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Putting the ‘bots’ in Botswana?

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

A recent article had me reminiscing about my childhood and what jobs have disappeared since then and this subject of vanishing work functions and future careers re-emerged this week when I was interviewed about the future world of work – what it will look like and how, therefore,  HR managers should be preparing in anticipation.

It’s called the Fourth Industrial Revolution because it is the fourth major workplace and job function realignment since the original  industrial revolution of the 18th Century. It is characterized by a fast-moving fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres, collectively referred to as cyber-physical systems. Because of technology, its advances and the speed of it and how it affects us in every way, these disruptive technologies and trends such as the internet, virtual reality, artificial intelligence etc. will and are changing the way that we live and work.

This has many implications for HR Managers and indeed for people interested in what and how we will utilise humans in the future. The most immediate and obvious impact is that millions of jobs which will simply disappear as organisations decide which processes to automate and which human functions to replace with robots.  We have moved on from the scaremongering of the 80s and 90s which prophesied that computers would take over the world and make us all redundant. Such a reversal of roles is a quantum leap of reality and those sceptics were always rebuffed with the reassurance that there will always be jobs for humans and while that’s true the pertinent question remains, which ones?

As it gathers momentum how does one prepare for the 4th industrial revolution of data analytics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing etc. New jobs are being created – I can think of several such as app developer and social media marketer – and there is a hoard of the very familiar jobs disappearing. This became especially apparent when I was in Europe recently. We were planning a big trip the following day and wanted to fill up the car with petrol rather than attend to it in the morning.

So, at 10pm I went to the petrol station where the entire process and transaction took place without any human interaction:  no petrol attendant, no cashier, no security. I was struck by its simplicity (and retrospectively how quick it all is if you take people out of the mix). The other incident happened the following day when I wanted to use a public toilet, but found it was closed for cleaning. The sign on the door said this would take approximately 20 minutes. What was interesting was that the toilet cleaned itself.

It went into lock down mode and in a process which I guess is like a washing machine, it gives itself a good hose down and disinfect and then through fans and heaters it dries and voilà, it’s open for business again. A ‘Wow’ for me but, self-cleaning public toilets are already a common sight in European cities.

It is obvious that most manual labour and unskilled jobs will disappear – many are already  gone from  agriculture and manufacturing, more so by the day. Earthbound Farms in California has robot arms that put organic lettuce into clamshell containers. They are so fast that each robot replaces two to five workers at the company.Boeing uses giant machines to make its wide-body commercial jets, finding them more precise and safer than human  workers. Royal Philips Electronics, which manufactures electric shavers more complex to make than smartphones, uses robots encased in glass cages on top of which are perched video cameras.  And the list goes on.

Then there are jobs which just cant justify an additional human component on the chain as they have been replaced by the ease of self-service, causing disruptive changes in the market – think travel agents (as people do their own flight and hotel bookings) and secretaries (as managers handle our own mail, appointments etc), postal delivery, bank teller, the list goes on.  

What we know for certain is that if technology can manage a process more efficiently than we can,  then the tech option will be adopted and that job will fall away which leaves us to deploy humans to jobs which computers can’t (and that’s why artificial intelligence is so scary and why we have movies that even postulate a scenario where you can have a relationship with a computer). Science fiction stuff, you may say, but when I see how addicted to their smart phones people are, Facebook and Snap chat I am thinking that anything is possible.

There is even the story of Senji Nakajima, who claims he enjoys the 'perfect' relationship with 'Saori' a blow up doll – even taking the dummy out shopping to buy it fancy outfits – despite the fact that he is married to a woman with whom he has two children. Senji, 61, from Nagano, lives with his life-size doll in his apartment in Tokyo where he enjoys a physical relationship with it – but he claims he is happy because his plastic companion isn't 'after only money'. Based on that don’t rule out a digital relationship!

The best way to predict where the future lies is to see trends which can act as a sign of where we are going and then adapt our world of work and education to that future. It’s almost certain that jobs in the green environmental sectors will be huge, the mental health field has exploded – once a territory ringfenced for psychiatrists and psychologists we are seeing the need for mental health counsellors in a range of organisations.  When it comes to education, we need to overhaul it completely.

Our current system spends so much time and effort into teaching children how to answer questions instead of how to ask questions (and computers are lousy at asking questions). Problem solving and critical thinking skills will be the skills in most demand…and then adding judgment into the mix (computers are also lousy a prioritising and determining what’s important).

As remote and flexible workers will become more commonplace  there is a need to teach students true team working so that they will be adaptable and cooperative enough to work in multi-disciplinary teams where there is less familiarity within the team members and often cultural differences which means that an advanced level of inter-personal skills and cooperativeness is required in order to be effective and accepted – in other words being on your best behaviours – which currently many employees don’t bother about in their all too comfortable job and familiar  team environment (not sure a computer can do that either!).

What this all boils down to is that for now and far into the future, machines and robots work for and on behalf of mankind, not the other way round, relieving their human masters and mistresses of menial or repetitive tasks, freeing up humans for critical-thinking functions.  And let’s face it, no-one wakes up one day and decides that what they really want to do in life is clean lavatories!

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DIS Parley Committee selection disingenuous 

25th November 2020

Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.

This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.

The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.

On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members.  The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.

The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed.  The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.

The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.

If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.

So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.

The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption.  Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.

The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus.  So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS.  They demand a start from a clean slate.

The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.

Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.

Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.

In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.

Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.

The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.

There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.

But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.

There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.

He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.

The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.

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The Maccabean Uprising

25th November 2020
Jewish freedom fighters

 Jews drive away occupying power under the command of guerrilla leader Judas Maccabees but only just

Although it was the Desolation Sacrilege act, General Atiku, that officially sparked the Maccabean revolt, it in truth simply stoked the fires of an already simmering revolution. How so General?

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Columns

Atomic (CON)Fusion

25th November 2020

For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way. 

I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However,  the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’.  Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.

No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.

I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century.  Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?

The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.

In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”

The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying  ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.

  • Nothing happens until something moves
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started

and

  • Act or be acted upon

All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD!  This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.

To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts:  *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide.  What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. ..so they end up driving around in circles’.

As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.

JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated.  Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”

2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.

.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.

Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!

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