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Pushing the Possibilities of Human Performance


At the moment, we are faced with unprecedented opportunities due to advances in knowledge about human beings and the development of technology to fully leverage the possibilities of Human+Technology@Work, and set new standards of excellence in all domains of work and practice. However, we need to start thinking differently about work, specifically, what Humans@Work do, how Technology@Work can push the possibilities of their performance, and introduce or deploy that technology to allow highly personalised levels and quality of adoption that empowers and unleashes the impact on performance.

There is no doubt that technology and digitalisation are redefining jobs. As a creative media technologist, my relationship with technology and thus perspective of it always seems to be, should I say, different, and I thought I’d share that perspective.

For years, advances in science and technology have constantly challenged and pushed the boundaries of what was deemed possible for a human being. While some see technology as a threat, replacing human beings, I prefer to see it as scaffolding action, augmenting capability and expanding capacity in one form or another. Regardless of whether one adopts a threat or opportunity perspective of this trend, it remains a certainty.

In the past, we experienced massive shifts in the scaffolding of human physical actions and augmentation of human physical capabilities with machines, and more recently, robots, solving transportation and logistical challenges, taking over specific steps in the manufacturing process or the complete process, and so on.

With digital and computing technology developments, we have been experiencing massive augmentation of cognitive capacity and capabilities. For example, knowledge is less about what you know and more about what you can find out, particularly by the type of questions you are asking.

Now, we see an increase in what I’d describe as affective (emotional) augmentation. Our use of technology increases our emotional engagement with the work, opening up a new level of human ability. I believe emotions are the key to unlocking human creative potential, passion, confidence, courage, all of which are key to creativity, especially in dealing with and solving life’s problems. Expanding the creative potential in people through technology augmentation will scale the human ability to create new and innovative solutions to problems, including adaptive and wicked problems!

The work done by humans is not going away; in fact, it continues to increase (not reduce) in value due to Technology@Work. The challenge is that most technology and digitalisation projects tend to focus on the technology addressing some organisational efficiency and productivity goals. Inadvertently, focusing on efficiency and productivity emphasises eliminating Humans@Work. We need to shift our focus to Human+Technology@Work, which will emphasise empowering Humans@Work. Doing this means as the capabilities of Technology@Work increase, so too do the possibilities of what the Humans@Work can achieve.

In essence, the “Human+Technology@Work” perspective is really about “returning human-ness to work”, something I must say from my experiences, we are still struggling to do. In many cases, I feel professionalism still seems to be associated with a lack of emotions or not showing emotions (though not stated this way), which is opposite to what is required if work is becoming increasingly about exploring creative potential.

To realise the potential value of Humans+Technology@Work, we first need to embrace and encourage the human, the whole person, to return to work. Then the physical, mental and emotional capability requirements to do the work need to be intelligently coupled with appropriate technology.

The specific approach to coupling will differ based on the type of work and human activities being scaffolded and capabilities augmented. Coupling to scaffold physical activity like in manufacturing processes augments common physical actions which are not person-specific. In contrast, coupling to scaffold emotional dimensions of work activities augments affective (emotional) processes and is dynamic, adaptive and extremely personalised. With emotional augmentation, you can’t predetermine how people will use the technology or what it will mean to them. You actually encourage people to explore the affordances of the technology in support of their work activities, effort levels and goals. The focus is not the technology but their goals.

To realise the value of Human+Technology@Work on creative performance, we need to target emotional augmentation. In targeting emotions, at a minimum, we expect to see the impact on the performer’s discovery of intentionality, increasing goal-orientedness, and developing a problem-solving mindset. Next, in the pursuit of increasingly clear results and solutions, the individual will leverage technology to scaffold actions and augment capabilities, pushing the limits of the results they can achieve in that specific domain of practise or work.

So, in summary, to embrace digitalisation and Technology@Work, the focus should not be on the technology but the Human@Work. We need to spend a lot more time exploring and working out why a human being is required to do that job, and by doing this, we will focus more on the purpose, meaningfulness and value of the work. We need to think about Technology@Work as a way to empower workers, augment human capabilities and unleash new possibilities of performance, not simply as a way to improve organisational efficiency or productivity.

In conclusion, when we make realising the possibilities of Human+Technology@Work our goal, two realities and related opportunities become visible

Reality one: Every human at work matters. As long as there is a Human@Work, there is assumed to be exceptional value and possibilities of performance associated with having that human Being doing that work.

Reality two: Human+Technology = Pushing the possibilities of performance. When Technology@Work is perceived not as a threat but as an augmentation of capacity and capability (physical, mental and emotional), it becomes a force for pushing the boundaries or limits of what is considered possible at any point in time.

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