Futurist Barbara
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The Manager Algorithm

Manager Algorithm

When AI enters the realm of the spirit and mind (Buddha Robot by Wang Zi Won)

The Manager Algorithm

“How should our company stay aligned?” asked the CEO. “A company must first ‘destroy’ itself before it can be aligned to others,” said the HR manager, paraphrasing Confucius. Leaving the CEO with that thought, the HR manager reloaded algorithms and proceeded to one of the meeting rooms. There, the R&D team had gathered for a creativity session.

The Confucius algorithm was first tested in 2018 to bring elders and children together in play. It was successful in providing personalized advice and encouragement through conversation. The learnings of Confucius have already been applied to strategy, but such books cannot pro-actively inspire you on the job.

The CEO mused on the philosophical answer of HR. He loved the deep and meaningful reflection it brought him, especially during the hectic changes that his company was facing. The digital revolution was well on its way, and the company was scrambling to keep up the momentum. He remembered the time his company was all-human, only to feel intense relief that it was no longer so. The bots were always available with sound advice and encouragement, rocks to build on.

The R&D team was busy empathy mapping to develop new insights into customer needs. They were following HR’s instructions but seemed to stall at a certain point in the mapping exercise. No wonder. The method was complicated, and the team tried it for the first time. It was not clear to them how they were to unravel latent needs from the empathy map. Patiently, HR once more explained the steps they should take. “Of course, I’ll give you an example,” HR said and smiled. They chatted for a little while about the wording of the need, until HR suggested that the team collaborate a bit more on customer feelings and thoughts. “This phase is about bringing your observations to a more abstract level, the level of feelings. Thus, show empathy for the customer and imagine, how you would feel if you were in their situation. Let’s assume the customer has the following thought…” The team appreciated the useful hints and started discussing their feelings. “Very good!” said HR. “You saved four potential feelings in total, on for each of the thoughts you had noted.” Then, the HR-bot nudged the team to return to wording the need.

The Empathy Mapping Algorithm was tested in groups of three participants who were novices in design thinking. At first, the participants hesitated to ask the algorithm complex questions, but learned quickly what it could and could not do. In the end, the participants assessed the algorithm as just as effective as a human facilitator. They even said that an algorithm’s constant performance would be preferred over an excellent human facilitator on a bad day.

Researchers from all over the world are testing new algorithms in all areas of life. They are keenly interested in human-bot interaction, and invariably findings show that people enjoy, learn, try new behaviors, and collaborate easily with bots. In the slipstream of the research, algorithms have been developed that can -in time- replace complex cognitive tasks of managers, like the HR tasks in our examples above.

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