The “Machine” Does Not Have the “People” Answer
In my 40+ years of success in business, sales, and leadership at the highest levels, I have discovered that technology is both a blessing and a curse. In its purest form, it helps us skip to the right answer with a single keystroke; in its worst form, it diminishes our basic ability to think logically and leverage critical-thinking skills. It’s this “worst form” that is most concerning because, in the corporate world, you cannot have lasting career success without people or people skills.
As a retired bank executive navigating the exciting new world of empowering young women to own their phenomenal selves, I am forced, for better or for worse, to dig deep into a digital world that is way out of my comfort zone. I am now living in a world full of tweets, hashtags, and website updates while trying to figure out why Gmail is so much more complicated to me than Outlook. But on the other hand, all this technology provides a frictionless path to whatever answer I seek, a quick means to the desired end.
Ask a question to Google or Siri and, “poof,” the correct answer immediately appears. There is no fact, no figure, no destination, no how-to that I cannot find clearly written, photographed, or filmed in a short, helpful video online. There’s nothing that Google does not know, right? Whew. What a relief. So, now I don’t have to think about, well, anything at all, especially anything boring or tedious. It’s all so simple, right? Wrong!!
People are the key, but people are not easy.
Whether you’re networking and building new relationships or leading others through sticky and/or complex situations, people are the key. But with our ever-increasing use of, and dependence on, technology, we are losing our critical people-building skills.
A recent experience at one of my favorite retail stores brought this truth to light. I was in the checkout line purchasing some much-needed patio furniture when I noticed on the receipt that each item, except for one, had a 15% discounted line directly under the purchase price. When I mentioned this to the employee, she informed me that this was not an indicator of a miscalculation because, in fact, “the machine” takes the final tally and then does its own master calculation to make sure that every item receives the sales price.
Now, I have heard of a lot of things that checkout machines can do, but actually figuring out what is missing from one item and then doing a master calculation is not one of them. So, needless to say, after our back and forth, I suggested that we manually calculate the total bill. Thankfully, right before we started the process, a manager showed up to see what was holding up the line. When I explained what was happening and that I questioned the entire machine theory, the manager looked at the employee and said that I was correct — the machine could not do what she was saying. Therefore, this was an error that would have to be manually corrected. WOW. The savings back to me? Close to $100. The shock on the employee’s face? Priceless!!
Everyone wants an easy solution — to skip to the end and avoid the hard work in the middle. Why think for ourselves, why work through a problem with a person when there is a machine that can give us the answer? Now, this might not be a game-changer in a store checkout line, but in LIFE — especially in your career — critical thinking and interpersonal skills are VERY IMPORTANT.
As I go on interviews to promote Own Your Phenomenal Self, every interviewer asks me the same question: What do 25-year-olds have today that you did not have when you were 25 years old?
Surprisingly (even to me), my answer is not fiercer competition, more opportunity, or even the concept that the glass ceiling still exists and gets thicker as it gets higher; instead, my answer is simple: technology. This always gets a “Duh, really?” look at first. But as I explain it, the more profound the answer becomes, and I see the question mark turn into a light bulb.
Our daily use of technology and our dependence on technology, in general, to do “the work,” or any work we don’t want to do, has diminished our use of, and our connection with, people. And, often, when we do connect with people, we treat them like machines.
Think about the last time you went to an industry event. Maybe you received ten or more business cards. But did you successfully network? What kind of real time and real work are you investing in getting to know the people whose names are on all those cards? What do you know about their family, their hobbies, or their goals? Are you truly nurturing relationships? Or, are you getting business cards, sending one follow-up email, and, then, three years later, asking that person for a recommendation for a job? You can’t just “skip to the answer” when it comes to people, to building a strong network, to solving complex problems, or to navigating your career trajectory. Machines may make amazing things happen through spinning cogs or optimizing fancy algorithms, but PEOPLE are the true career gatekeepers.
In order for you to have a successful career, you must want to understand, and search for, the logic behind the answers that are given to you by “the machine.” The skill of logical thinking is being lost in today’s world, which is why it took a manager to tell a young employee that “the machine” could not fix the error on my receipt and why that employee had not even once considered using logic or basic math to double-check the answer.
As a professional, you simply cannot skip over the logic of why networking, connecting, and building long-term relationships are important. Why? Because you cannot have lasting success without people, and letting a machine do the work for you is not a viable substitute. For you to be successful, you have to own the work and do this for yourself.
- You must search for, and find the logic in your answers.
- You cannot skip over people, relationships, and building people skills.
- You cannot have lasting success without people; technology is not a substitute.
About The Author
Rita P. Mitchell is an overcomer. In a career spanning nearly four decades, she has navigated countless roadblocks and conquered numerous obstacles to accomplish her personal and professional goals in the very competitive financial services industry. Rita became president of her own insurance and securities brokerage firm, Mitchell Financial, Inc., spoke on the TEDx stage, has been a frequent contributor to Black Enterprise magazine, and became the first-ever recipient of First Horizon’s 2018 Inclusion & Diversity Leader’s Award. Before retiring in early 2018, Rita served as Executive Vice President and Manager of Private Client Services for Middle Tennessee, First Tennessee Bank. Most recently, she has written Own Your Phenomenal Self, a guide to empowering young career women to achieve their desired success and an Amazon bestseller. In addition, Rita is a certified John C. Maxwell Coach, Trainer, and Speaker. Currently, she serves on the boards of the YWCA USA, Cheekwood, is Treasurer of Nashville, Education, Community, and Arts Television (NECAT), and Board Chair of the YWCA of Nashville & Middle TN. Rita resides in Nashville, TN, and enjoys writing, cooking, and traveling with the love of her life, Fulton, and their daughter, Brittany.
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