AI eats culture for breakfast


It’s been a very long time since humans have been able to work without the aid of advanced technology. To some, artificial intelligence (AI) offers solutions to current challenges as well as completely new opportunities. At the same time, employees and organizations must continually adapt to new situations as work life changes with increasing rapidity. In such an environment, it is a good idea to develop organizations proactively with a view to bringing together the core strengths of people and of evolving technologies.

People vs. artificial intelligence

Yuval Noah Harari is one of the best-known thinkers of our time, and his writings span the history of mankind towards a possible future. In a nutshell, Harari’s view of the future is that people will no longer be needed. Artificial intelligence will be able to replace us, in terms of knowledge, skills, and even emotions. Harari’s dystopia is extreme. It spurs us to reflect on what aspects of human nature could be so unique that no machine could ever outdo us in those areas. And if we are incapable of this level of reflection, then sooner or later, AI will begin crowding out the very things that built organizations – including yours – in the first place: people.

Machines are already replacing human workers, in the process altering the structure of labor markets and the position of workers. The first lines of work to have been lost to machines are easily automated and repetitive jobs, but new applications for AI are emerging all the time. Faced with such changes, responsible organizations are those that are quick to invest in technological development in order to understand what helps workers to remain competitive in the labor market, while at the same time ensuring the continued viability of the organization. Emerging technologies can also be used to strengthen a culture that is going through a process of renewal by identifying key factors in the future organizational culture.

Tomorrow’s work culture

Esko Kilpi, one of Finland’s foremost experts on digital work, has argued that in the work culture of the future, value will be created through self-directed and active networking by employees. In all of this, learning, curiosity and creative thinking are key. Kilpi draws attention to the strengths of employees that will retain their value even as technology is replacing present-day jobs.

The success factors of the future, then, are to be found both in the renewal and growth of employees’ knowledge capital, and in the creation of an organizational culture that encourages active change. Organizations have often been well able to identify the challenges that issues relating to skills and changes in working life pose to renewing organizational know-how, but it can be more difficult to reform and improve the organization’s culture.

It’s often been said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. To ensure that technological evolution does not squeeze the life out of your organization, you will need to have even more creative self-initiative and active involvement of employees in regenerating the organization, as well as open-minded strategic agility in the midst of technological change. By evaluating and refining your current organizational culture so as to meet future demands, and by providing concrete tools for living with change and bringing about change, you can best ensure continually committed employees and sustainable success.

Related literature:

Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens, Homo Deus, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
McKinsey Quarterly, July 2016: Where machines could replace humans – and where they can’t (yet)
Harvard Business Review: How Will AI Change Work?
Esko Kilpi: “The ten principles of digital work”

The blog is written by psychologist Markus Katiska