If the complexity and speed of information processing is going to radically increase in the coming year, as predicted by Google, where does that leave us as humans?
According to business philosopher Anders Indset with whom I spoke, the predicted breakthroughs in quantum computing in 2019 present a major crossroads for humanity. Says Indset, “As bewitching as the forecasts of millions of new jobs may sound, and as promising Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain in many ways actually are, if we do not adapt our economic “operating system” as soon as possible, we could fall by the wayside even in this battle of algorithms.”
As I discussed in my Global Drucker Forum article on human ingenuity in the digital age, finding collective meaning and purpose in how we create is one thing machine learning will never take from humanity . Indset agrees, “Philosophy at its core is about our personal search for meaning and wisdom. It’s about forming subjective, validated and sound perceptions of the world. By reading philosophy and learning its basics, we will remain open to learning, and that will lead to healthy dialogue.”
To Norwegian-born Indset, philosophy allows us to return to digging deeper for understanding. He believes technology, for all its benefits, is hijacking our ability to listen, to wonder, to explore nuances in the world. He says, “Humanism is the core structure of philosophy, and technology is trying to drive it out.”
For all of the advances technologies like AI can bring, most still fear it. When prominent leaders like Elon Musk declare it as “our greatest existential threat,” it’s no wonder the vast majority of people fear technologies that could replace them, or worse.
Indset believes the best alternative to fear and succumbing to technological threats is an even greater embracing of all that makes us human. Our ability to reason. Our capacity for compassion. Our willingness and courage to engage in real dialogue. And he believes philosophy as a discipline can help us return to those human fundamentals. “Philosophy in business is becoming a movement, (as I first wrote about here when Thinkers50 declared it management’s new frontier). People are starting to love philosophy now and see it as a renaissance of new, young business thinkers. It will help create the enlightenment we need to move toward a society of understanding (vs. just knowledge). We’re making philosophy sexy again. You can see the results in people having a deeper sense of purpose again .”
The mandate for leaders is patently clear when viewed through the lens of philosophy. To shape cultures where people feel deeply cared for, not exploited or dispensable. To invite dialogue that opens dissent instead of imposing answers. Here are three philosophical principles leaders can embrace to stem the downsides of technological advances in the coming year.
Embrace your vulnerability to change. When organizations get stuck, a leader’s instinct is often to impose change as a mandate. But Indset says, “Leaders need to break up old structures and belief systems. If the corporation is being forced to change, and is really suffering, leaders must learn to let the pain force vulnerability and openness to learning. Too many companies are just on auto pilot and numb from the pain that can teach them.” To be sure, change of any kind is often painful. But being honest about the pain, and especially its origins, enables fresh perspectives to emerge and helps avoid getting deeper into the ditch.
Open yourself to bigger questions of meaning. The workplace is starved for a sense of meaning, and leaders have the opportunity to create it. But they first have to create it for themselves. And that requires making time to reflect. Indset says, “Maybe you can cancel a few meetings and read some Plato or Hegel instead? Or maybe you would like to plan time for reflection and block a “thinking hours” weekly in your calendar from now on? Maybe you can find room for one or two retreats next year when planning your budget? Philosophical contemplation is the best way to open yourself to questions of meaning and purpose. In 2019, we must begin to draw up the outlines of a new economy that can also form the basis of our future coexistence.”
Have a “why” for all you do. In a world of ever-increasing efficiencies where a lot of thinking is being outsourced to machines, a leader’s capacity for rational thinking may be dulling. Questioning “why” you are doing something – everything – is more important than ever. You must have sound values and philosophies undergirding your choices that others can decode. If too many people around you are privately questioning your actions, asking “Why on earth did he do that?” then it’s a clear sign that your “why” is undetectable. People should be able to identify the core belief structures that guide your actions, making them more confident in the ethical and rational compass that informs your choices.
This also ensures that when there is conflict, you have a way to explain your views without imposing them. Says Indset, “Leaders must be conscious humans. They have to get past the b.s. of business and start offering genuine views on why they act as they do. Stop trying to win arguments and start being curious to learn.” When people can inherently understand your “why” behind the choices you make, they gain confidence. When they have to ask “why” it puts leaders on the defensive about their choices, forcing them to make up answers that only further dilute the confidence of those that must carry out the decision.
There’s no question that technological changes in the years ahead will come at blinding speeds. For leaders to shape environments where people feel confident, not fearful, they can weather the technological onslaught, they need well-grounded philosophies to inform their leadership. Drawing from ancient wisdom to form those is a great place to start.