ROBO-NEXT IS ALREADY HERE

It comes as no surprise that anything that can be automated physically or intellectually is being automated. The legal field is no exception. When you consider that attorneys don’t come cheap, most of us would agree that anything that improves their efficiency is a very good thing. Jason Koebler summarizes how artificial intelligence has already been changing the legal profession (“Rise of the Robolawyers: How Legal Representation Could Come to Resemble TurboTax” The Atlantic. April 2017, pp. 26–27):

For years, artificial intelligence has been automating tasks—like combing through mountains of legal documents and highlighting keywords—that were once rites of passage for junior attorneys. The bots may soon function as quasi-employees. In the past year, more than 10 major law firms have ‘hired’ Ross, a robotic attorney powered in part by IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence, to perform legal research. Ross is designed to approximate the experience of working with a human lawyer: It can understand questions asked in normal English and provide specific, analytic answers.” (p. 26)

Given litigation’s patterns and statistics, algorithms’ powers, and increasingly sophisticated coding, the robo-lawyer might well be able to handle most civil cases except for the highly complex ones. So what’s robo-next? Robo-doctors, robo-architects, robo-engineers, robo-therapists, robo-waiters, robot-hairdressers, robo-plumbers, robo-writers? And how much will people tolerate concerning the customer experience? Even a canned response that makes logical sense or is technically correct sometimes just feels sterile and unsatisfying.

Just because you can do something via robot does not automatically mean it is always the best idea. When is a customer experience that only involves one human better than a customer experience that involves two humans? Does it truly matter?

Well, as you can see, I have my doubts. But then again, if I have doubts, then that really wouldn’t make much sense now would it? Listen, James Meadows will be back next week. Just do me a favor and please don’t tell him that I wrote his blog post today. He might not appreciate that.


LABOR DAY DESIRES

As we approach our nation’s annual engagement of the Labor Day holiday, let’s remember all the things it should bring to mind. The very first Labor Day occurred in 1882 and it became a federal holiday in 1894. Its purpose was to celebrate work by not working, and to give workers a nice break between Independence Day and Thanksgiving.

If you are fortunate enough to have a job, then be thankful for that. Many people are searching for employment. Others battle various physical or psychological ailments that undermine their ability to work.

If you are currently searching for a job, then be thankful you have the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Many times a closed door of opportunity leads to a new door of better opportunity. Meanwhile, take advantage of the extra time unemployment provides to do some serious introspection, self-assessment, and career reengineering. Your professional growth depends on it.

Don’t forget that you also need to take some time off to recharge your batteries. Rest and recreation help us to be better workers. “Off time” and “on time” have a symbiotic relationship. Our off time recharges our batteries for on time. Our on time challenges us sufficiently so that we appreciate our off time.

Finally, pay attention to the rhythm of the calendar. Shortly after our celebration of labor, we move toward the more major holidays of our nation. It’s great to celebrate labor and the professional life. However, let’s spend equal time exploring and celebrating personal time and the personal life. Here are some good questions to get you started:

  • What kind of a person are you becoming?
  • Do you feel fulfilled and happy?
  • What is the true source of your inner stability and strength?
  • How are your relationships?
  • Do you value the things that matter most?

These are the kinds of questions we should never forget because they affect us and others both at work and away from work. So if you are not happy with the answers, then why not take on a new homework assignment to figure out why? That would be labor well spent this Labor Day!


SHRINKAGE 101

Shrinkage.

It is a word that means different things to different people. A consumer views shrinkage as the new sweater that is laundered for the first time and is now 3% smaller than when new (woops!). The store owner views shrinkage as the amount of product that is stolen by external customers or internal employees. A manufacturer views shrinkage as the amount of scrap and waste that is incurred in the production process.

Shrinkage’s meaning can change significantly depending on whether you are on the giving end or the receiving end. Lately my wife has been quick to point out that she is experiencing shrinkage in our grocery shopping. The fact is she is buying smaller-sized containers of the same product for the same price as when the container was larger. It irks her that a company somehow things she doesn’t catch this indirect price increase. Here are just a few examples:

  • The facial tissue box that used to cost $1.79 still costs the same, but the tissues are smaller in physical size or quantity.
  • The yogurt container that used to cost $1.29 still costs the same, but its size is 28% smaller.
  • The can of peas that used to cost $0.78 still costs the same, but its size is 6% smaller.
  • The frozen vegetable bag that used to cost $2.00 still costs the same, but its size is 35% smaller.

Perhaps recognizing some of the consumer backlash, she has noticed that on some containers recently bright yellow explosion-style labels are showing up on the front of the package, declaring “Still 12 ounces!” as if that is supposed to be a selling point now.

Then we have the carton of ice cream that used to cost $4.10 still costs the same, but its size is 25% smaller. Shortly after the ice cream trick, one brand of ice cream splashed a big label on its shrunken carton announcing “two bonus scoops included free!” It reminds me of George Orwell’s novel 1984 in which the dystopian government would announce that due to the country’s prosperity, the chocolate ration was being increased. The only problem was that all the while the lead character Winston Smith clearly remembers that the chocolate ration was actually going down (but we’re never going to actually say that now, are we?).

So my question is this: where does a company making a smart decision to increase its profits by reducing its expenses cross over the line to insulting its customers’ intelligence by somehow telling them they are too stupid to notice what is happening? Please just increase the price for the same size and quantity of product, and I will be happy to pay that new price. But don’t make the ploy that I’m too stupid to see that the chocolate ration is going down, not up! If you have confidence in your product, then please don’t play games with my price.

Kathy’s latest catch is toilet paper. Yes, good old TP. She had her suspicions and she finally acted upon them. Upon a careful measurement of an empty TP tube and comparing it to an older empty TP tube, an eighth of an inch reduction was proven. And she thinks it is getting worse.

So now we have to get along on less TP too? Where will it all end? I don’t even want to think about that end.


A SOLAR ECLIPSE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS

The approaching solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, promises to be a monumental, once-in-a-lifetime, astronomical event of gargantuan and historical significance. Growing up I can remember witnessing a few partial solar eclipses here and there, but never a complete solar eclipse. Because I happen to live in the northeast side of Kansas City, I along with anyone else living in the path of totality will be privileged to experience a total solar eclipse. This is an absolutely amazing and thrilling situation to behold.

Scientifically, the total solar eclipse presents tremendous opportunities for research and data collection. You have to remember that this is the first total solar eclipse to traverse the nation in 99 years. This will truly be the event of a lifetime for astronomers and other scientists. They of course will be diligently monitoring the entire event from multiple observation points on the ground and in the air.

If you plan to be in or happen to already live in the path of totality, a handy tool is available to confirm individual locations. In addition to confirming that an address is in the totality path, it also calculates the duration for the full eclipse at that specific location. Due to mountain and valley variations on the moon surface, the northern and southern edges of the totality path can vary by as much as a half mile. Therefore, if location-wise you happen to be in that predicament, you will want to factor in some additional distance for your target location just to be sure that you don’t miss it.

As long as the skies remain clear, we should be in good shape for excellent viewing. The two big factors in our favor are the time and date of the eclipse. Due to the time of the eclipse, it means the sun is positioned roughly overheard for easier viewing as opposed to close to the horizon. The date being in middle August means we have about a 95% probability of completely clear skies that day.

If you intend to watch any part of the eclipse, remember to be well prepared with special-purpose solar filters such as “eclipse glasses.” Be certain that the viewing glasses are compliant with the international safety standard ISO 12312-2.

Watch, experience, and enjoy!


WHY YOU’RE STRONGER THAN STEEL

Ever improving productivity translates to fewer workers. If you are one of those surplus workers, that does not guarantee that you don’t have a job—it just means that you don’t have that job. With revised skills, specialized training, a new twist on your talent, or a fresh career direction, you will soon be some company’s desired new-hire.

Steel mill production is an interesting example of how this works. Within the past two decades industrywide, the number of worker-hours needed to produce one ton of steel dropped from 700 to 250. Steel plants of the future replacing older plants of the past are immensely more sophisticated and IT enhanced. This means fewer employees are needed, but the ones that are needed must be more educated or skilled (Thomas Biesheuvel “500,000 Tons of Steel. 14 Jobs” Bloomberg Businessweek. June 26, 2017, pp. 16–17).

Some people are good at navigating these tumultuous seas to better shores while others end up on deserted islands or lost at sea. How well you do depends on your attitude, skills, education, drive, and passion. Having a plan is vital along with working your personal and professional network.

Long gone are the days when Father Corporation promised to take care of you for your entire career and beyond. Rather than hopelessly searching for a guaranteed job for life, it is your responsibility to reengineer yourself for a much better goal—guaranteed lifetime employability. The difference between the two strategies is massive. However, crossing that gulf is not impossible. It is even exhilarating and fun when you do it right.

Reengineering steel manufacturing will be a constant process. Much more important than reengineering steel however, is reengineering you. That is your responsibility. The sooner you embrace it, the happier and more successful you will be. Remember, in today’s economy you have to be stronger than steel.