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Automation: Efficiency! Great? Terrible?

Automation: Efficiency! Great? Terrible?

Where do you stand on Automation? Is it a heavy lift? Is it good? Is it bad?

On the last two, it can actually be both! The concept of automation is to reduce/improve ______. But just like in your life, you need to understand the end goal and what the meaning of done is.

“Lather, Rinse, Repeat”

That means that you keep showering until you run out of soap and water! This is called the Shampoo Algorithm in which if there is no exit and you get stuck in an infinite loop, due to lack of instruction. What is missing from the graphic below? How will someone know to “break the habit” and get out of the shower?

"Lather, Rinse, Repeat" Automation

There’s an easy response and a complex response for everything.

Easy Response: Logic and boredom. Done!

Complex Response:

  • Time: Are you in a rush or do you have time to listen to music?
  • Iterations: You are repeating a task, but are you accomplishing anything? At some point, your hair is clean and more shampoo won’t be good for your scalp.
  • Achieve Goal: Let’s face the facts. You either went to a Color Run or Tough Mudder and you need to address the elephant in the room…Will it wash right out? This might be a situation where given the Tough Mudder event, you need to keep repeating those lather rinse parts until the mud is gone.

Our brains have an automatic shut off point where we realize we are done with a task. What about computerized brains? How do they think? Until we actually have Artificial Intelligence, a computer is highly dependent on the user.

“The good news about computers is that they do what you tell them to do. The bad news is that they do what you tell them to do.” – Ted Nelson

What about a non-computerized system? Like Brooms for example. Based on a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe written in 1797, there have been multiple stories about this concept. Including another favorite of mine which was Strega Nona but focused on Pasta!

Below is the 1940 documentary animated feature of Disney movie Fantasia about how Automation is both good and bad. (length: 9:18) It also features a fantastic musical accompaniment.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Fantasia

Fantasia Automation

Mickey had a great idea to improve his work and efficiency. He delegated it out to a WOOD-BE BROKEr (the pun was too easy) and saw that he solved his work problem. However, just like with Mickey, lack of instruction and not monitoring a newly automated system, results in very bad things happening. You can’t automate a process that is new and expect it to work correctly in all new scenarios.

While the music, story, and animation is great, there is a larger message in the movie about the power of automation. Yes, there are bad actors with bad intentions, but usually these automations are just lack of instruction resulting in bad outcomes.

With everything in the world that is bad, what can we automate that will do good in the world? How can we empower people to change the way they look at their work efficiency? It’s not only about what you can automate, but the quality of that automation and the trustfulness over time.

Automation: Efficiency! Great? Terrible?

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