optimism. Start with humility and admit what you don’t know. Design is not about what you already know (that’s production.) A good question to ask is ‘what is the best we can do?’ Designers cannot afford the luxury of cynicism and neither can we. Always consider not just how it works but how it could work. And remember no failing means no learning.

Jump Fences. Technology is allowing us to explore the possibilities like never before. Get out of your environment and look at things differently. Don’t be afraid to ask why. Take the time to shut down your alerts, real or imagined, be where you are most creative and think about what is important. Plan to be great.

Designing (a great city) is more about responsibility than control. It’s about listening to all of the voices of those who live there and making things better for everyone. The world is now watching this country more than ever before. Let’s open up our diverse cities to greatness and empower hearts, minds and hands to dare to make bold moves.

You can’t go there alone. We need to stop taking ourselves so seriously. The task is to convince people to go somewhere they’ve never been. So talk to the people! Getting people on board and making it happen is half the job. Keep checking to ensure you are collaborating and building what people need. We are in this together.

Design is about solving problems. Ideally big ones. Design is not just about how it looks, Design is about what it does, what it is and why. Bruce Mau defines design as “the human capacity to produce desired outcomes.” It’s where art, science and empathy meet. In the past, design has been mistaken for matching luggage on the outside, and yet it’s also about the inside and the jouney. Today, design can change your mind, your life, your work, your path, your energy, your heart, your future and the world.

Time is Genetic. What you do tomorrow will affect today. It’s about attitude and action.

Tick Tock. Okay this one is my own mantra. It’s time to get started!

What are your strengths which cannot be automated?

Bots need not apply. :)

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