The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Dissociative Leader


It seems you can´t go online, pick up a magazine or switch on the TV lately without coming across some apocalyptic news item about robots taking over our jobs. Studies such as Deloitte and Oxford, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BOAML) and Boston Consulting Group predict that 35-47% of jobs currently carried out by humans will be automated by the next decade. If predictions come true, future generations of AlphaGo, Atlas, Connie, DRU, Liam, Nadine, Pepper, and Sophia, the cute prototypes whirring around social media pages right now, will be less clunky, more artificially intelligent and living alongside us in offices hotels and homes, delivering our pizzas, nursing us and beating us at Go.

The World Economic Forum has dubbed this futuristic paradigm shift as the fourth industrial revolution. There have been three key industrial revolutions until now all related to automation in the workplace and all triggered by key changes in the energy and technology driving machines. Industry 1.0, the steam age, was the original industrial revolution where work first shifted from manual to machine in the late eighteen century. Industry 2.0, the steel and technology age, was the second industrial revolution where oil and electricity revolutionised transport and factories leading to mass production in the late nineteenth century. Industry 3.0, the post-war digital and information age, is the third industrial revolution that has coincided with the growth of the modern computer. And now the fourth industrial revolution, the robotic age, where deep learning machines will perform everyday tasks currently carried out by humans.

The question on my mind as a leadership developmentalist is what impact will all of this have on future workplace structures and behaviours? The reason I ask this is because every previous industrial revolution has prompted dramatic changes in organisational structure and leadership behavior. In Industry 1.0, the leadership model in the mills and factories was one of paternal ownership which, as this analysis shows, controversially modelled patterns and systems of plantation slavery. Industry 2.0 was the age of assembly lines and scientifically managed workforces; organisations became more bureaucratic leading to a swell in leadership and management positions adopting command and control behaviours inspired by such management theorists as Frederick Taylor and Max Weber. Industry 3.0 is the age of self-managing/empowered knowledge workers where command/control leadership behavious are deemed inappropriate and a more democratic and engaging leadership is called for.

So what of Industry 4.0? If the predictions come true, there will be two resources working closely alongside each other, machine and human and, it goes without saying, that they are very different. Machines are precise, humans make mistakes; machines need commanding, humans need motivating, machines are programmed, humans have free-will and emotions, machines don´t require sleep, humans do and, of course, machines don´t take annual leave, sickies or join unions. Will the future leader of a humanoid/human hybrid workplace be able to easily switch behaviours between sentient and non-sentient, artificial and emotional intelligence, from instructing machines to conversing and engaging with humans? If the future leader fails to differentiate between robotic humanoids controlled through voice command/finger snapping and humans, then the workplace of the future could begin to look frighteningly like the command and control workplace of the past.

Successful future leaders will need to learn to dissociate between machines and humans, giving clear and concise commands to machine resource and then switching attitudes and behaviours when dealing with human resource. Easier said than done. Most agree that behaviours become embedded in cultures and organisations through a process of social norming where the dominant behavior shapes the dominant culture; tricky, when you need to constantly switch between humans and machines.

And what if things take a turn for the worse? What if future leaders are incapable of disassociating between the two resources and dehumanise humans through command and control behaviors or anthropomorphise robots and have office romances with them as this article anticipates? Very messy! And the most frightening scenario of all… that robots assume leadership positions. By 2030, it is widely believed that computers will match human intelligence (see here); and the likes of Stephen Hawkins, Elon Musk and Bill Gates are already painting dystopian views of a future world run by deep learning machines (see here). It seems the stuff of Sci-Fi movies and Pixar animations may well become a reality.

Many leadership commentators assume that the leadership and new science narrative of enablement and empowerment in the workplace is here for the duration; but if we do shift into a fourth industrial revolution, as the World Economic Forum anticipates, with a hybrid workplace of robot and human resource, organisational structures and behaviours are bound to change as they have with every other industrial revolution. Effective leaders may need to ditch Industry 3.0 mindsets of authentic and servant leadership in favour of dissociative leadership; otherwise, the future working environment could have command and control at its very heart and proprioceptive sensor.

by Ric Kelly PhD.

Article originally published in Pulse