Tim Leberecht begins his TED talk (“Four Ways to Build a Human Company in the Age of Machines”) by stating “Half of the human workforce is expected to be replaced by software and robots in the next twenty years.” He posits that AI brings a level of efficiency to organizations that humans do not. “Humans are complicated and difficult to manage…If machines take our jobs and do them more efficiently, soon the only kind of work left for humans is work that must be done beautifully rather than efficiently. To maintain our humanity in this second machine age, we may have no other choice than to create beauty.”

As change practitioners, creating beauty is rarely on our radar screen. Our tendency is to focus on deliverables and, for some, outcomes. While our change approaches may speak to “individual contributors,” we often fail to address change at the individual, the human, level. Rather, we identify stakeholder groups and constituencies, job titles, functions, etc. And in doing so, it fails to address the beauty that Leberecht identifies as so necessary in the future.

How do you create organizational beauty? Leberecht identifies four elements. While he is not addressing us as change practitioners, each of these elements could be built into our approach to change.

  1. Do the unnecessary: “Create something out of nothing,” said Leberecht. He cites the example of Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya’s decision to grant stock to all full-time employees. “When you cut the unnecessary you cut everything.”
  2. Create intimacy: Leberecht states that how we feel about our workplace is based on our relationships with our co-workers, and those relationships are built on numerous micro-interactions.
  3. Be ugly: Referencing Dorothy Parker’s quote, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone,” Leberecht advocates for allowing and even fostering ugly. “Speak the actual ugly truth.” He offers the example of one manufacturer that identified all the issues that had become obstacles to better performance. They are all tacked up in the “Ugly Room,” and they were addressed.
  4. Remain incomplete: “Beautiful organizations keep asking questions…They avoid becoming banal.”

Leberecht points out that doing the unnecessary, creating intimacy, being ugly, and remaining incomplete are inherent human characteristics, and are at the root of both beautiful families and beautiful organizations. He concludes by stating that “in the face of AI we need a new radical humanism.”

As a change practitioner, what are the unnecessary things that you can bring to your practice that bring more beauty, more humanity, to the individual change experience? What can you do to foster greater intimacy for those going through change? How committed are you to speaking truth to sponsors (and others), even when it is ugly? How do you encourage continuing questioning? How do you bring “radical humanism” into your change practice?

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