Algorithms, Robots and the Future of Management

Over at the HBR Blog network Walter Frick has an interesting article/blog post entitled:

“Algorithms Won’t Replace Managers, But Will Change Everything About What They Do”


“The labor market is about to be transformed by machine intelligence, the combination of ubiquitous data and the algorithms that make sense of them. That’s according to economist Tyler Cowen, in an argument spelled out in his recent book Average is Over. As Cowen sees it, your job prospects are directly tied to your ability to successfully augment machine intelligence.”


” In any company, you need someone to manage the others, and management is a very hard skill. Relative returns to managers have been rising steadily; good managers are hard to find. And, again, computers are not close to being able to do that. So I think the age of the marketer, the age of the manager are actually our immediate future”

I recommend that you go and read the whole thing because I think that the potential disruption from robotics and improved artificial intelligence is huge. Now people have been belabouring that sort of point from way back, including the often quoted Luddites but we have muddled through and adapted, and created new jobs that we had not previously conceived  However there is a real possibility we are moving through a major turning point that we will only really understand in retrospect and it has the potential to rewrite the world far more fundamentally than the industrial or information age.

I think that the interview that Walter has done is interesting but I do not think that it addresses a key point which is that the fundamental nature of management is changing anyway without these advances. Existing changes and disruptions that are enabling connections between people through social media and social business tools are re-ordering the way that work and strategy are carried out. On top of that the capacities we are giving to individuals and small networks mean that many things that required a large organisation to carry out 5 years ago no longer do so.

This means that the role of management is in part being devolved to the network and so existing concepts of the middle manager are already almost obsolete and therefore to look at the future through a frame of disrupting that role is missing the point.

The role of management is moving towards one of coach and facilitator rather than management and the more skills and capacities that individuals in the network gain, the harder that role will become and the lower the number of ” managers” required”.

I have been looking at some of these things from the point of view of the food and agriculture supply chain and in particular the role of the adviser which has traditionally been the interpretation and handing over of the holy tablet of knowledge. As networks take over part of the role the adviser is challenge and we are struggling with thinking through how the business models look. Any thoughts would be gratefully accepted.

Paul Higgins

Update 23rd December 2013:

I think a very useful addition to this viewpoint is one from my friend and colleague Stowe Boyd:

Network performance is the single most important characteristic of successful employees


“I think business leaders and HR departments do not understand this shift, or the fact that this shift is accelerating, so that in a year or two 75% of a peoples’ value will be based on their network performance, their ability to contribute to and accept from others. We will have to totally rethink performance measurement. It may in some sense be unmeasurable, but at the very least it should be some sort of distributed valuation based on all those who benefit from a person’s participation in work activities, weighted by the closeness and frequency of interaction. Today, it is madness to default to a single individual — the supervisor — to assess a person’s performance, if it ever made sense at all”


4 thoughts on “Algorithms, Robots and the Future of Management

  1. On 22 Dec 2013, at 01:32, futuristpaul wrote: You are correct in your analysis that we are entering the machine/robot age. ‘Siri’ is a mere bump along the way; but it points to a progressively speech controlled state.
    Therefore tomorrow’s Manager will have to be a communication coach/link, and still greater his/ her need to develop sharp, creative decisions.
    With Algorithms in the common ring; winning an edge will be even more important; and thus I believe the coming ‘machine age’ will paradoxically herald in the new ‘ thinking age. ‘ Managers will no longer rely on routines.
    Season’s Greetings
    Cheltenham UK.

  2. Pingback: My job advice to my nephews and nieces for 2025 | futuristpaul

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