Transformation Is About How We Respond

I received some very sage advice from my mentor Matt Church yesterday. He proclaimed, “I get your disruption positioning considering your background; yet I don’t get it. The Boss doesn’t do disruption. He does transformation.” This resonated with me. Clearly I idolize Bruce Springsteen but it aptly describes why. The Rising, his seminal post 9/11 landmark deals with the redemption; the aftermath rather than the event. Disruption is what happens to us. Transformation is how we respond.

Entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and Silicon Valley icon Marc Andreessen says, “Software is eating the world.”

In the era of automation and artificial intelligence, many blue and white collar jobs are at risk, so what is left for people to do?

Gallup numbers show that fewer than one-third of employees feel engaged with their work, and an alarming Oxford University analysis suggests that fully half of jobs are at risk due to technology. AI’s reach is even beginning to encroach on those in the professions—doctors, lawyers, and engineers. In short, this affects 100 percent of us now.

Disruption is what happens to us. Transformation is how we respond.


Says Daniel Huttenlocher, dean of Cornell Tech, “The industrial revolution was about augmenting and replacing physical labor, and the digital revolution has been about augmenting and replacing mental labor.”

What’s changed is that automation is no longer just occurring in the realm of repetitive tasks, whether blue collar or white. Instead, smarter machines learn on the job (“deep learning”) and see patterns based on enormous data troves and draw conclusions that humans often cannot find. Artificial intelligence-driven devices can spot tumors on CT scans better than pathologists and radiologists. Machine learning pioneer Geoffrey Hinton said, “If you work as a radiologist, you are like Wile E. Coyote in the cartoon; you’re already on the edge of the cliff, but you haven’t looked down.” Hinton went so far as to recommend that med schools stop training radiologist right now. AI also drives the overwhelming majority of trading in stocks and bonds. As Vasant Dhat, a New York University professor and developer of hedge-fund trading programs, noted, “At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself what will be left for humans to do that machines cant do as well or better?”


Can we fight back against this likely employment apocalypse? While I hardly dismiss the impending turmoil, I run to optimism. And it is the optimism that leads me to think in terms of LOVE. This is what leads to transformation. A focus on the human attributes that will, effectively deployed, likely remain beyond the realm of artificial intelligence. For example, the quality of fully engaged employees providing personalized service that makes you smile as it is delivered and create fond memories that last. Or the design excellence that made Steve Job’s Apple products, more driven by his months siting quietly in Japanese gardens than by computer coding skills, worthy of the head-shaking amazement of hundred of millions of customers.


“The role of the Director is to create a space where the actors and actresses can become more than they’ve ever been before, more than they’ve dreamed of being.”

—Robert Altman, Oscar acceptance speech

Truth be told, I have had a love affair with transformation throughout my career. I believe – oh, how deeply I believe – that transformation is far more than just an organizing business principle that can be reduced to a series of “success traits.” Transformation can be the way we live our lives, professional as well as personal, the way we support one another, particularly in difficult times. Transformation can be the seemingly small acts that shout, “We care,” and which linger in the memories of those we interact with – our own people, our communities, our suppliers, our customers.

Disruption + Engagement = Transformation.

Disruption is what happens to us. Transformation is how we respond.

It is about loving our way to success.

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