- By Jose M. Rivera
- July 31, 2020
- Executive Corner
By Jose Rivera
After more than three months of COVID-19, I feel exhausted. I am looking forward to a return to the “old normal,” which may never happen. I’m sure that I am not the only one feeling this way. Why are we all so exhausted?
It may be related to the dramatic effort required by all of us to cope with the change imposed by months of the pandemic, economic upheaval, and societal protests. We were already challenged trying to keep up with technological change in our personal and professional lives. Industrial companies of all types are navigating “digital transformations” being pushed by the new technologies of Industry 4.0. The people who work for and with those companies have been adapting to and encouraging technological changes with varying success and support. Then along comes a new coronavirus and its demands.
These coronavirus times, as governor of New York state Andrew Cuomo said on 5 June 2020, “will go down in history as one of the great transformational moments of society.” The pandemic has pushed us to the next level. In a truly short period of time, we all have had to redefine fundamental aspects of our lives: the way we work, learn, conduct business, entertain, socialize, and relax. The lockdown has melted the workplace, the training center, the school, the university, and the home into a single entity. By working (adults) and learning (kids and adults) from home, we have blurred the lines between work and home, and between worker and parent/teacher roles. We have eliminated the healthy separations and breaks we had in the past (e.g., commute to and from work), as all has blended.
Every small decision we are faced with seems to have become a complex one. In our regular lives we simplify many small decisions by following what we have done in the past or following some heuristics. The pandemic has challenged this approach. Every decision demands energy, brainpower, and, in many cases, debates. Truly important decisions need to be made in consideration of various possible scenarios, as everything can change over a short period of time.
And still the technology marches on. In 2016, Thomas Friedman summarized in his book, Thank you for Being Late, the thought of Eric “Astro” Teller, the CEO of Google’s X research and development lab: “Even though human beings and societies have steadily adapted to change, on average, the rate of technological change is now accelerating so fast that it has risen above the average rate at which most people can absorb all these changes.” Teller represented this thought as shown in the chart below.
Human adaptability is being tested. The economic uncertainty caused by the response to the pandemic has created an environment where many fear for their jobs and main source of income. Those currently unemployed worry even more. Altogether, societal upheaval has taken a serious emotional toll, leading to issues like anxiety and substance abuse. It has also added fuel to the fires of social injustice protests, causing many to call for even more change and faster transformation. The nationwide uproar and protests over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer ignited calls for justice that quickly expanded internationally and hopefully will lead to important reforms.
I encourage the engineering and automation community to reflect on these personal and societal transformations and find concrete actions you can take in your community and your workplace. Diversity and inclusion are not mere buzzwords. Transformation is not just a technological imperative. In addition to being the morally right thing to do, it can make individuals and companies stronger and more resilient.
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