The Baywatch Theory - HR in a World Disrupted by Technology


By Swati Thakur July 6, 2018

Our world has seen technological disruptions for countless centuries. However, today we live in a world that is disrupted by technology faster than ever. Both humans and organizations are affected by the pace and intensity with which this change is happening. Therefore, it is imperative for HR to take an integral part in managing this change.

 The chaotic way today's businesses and their structures are being transformed, and that affects organizations as well as the very base of society. Consumer behaviour and business's response is being deeply affected, making the problem much larger than a temporary organizational issue.

Technology May be on the Cusp of Singularity

Technological singularity is a hypothetical scenario which arrives when the pace of technological innovations becomes so fast that a runaway reaction of self-improvement in technology starts to occur. In simple terms, it is a stage where machines surpass human intelligence leading to a disruption in human civilization. With the advent of artificial intelligence and internet of things, the world  is moving towards that stage. From the year 2011, technology has been improving by leaps and bounds, pointing towards an unfathomable future where technological singularity might occur.

While tech disruption has always existed and has impacted our lives, it is accelerating at an exponential pace. A recently reported incident at Facebook claimed that two chatbots started developing their own language and going beyond the task humans assigned to them. As the scientists working on them failed to understand their interaction, the chatbots were shut down. This fuelled apprehensions on how scary the advent of AI really is. There is a school of thought that believes in a conspiracy theory that humanity will be destroyed by machines eventually. However, it is important to keep in mind that humans have survived revolutions since ages - be it agricultural or industrial.

As machines are morphing human beings, the concept of how HR operates is changing. The role of HR has been in enabling and nurturing the workforce and in orienting it to business objectives. But today HR's job is to save the world! The rate at which tech is changing our society and business through automation and analytics puts the onus on HR to work with technological changes ahead of time.

If machines become integral to the workforce and can substitute for humans, then one of the immediate impacts is reduction in manpower. This will become a social issue soon. HR has come to the rescue in a world changed by machines.

Technology is Always Readable and Ruthless

Technology is readable. A book called E=mc2 talks about how it took 150 years of research on measuring the speed of light before Einstein discovered a way to calculate it. It shows that technology does not dawn upon us suddenly. For 150 years, the world could read this impending change. However, today it is also speedy and ruthless.

The first digital camera was invented in 1975 by a Kodak engineer. It took more than two decades to be of use. This shows how technology happens over a period of time, so you can see it coming. Kodak decided not to read this in time and today they are non-existent. Similarly, Nokia - a market leader in 2007, went bankrupt in 2012.

Technology is ruthless because it is speedy and unstoppable, but being useful, it compels the world to welcome it with open arms. For example, Facebook added value to the lives of millions of people which turned Facebook into an unstoppable success. Hence, businesses should be able to see what is coming. HR being a key element of business has to understand how and when technology is going to impact the business.

Apple and Amazon are examples of companies that knew how to read technology and move with it to reap its rewards. Today the valuation of Amazon is 4-5 times that of Walmart because it has demonstrated itself as an organization that knows how to ride the technology wave.

HR should help the organization develop the people and processes and enable them to keep engaging with technology. Raymond, a highly salient brand of 95 years, has worked to curtail the signs of stagnancy through a concept called 'Raymond Reimagine' where the company has an acute focus on technology and HR is at the heart of this process.

The Baywatch Theory

At Raymond Limited, there is a concept called The Baywatch Theory which is at the very core of this thought. It explains how incoming technology can be read and how you can teach yourself to read it.

The theory works on the assumption that technology comes in waves, just like surfing. There are three things important to surfing:

  1. The ability to read the incoming wave - You need to assess the speed, size and timing of the tech wave just as a surfer assesses a wave on the sea. This helps you know what is going to be meaningful for you out of hundreds of tech trends around you.
  2. The timing of launching into the wave - You should know when to start riding the technology wave. If you try too early, you get nothing out of it and if you are late, it is destructive for you. If you are ready, you time your entry into technology correctly.
  3. The skill to stay on top of the wave - A surfer needs the dexterity to stay on top of a wave he is riding. Similarly, riding a tech wave, you have to manoeuvre to keep your balance. An organization needs to invest in technology and keep evolving to be able to do this.

Imbibe Technology as an Organizational Culture

An organization needs to imbibe technology as a way of life. The Baywatch group in Raymond is a testimony to this commitment. Its members explore technology that could be impactful. Such commitments help to keep the organization on high alert when it comes to breakthrough technology, and helps them develop tech capabilities that become a way of life.

Some trends identified by Raymond have already become a part of life, such as  robo-facturing (automation of manufacturing process), micro-facturing (3D printing of accessories with customised product specifications in small quantities) and smart logistics (efficient process of movement of goods using AI).

Readiness to Tackle the Social Impact of Technology

With impending automation, there will be a drastic decrease in the global workforce by 2030, especially in industries like apparel. These are industries with a higher influx of women employees, so there will be a social impact of automation that needs to be considered. Already, inventions like the sewbot are in the process of proliferating. It enables automatic manufacturing of t-shirts at 33 cents apiece. This is a wave that will impact manufacturing companies all over the world. If they won't read it and surf it, they will perish like Kodak and Nokia.

All disruptive technology is bound to have an impact on people and organizations. It is not just a process change, it is a change in the way people work and live. Hence, HR is integral to this. While there is technology for HR to use that will help them manage this change, it is also important for them to be a part of the process of thinking, reading and engaging with technology. Gaurav Mahajan is President of Group Apparel and Made to Measure at Raymond Limited, and spoke at the 4th SHRM Tech Conference 2018.


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