Two Strangers Talking About Work at the Edge of Disruption

Two Strangers Talking About Work at the Edge of Disruption

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(bright piano music) What scares you about the future? You know, I'm not so scared about the future itself. I'm actually much more concerned about what's happening right now because the future doesn't happen in some long, far off distant place. It happens and it's co-created, in fact, in every moment that's happening right now. So the decisions we're making are what's gonna create whatever the future is that unfolds. What excites you about the future? Kind of like to think of all the positive impacts that we might get from that and how it might make people's lives better, give them more time back, medical breakthroughs, you know, curing diseases and all the great things that can happen to make humanity better.

(bright piano music) (inspiring music) My name is Steve Beauchamp. I'm the CEO of Paylocity and I lead a passionate group of people to create the most modern software in the industry for HR, payroll, and every part of the employee lifecycle. (inspiring music) My name is Elatia Abate. I'm an entrepreneur, I'm an educator. I spend most of my time centered at the futures of work, strategy, and leadership, helping organizations and the people who run them make sense of all of the disruption that's happening in the world.

Do you know why you're here today? I'm actually gonna have a conversation about something I'm passionate about, which is the future of work with a mystery guest. Do you know why you're here today? To have a conversation about the future with someone who's as excited about it as I am? How are you? I'm great. Steve. How are you? Elatia. Nice to meet you. Really great to meet you as well.

Shall we? (Elatia giggling) Yes. So I guess who goes first is the question. Gosh.

Why don't you? Okay. Hosts go first. All right.

Let's see what we got. Without using your title or the name of your company, what do you do? Gosh. I help people make sense of the massive disruptions that are happening in the world, and more than just understand them, turn those disruptive forces into tools that they can use to thrive today.

Okay. I think I lead a group of people to create really interesting and modern software to help HR practitioners both get their job done in creating engaging environments for their employees. Have you always done this? I've always been in HR, kind of payroll, human capital management my whole career.

Yeah. What sparked your interest in... You know, probably like most people, just end up out of school in a job and that job ends up becoming a bit of a career. What I think, though, sparked my interest was when you started to see the impact you can have on employees. So for so many years, it was really just processing transactions in our industry.

And then when employees started to really interact with the software, to me, that just became so much more interesting because you could start to have a big impact, not only on the HR practitioners, but on every single employee that uses it. Yeah. My second job out of college was an executive recruiter.

Okay. And I was recruiting C-level executives for large technology companies and that was the first time in my career that I had the experience of watching what happens when the right employee gets into the right job, and not only they flourish, but of course then the company stock price flourishes. But this notion of like how you empower people in the space of work and working sounds like a similar spark.

Yeah, absolutely. I think seeing people be successful in their careers, whether that's, you know, team members of ours or whether it's their client employees and seeing that type of growth and the impact you can have, I mean, that's energizing. That's really exciting. So there's a spark, like that's how you began the road, but what happens as the trajectory unfolds and how does this relate to where you are today? You know, I think that at some point, when we were smaller, we were just really focused on just keeping up. Things were going so fast, you know, thinking of starting at 100 employees and now 6,000 employees, it's been a bit of a rocket ship. And then as we got to a point of scale and size, you start to free up some time and you start to think about, well, where did we really go as a company now that we've got some scale? And I think the opportunity for me became a little bit more obvious, interestingly enough, as I'm kind of interacting with my kids.

And so I can actually remember this time with my daughter who was 16 years old and we were coming out with kind of the first iteration of more social interaction in our platform that our clients' employees could use. And so I literally, I was having lunch with my daughter at Chipotle and I said, "Okay, I wanna really be interacting with all of our team members 'cause we're gonna use it first." And I said like, "I don't actually know what emoji to use," because I didn't really use emojis then, right? Modern hieroglyphics.

Yeah, exactly. So I'm sitting there with my 16 year old and she's walking me through, "No, now you don't use that one, dad, and dad you should this one." I'd give her a scenario, what would I say in this one? And so it's interesting about that to me is the idea of how we interact socially and looking at that next generation and how they interact socially, it kind of opened my mind to start thinking about, wait a minute, like, we've gotta start preparing for the next generation of worker before they enter the workforce. And my kids were examples of that. And that's, I think, charted us on this course of thinking about modernizing our application, not only for the users of today, but our future users.

Yeah. You know, it's really interesting. One of the things, one of the three core sort of rabbit holes that I went down when I started all this work around the future of work was the massive shift in global workforce population. And as I'm sure you already know, in the coming decades, not just one, not just two generations, but five generations of people interacting at work at the same time.

And so having both a space of community but then also contemplating or predicting sort of the tool set that all will be able to use comfortably what the environments are where people are gonna wanna connect. And to me, it's one of the most fascinating sort of, it's a conundrum as we design the future of work. I think predicting's hard, right? Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, if you, my opinion at least, if you can focus on the challenges of today and then you can start thinking of what that impact will be over time as those challenges continue to evolve and change, then you can start evolving solutions. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

And seeing what the reaction is and so on. 'Cause everything seems so obvious in hindsight. Yeah.

But of course when you're in the moment, it's quite difficult to figure out. Yeah. As I sort of was combing through like what does it mean to be a futurist? What's the impact that these kinds of people are having on the world? I was interviewing, you know, folks from various camps. I sort of come to see that there are basically two kinds of thinking, right? Okay. One is to the folks who are pushing from the past into the future.

So that's a lot of like predicting and analyzing and thinking in that sort of incremental way. And then there are others who go way out to the edge of disruption, try to understand the underlying dynamics or forces of what the shifts and change are and then bring that back into today. And so like my other ones, right or wrong or good or bad, both are incredibly important. But those two different perspectives in languaging how we think about the future, I think the second one for me, it helps us challenge the assumptions that we have about how the world is so that we can adapt to a world that has never existed before. Yeah.

I would say I probably think about that the same way. Yeah. Which is trying to understand the challenges of today first without necessarily figuring out what would be the actual solution for that.

And in some ways, it's more important to understand why those challenges are being presented. And then if you can do that, then you can start iterating your way towards the impact that that will have over time and start imagining as that speeds up or accelerates that that will present potential additional opportunities and/or challenges. Is it my turn for the cards? I think it's your turn for the cards. All right, it's my turn for the cards. Ooh, okay. All right.

What's your story? How'd you get involved with the intersection of work and technology? So I definitely am the type of person who's always kind of creatively thinking of different ideas to solve, you know, business problems. And I think it became more obvious to me that like our customers are often the HR users and that their worlds were changing pretty dramatically. I also felt that leading a company with thousands of employees that were getting really different questions and employees are looking for different things from an employer and they have different attitudes towards their employer.

And so I think seeing that change afoot is what started to get me thinking, what's that gonna look like three years or five years, or 10 years from now? And then if you layer that into, it takes time to build product and especially like we want the client to co-create with us, you need multiple iterations of that. And so I think that's what really got me more interested in thinking further ahead around what that future of work's gonna look like 'cause we're gonna be successful if we help our customers be successful. That's probably where it started. For me, as I shared a little bit earlier, in some ways it's been something that's accompanied my career since the beginning when I'm doing recruiting for tech companies. But for me, like the big shifts and what really moved my world into the space of futurist was a chance encounter with another futurist, Peter Diamandas. I'm not sure if you read his work, but I saw him speak at a conference and he jumps onto the stage and he starts talking about self-driving trucks and the technology behind them and how they're gonna change manufacturing and logistics and all this stuff.

On the one hand, I was on the edge of my seat. Like, cool, this is amazing. I love all things innovation and future forward. But on the other hand, and this, it kind of hit me instantaneously, it was like, but what are we gonna do with all the people? 'Cause I started to think, okay, so truck drivers, right? Whether that is played out or not, but just the exercise, like truck drivers are losing their jobs and then the mom and pop gas stations and all of these ancillary economies. What are we gonna do? What's society gonna do? How are people gonna empower themselves? And that shifted the trajectory of my life and work entirely.

Interesting. Interesting. What excites you about the future and what scares you about the future? What excites me about the future is the unlimited possibility that the technology that we have and that we're developing is going to give us to make the world a better place.

Thanks to advances in AI technology combined with a series of other things, maybe we'll be able to solve problems like poverty and the environmental crisis and all of these things, right? We often, I think, hear about disruption and think, oh no, it's bad, everything's gonna change. But actually, I think this could be our ticket to creating a much better world. What scares me? I'm not so scared about the future.

I am more concerned about the present, meaning I don't think that the future is some out here ephemeral, ethereal thing that we will get to at one point or that we don't have much impact over. I think it is designed and built and created and co-created right now. And so this is the time that will help us shape what that future's gonna look like. I probably get a little bit more focused on how do we absorb it in current times, and then as a society, how do we really make sure that we're taking advantage of it to make life better, right? Whether it's the impact it have on, you know, medical industry as an example, right? And work-life balance for people.

I think the challenge is to have a dynamic dialogue around the unintended consequences that some of this can have. And I think we've seen some of that with social media and the impact that has on kids and teens. That was never really thought through at the time when social media came out and you're sharing photos with your friends and you're thinking, this is really cool. So it's really the unintended consequences and spending more time thinking about it that I do worry about that we're not doing enough of.

All right. I will pick another card. All right. After AI has disrupted everything, what does a post AI disruption look like? So if I were to wave my magic wand and stand in what I think is possible here, I think that we can unleash humanity's greatest potential. In what way? First and foremost, many of the jobs that are dangerous and put people in precarious situations and I think we can eliminate that when AI and robotics merge together, then people get to be safe, right? We use AI to solve climate change, we use AI to help solve population challenges.

And so all of these things that we've been noodling on as a planet, they come to some resolution. We don't need to be working five days, four days, three days, maybe even one or two days. And so we have this opportunity to shift into a place where we get to, as each and every one of us, blossom into the fullest version of ourselves as human beings. I think that opportunity exists. I also think we have an opportunity to be more human more. Yes.

And I think a lot of people are worried that everything is gonna be so technology centric. But it's probably the things that we naturally add less value to and probably are not quite as interesting or as fun. And so if we have an opportunity to have AI, robotics, all the newer technologies take over some of that stuff at work, I think we feel like we're losing the human connections through COVID and remote work and everything that's happened, but I'm actually hopeful that you can start to get more of that so that the time that we're using, it's really energizing being with people and ideating and having conversations and thinking about different ways to do it.

But sometimes you're locked in spreadsheets and doing work and responding to emails. And so if you could free up that time, then I think we can make the world a work better. Yeah. I think that one of the big gifts that's here and that's coming is that we do get to be more human and the ability to connect.

And in fact, you know, being human will be sort of the next great act of evolution or revolution, you know, the same way that joy is in the face of more challenging times in spaces. Is it my turn? I think it's your turn to pull the card. Let's see what we've got here. All right.

What do you think technology's role will be in the future of work? I think the obvious ones are many of the tasks that we spend a significant amount of time in a day will be automated. And you can look at simple things that are available now. You know, an ability to create a job description for a new job, that's probably eight to 12 hour effort for an experienced person. You could probably do that in 10 minutes now. And so I think there's gonna be a ton of examples like that and they will become more advanced over time. And so I think that is going to change probably the amount of people that you need, but certainly the tasks that they create.

And I think the people that you then have at work will have the opportunity to be more creative and to not necessarily have to focus on high repetitious time-consuming tasks. I think it's gonna be interesting from a competitive environment as, you know, who wins in each of the industries. Because you're gonna have to make this transition relatively quickly. And I think your people assets will become even more important as a differentiator because the technology platforms will become ubiquitous eventually and everyone will be able to automate all of these things, whereas right now it feels like a race to automation. But in the end, that's probably not where the winners come from. Yeah, yeah.

Well, what is it, it's like one day in AI time is like 30 days in regular business time, right? So that anyone who is on the train, even if you're doing it poorly now, if you're on the train, you're leaps and bounds ahead of whoever else is there. Yes. I think automation, one of the things that has me really curious lately, 'cause I was just reading this McKinsey report around AI and the impact on white collar jobs, and already, so many CEOs looking at proactively upskilling and reskilling current workforce because it's just because of the shift. Yes. We don't need to lay everybody off in mass.

However, there's gonna be a whole series of skills that people need to learn. I'm curious how you would approach solving that challenge. Yeah. So I probably, the way I've started to approach this, and we were kind of first to market with some AI-assisted products for our customers, but it's also thinking about other applications for that.

So I'm like, when you've got a technological shift, I think it takes time to ramp up an organization's knowledge. So, as an example, we started a data science team about four years ago and probably wasn't thinking about AI specifically when we did that, but thinking about predictive models, algorithms, and now you see that team with large language models being implemented and so on. And so I think you've got to invest in areas where you don't actually know how it's gonna help you early enough so that as these technologies mature, you're ready to take advantage of it.

And then I think you have to create a dialogue within your organization to find use cases where you can start implementing it. So the example I would say to people all the time is like, if you haven't used a ChatGPT or another LLM, it's actually hard to kind of explain what it's like and what it can do. You actually learn a ton by using it.

So same thing with an organization. Like you've gotta start actually implementing these newer technologies maybe in things that don't deliver yet quite a ton of benefit, but it grows the organizational muscle and you learn how to use it. And so I think that's what we're doing is we're investing in ways so that we're building out that muscle. And then the more teams and use cases that you start implementing, you start spreading out the knowledge. So it's less of just a training exercise, 'cause that's part of it, but it's actually using it in scenarios, everyday scenarios. I'm really curious.

It sounds like organizationally, you've built enough of a risk tolerance in place that you can run these kinds of experiments. So one of the things that I bump up against often in organizations that have a desire for innovation, they wanna know what's gonna work before they try it. Yes.

And so it's, how do you do that dance? So I say this all the time, and I truly believe, like you have to truly believe that you have a long-term strategy that you wanna execute and you can't get baited or trapped around short-term objectives that might have short-term benefits. And so I think as an organization, we've done well to say this is the direction that we're going and we're willing to take some chances and sometimes those chances means investing in things that aren't gonna produce an immediate return. And that's kind of the example we gave. Like that's why we started a data science team many years ago.

We didn't have a laundry list of things they could do, but we knew that we needed to advance our capabilities in that area and so you've gotta make that level of investment. And I think that people also need to understand their job's not at risk if something fails, right? So you've gotta create an environment where taking risk is okay. And so I generally try to always keep us, even though we've had a lot of success, it's a highly competitive environment. And so we're always talking about, we're hard on ourselves, how can we do better, and trying to drive this concept of continuous change.

And I think that's what has allowed us to invest in areas where maybe others wait for it to be more proven. I call this simultaneous strategy, so the ability to do both now producing results and future forward thinking simultaneously, sort of ride that edge. And it's a balance 'cause you can't get everybody future forward thinking 'cause then you miss the here and now. You miss the here and now, yeah. And then you don't get to do those future forward things.

But you do need some parts of the organization pushing it. And then you can, I think you can be selective. You can do a number of those things that both have positive cultural impact in terms of gaining knowledge, but also will prove to the rest of the organization that it's okay to kind of take chances. And it's a great people development tool as well. Well, and creating that context of safety. That probably the second most frequent question I get from people, is how do you ensure that innovation sticks? Well you can announce it, but if you don't model what happens, meaning people are fine if they make huge mistakes.

And as leaders, you have to be involved in those. You don't wanna be the one on the other side of that saying it didn't work because you didn't do it the right way. We didn't get this to work and that's okay and now we're gonna move on to the next thing. And now's the next thing. All right, I'll grab this card.

What's your number one piece of advice you would give to people leading companies today? Ooh. One piece of advice that I would give to people leading companies today. As quickly as possible, develop really strong muscle around learning how to name, define, and challenge the assumptions that you have about how the world is and how things should or shouldn't work. Because the external disruptive forces are, they're already great. They're gonna get so much greater that if we keep the risk is in doubling down on business as usual, business as usual, business as usual when the externals have changed so much that you end up making yourself disappear. And how would you approach that exercise as a leader? As a leader.

So you can go in baby steps. You don't need to, you know, like I did. You don't need to become a futurist. Exactly. You don't need to become a futurist. You don't need to put everything you own into storage except for what, for two carry-on travel around the world.

You don't need to do any of that. But you could do some simple things, some things as simple as games with your management team. So for example, there's an exercise that I'll run with leadership teams often and we'll say, okay, everybody divide up into competing teams.

I just got elected to the board of Starbucks or to some large company and I've been put in charge of finding the best idea to solve this problem. Okay. So iterate for five minutes on what the best idea is and then say, okay, what's the absolute worst idea to solve this problem? So it would actually exacerbate it. Then we dump the good ideas, we give everybody the bad ideas, and then they have to actually create a solution with the bad ideas.

Interesting. What ends up happening is infinitely more creative, more economically feasible, you know, you start to include other populations that you wouldn't otherwise. And so you just start to play the game of what if the things that I think are right aren't? You're breaking down the assumptions that are better than that. And that also gives folks who aren't as practiced at failing or as comfortable with making mistakes to learn that it's not such a big deal.

(Elatia chuckling) Right, right. One wild card. If you could've asked one question that wasn't on the card, what question would you like to ask? I've got a question for you. Yes. So how, as you spend a lot of time thinking about the future, how do you try to get your mind around the concept of these unintended consequences or, you know, impacts that, you know, rapid change and technology can have in ways that aren't the things that we're talking about today? So how do you look wide enough to do that? So I do more sophisticated versions of this challenging assumptions game.

So we can, in a design thinking session, go totally bananas and imagine how great the world's gonna be and then we can put on our doom and gloom hats for a minute, this is just a role we're playing, but we'll put on our doom and gloom hats for a minute and say, okay, if everything went off the rails in the sort of worst "Black Mirror" scenario that we could discover, what would happen and why? And then because it's within the context of a little bit more play, you have the things become a little bit ridiculous, but then you can explore, wait, hold on, this is actually, this is a critical juncture, this is a critical challenge that we need to solve now. This is something that we should put our energy behind. So you're creating the extremes. The absolute extreme. And then trying to figure out all the possibilities in between them when you create the boundaries.

Exactly, exactly. Interesting. I'm curious for you, as you approach the future in your thinking, what's your thought process? How do you think about that? I would say for me, getting as much input from various places as possible. Because I probably aren't not going through the exercise in my mind the way you just described. But the way I try to get at that concept is talking to a lot of people in different areas so that I've got a ton of different inputs.

'Cause what I've kind of learned over time is it's easy to develop some thesis of what the future's gonna look like and how this is gonna work. And you can really convince yourself that you're really gonna be right. And it's interacting with people coming from different perspectives, different ideas.

I love to ask the same question to a lot of different people as a tactic that I use a ton and you get wide variety of answers and it really does kind of inform the way I might be thinking about it. And I definitely try to look at trying to argue both sides of different arguments. That's something I do a lot with teams. And sometimes they'll be like, you seem really passionate about this. (Elatia laughing) Actually, I'm not at all. I actually think the opposite, but I'm arguing this.

But I think in some ways it does, it creates the variety. 'Cause we all get so locked and, you know. And as a CEO, people often can try to reinforce your opinion.

Sure. "That is a great idea." "Oh wow." Absolutely. Totally, totally. I'm thinking the same thing.

And the reality is maybe it's not a great idea. And so I do find asking the same questions to a ton of different people gives me these boundaries that you can start to operate within and allows me to challenge my own thinking a little bit more. I actually ran an exercise during COVID where I invited everybody to whom I was connected on LinkedIn at the time into a 20 minute conversation. Okay. It was like 4,000 and something people.

Over seven weeks, I spoke with 161 people, like 20 minutes, and asked everybody the same five questions. Oh, that's really cool. And so I really get that notion of perspective and what it showed during the pandemic. 'Cause there were 161 completely different experiences, but then some central themes and those were the ones that continued to build some of the work that I've been doing.

Oh, that's interesting. Really cool. Very cool.

Thank you both for joining this little social experiment. Well, this has been fun. Thank you. This has been fantastic. Great to meet you. Thank you so much for the conversation.

That was fun. Yeah. Just go with the flow, right? (bright piano music)

2023-09-17 07:53

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