If we really want to robot-proof our jobs, we, as leaders, need to get out of the mindset of telling people what to do and instead start asking them what problems they’re inspired to solve and what talents they want to bring to work.” David Lee, TED@UPS, July 2017
Regardless of all of the discourse about how automation is the inevitable future of work, I must admit I had rarely thought of AI as being a concern for my career in journalism. Instead, I concerned myself with the more obvious worries; the impending death of legacy media, lack of jobs in the industry, and the fact that journalism is quickly becoming a career viable only for the wealthy.
But automation in journalism is a very real risk, just like it is in most other industries, and while it has been predicted that new jobs will be created to replace those taken over by AI, it’s still something I’ve started to consider. Automated journalism bots can aggregate large amounts of information exponentially faster and can more efficiently monitor worldwide trends than a human being, and in the 24-hour news cycle, efficiency is key.
I know that I value efficiency in my own workplace, as the assistant editor for a digital women’s publication. This is the value which I now understand is often bubbling under the surface when I come home exasperated after a long day at work, ranting and raving to my partner about all of the things which frustrated me that day.
In a 2017 TED Talk, writer Emily Esfahani Smith, explained what she found out about what made people happy.
“The fourth pillar [of a happy life] is storytelling, the story you tell about yourself. Creating a narrative from the events of your life brings clarity. It helps you understand how you became you.” Emily Esfahani Smith, TED2017
“Creating a narrative from the events of your life brings clarity”, she said. Later in the talk, she explained that people could change what stands out in their life stories:
“…just by reflecting on your life thoughtfully, how your defining experiences shaped you, what you lost, what you gained.” Emily Esfahani Smith, 2017, TED2017
This, to me, is very accurate. We do tend to live our lives through narratives, which is why I feel narrative practice, often used by in therapeutic settings to deal with trauma, is an effective way to learn about yourself and your values. We use small stories to interpret our feelings as “the buzz of sensory experience would overwhelm us without some frame of reference… so we collapse our experience into narrative structures, or stories, to make it intelligible,” (Springen 1995). This works within the self, and within the workforce.
By following the narrative principle of the “absent but implicit”, which involves really listening to someone’s story – or your own – to find what they’re not saying, which will reveal a hidden and implied value of the storyteller. During this process, we ask ourselves “What are the subjugated meanings that the problem story relies upon for its expression? How do these connect with stories of preference and how can we bring them forward?” (Carey, Walther & Russel 2006, p 3). This implicit value will reveal how we wish something was, which leaves us better prepared to take action resulting in the desired outcome.
Following the narrative map which aims to identify the absent but implicit element of stories, a particular “small work event where I was annoyed or frustrated” came to mind, as I experience it almost monthly.
My boss hates technology and each month she requests that I print the content schedule spreadsheet which is used by writers across the world so she can mark off stories as they are handed in. However, the spreadsheet is an ever-changing beast. If one of our New York writers has a question or amendment to a story, they leave a comment on the spreadsheet. It allows for writers to select from a drop-down menu when a story has been assigned, started, and handed in. All of these imperative functions are defunct if the sheet is printed at the beginning of the month.
But each month, I spend time printing the spreadsheet, and then constantly answering my bosses questions, queries and following up on issues she has with writers, which they have already addressed on the online spreadsheet, as requested of them. It is, in my opinion, a massive waste of my (already scarce) time.
When I spent time reflecting on this annoying work experience, the absent but implicit element of this story is that I clearly value efficiency, and want my workplace – which is made up of a team spread across different countries and time-zones – to run as smoothly as possible. Interestingly, even though my partner acknowledges I value efficiency at work, he pointed out that I am terrible at my own time management. I can efficiently run a global team of freelance writers, but when it comes to being efficient in my own personal life? Well, that’s a reflection for another time.
Considering one of my most valued – and marketable – work skills is efficiency, and the reality is I will never be as efficient as an AI, this could be cause for concern for me. But one aspect of the future of work is that robots will never be able to replace humans in terms of empathy or creative thinking, or a number of intrinsically human traits and skills.
Using narrative practices, like absent but implicit thinking, can help us to identify these values, and work on developing them so we are the best version of ourselves we can be, both in and out of the workplace.
Image from pixabay.com
Carey, M, Walther, S & Russell, S 2006, ‘The Absent but Implicit – a map to support therapeutic enquiry’, Adelaide, <http://narrativepractices.com.au/attach/pdf/The_absent_but_implicit_-_A_map.pdf>
Springen, K 1995, ‘Rewriting Life Stories’, Newsweek, published 16/4/1995, <https://www.newsweek.com/rewriting-life-stories-181860>