Don’t Eliminate Human Work. Enable It.

Eric Wilson

4 min read

May 26, 2022

Don’t Eliminate Human Work. Enable It.

There has been a lot said and written about the Future of Work over the last few years. And honestly, it all feels a little bleak, as if the Future of Work is one in which humans were made to be increasingly irrelevant. Most of the conversation revolves around eliminating repetitive tasks and automating undesirable work. It seems that the end goal of most of these shifts is to reduce the number of humans in the overall system. 

But what if we thought about it as an opportunity to amplify and empower humans as opposed to simply eliminating their work from the system? What if these shifts presented an opportunity to create a great environment for our people, one where they actually want to show up and work where they can be more efficient and effective?

What we’ve seen over the past few months of The Great Resignation has shown just how reliant businesses are on human work. Whether it’s truck drivers or programmers, teachers or retail operators, bankers or line cooks, a lack of human staff is preventing businesses from taking full advantage of market demands. 

Automation is here to stay

Now, we know that automation and increased efficiency are key to any digital solution, otherwise, organizations could not justify the start-up and maintenance costs. But what if we looked at automation through a slightly different lens? Automation may mean the elimination of some tasks that were done by humans. But maybe that’s not the ultimate goal, but rather a byproduct of creating a more efficient system. So, the project becomes more about maximizing and amplifying the work of the humans in the system than simply replacing them in it.

At Big Nerd Ranch, we have always seen our purpose as human enablement. We started out as a training company whose goal was to teach students how to write applications for the Mac ecosystem, and we have grown our services to include consulting and building applications for our clients. In both cases, our goal has been to enable humans through digital solutions and training.

Over our history, we have seen incredible examples of how digital solutions can empower humans and unlock their potential.

Human-centered and digital-first

We have worked with one of the giants of the foodservice industry. What makes this giant unique among its competitors (aside from its delicious end product) is that it places humans and the human experience at the center of everything it does. All it takes to see this in action is to visit one of their drive-thrus. 

I don’t know how many times I have pulled up to a massive drive-thru line and thought “this is going to take forever.” But somehow, I am always in, out, and on my way with a smile on my face. This is because team members are able to use digital tools to quickly and accurately take my order, make sure it’s right, and seamlessly pass that information on to the kitchen and prep staff. My food is delivered quickly and accurately, and I feel like I have been treated with kindness and respect throughout the process. 

Other chains, including McDonald’s and Wendy’s, are taking the approach of looking to eliminate the human element from their drive-thru altogether. This may save on operating costs in the short term, but is it going to create a better experience for guests? Will it allow their employees to provide better and more efficient service? Will it increase customer loyalty? I don’t know the answer to all of those questions, but I would prefer to bet on humans + machines as opposed to the machines alone.

Digital enablement of the human effort

We also had the opportunity to see firsthand how human enablement can empower pilots serving in some of the highest pressure jobs out there. Being a Navy pilot is an incredibly demanding job and one that is directly tied to national defense, so you might think that Navy pilots are always equipped with the latest and greatest technologies. You would be wrong.

One of the most critical pieces of gear for a pilot is their flight bag. This contains all of the mission details, objectives, and things they need to watch out for as they are completing the mission. But instead of this information being available digitally, it consists of a spiral-bound notebook and a pencil. 

We had the opportunity to partner with SoarTech and the US Navy to reimagine this experience for pilots, to create an electronic flight bag that would serve up this mission-critical data digitally, decreasing the need for clunky paper and pencil and allowing for a more robust experience.

The Future of Work is empowering humans. 

Machine learning, digital solutions, and automation are a feature of modern life and will continue to be as businesses look for ways to increase productivity and reduce costs. But if we change the lens through which we approach these problems, we have the opportunity to create a business future where humans are at the center of the system and where their work is valued and amplified. That’s the kind of future we’re interested in building here at Big Nerd Ranch.

Eric Wilson

Author Big Nerd Ranch

Eric joined Big Nerd Ranch in the spring of 2019 to lead the training initiatives and brings a wealth of experience in both training and consultancy work.

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