Article: A subtle interplay - The digital mind & analog thinking


A subtle interplay - The digital mind & analog thinking

Digital technology has moved from being an optional chapter in physics to a compulsory section in life called earning a livelihood. But do we still need to have an analog mind to find new things?
A subtle interplay -  The digital mind & analog thinking

Future is about man+machine in which human beings have to rediscover roles while machines will manage dashboard-based decisions. Leadership roles will involve identifying and recognizing efforts, strife and commitment of human beings even if the desired outcomes were not achieved.

It was in a Physics class I first heard about digital technology. The term was solid-state physics. My understanding of digital technology has only improved a shade more than it was eons ago of it being ON-OFF, 0 or 1 — only two states and nothing in between.

The Airmec radio at home was an important artifact that played songs from various stations during the day and at 9:00 PM sharp, one of my elder siblings would manually turn the knob over to play NEWS — All India Radio, News! This was a daily feature and the most important affair of the day. Our father, the person who purchased the radio never operated it himself; he directed one of us to play what he wanted to hear from the radio. To get to the desired station required some deft maneuvering skill, which only my elder siblings had. As an observer of ‘change’ I stood looking at the knob being gently turned around till a horizontal indicator stood steady at 102.9! This was like watching a connoisseur pouring the last few drops of wine into your glass – well poised and balanced during an intricate act. On the Airmec too, you needed audio sensitivity besides visual accuracy to weed out loud and mild disturbances.

My single-track career in technology was serendipity. Digital technology now daunted me as it had moved from being an optional chapter in physics to a compulsory section in life called ‘earning a livelihood’. I was still grappling with the On-OFF switches at home that controlled the lights and fans – is this digital technology? 

A bemused expression appeared on my face every time the ‘D’ word confronted me. I was, however, adept at switching television channels using the remote and figured out the advantages of speed and accuracy of digital technology. I was confident about managing technology with knowing what it is – ‘manager’ in me had fully bloomed’! However, not too long in the future, one evening as I lay unwell on the bed and was tiredly surfing channels on TV that I saw a real-life ‘Towering Inferno’. 

Yes, it was Sept 11! Now I remember that fateful event that shook-up the whole world and chaos prevailed everywhere. A day later, the leader of the affected country made a very hard-hitting statement to rest of the world – “you are either with us or with them” – that’s when the Newtonian apple dropped on my head and I sprung up and said “I now know what ‘digital’ means”! 

Ours is indeed a digital world — you are either with me or against me; you either like something or you dislike it; either you achieved your targets or… 

All choices have only 2 options and one of them has to be picked! It is Amazon or Walmart; Uber or Ola…

At the workplace too, our thinking is very digital… ‘Will your project be completed before the deadline? Will we achieve profits in this quarter? Will I get a promotion this year?’... If one broadens the perspective then the conversation is like — ‘Who will become the President of the company – Will she be from within the organization or from outside?  Our thinking process prefers to break up everything into a series of two choices like a binary flow chart, till the mind either brings it to the last two choices or to rest!

And, why shouldn’t we be thinking so? The digital decision flow-chart is very structured and logical, unambiguous, and can be easily understood by those who need to know. Digital thinking along with clarity of communication saves time – no need to explain details; summary itself is lucid, self-explanatory and can be assessed too in terms of YES and NO. This makes the process very efficient and with transparency, it also becomes ‘fair’.

Actually, in the digital form of thinking, our mind jumps from one state to the other — there isn’t anything else in between. So, we tend to summarize and abstract information and use the dashboard technique for decision-making. The devil in the detail is ignored – for good reasons – the in-process checks and controls make sure information is accurately massaged and made relevant for decision-making by taking away the nitty-gritties and the boredom of managing them. Let’s get to the bottom-line quickly and succinctly.

Is there any reason to argue against this approach? In the era of speed and accuracy, graphs and pictures speak a thousand words. Therefore, as managers at work, we are ‘pressed’ by our seniors and situations to jump from one thought to the other like the television remote helps change channels. What we were thinking until 2:59 PM will have no bearing on the review meeting that starts at 3:00 PM! In the digital era we simply switch over!

There was something very interesting about turning the Airmec’s knob to change the stations. When done under pressure, the intervening stations appeared as disturbances — ‘noise’ that one had to endure. But when the same was done deliberately, one actually ‘discovered’ new stations! Incidentally, in those days, there was no other way to discover stations.

As one looks ahead, the onslaught of technology will take many jobs away from human beings. The digital thinking and ‘dash-boarded’ decision-making will become more amenable for automation, displacing human beings even from managerial roles. Human beings will have to ‘discover’ roles that transition over into a meaningful one. Moving into new roles requires ‘analog’ thinking — the ability to listen to all the intervening ‘noises’ and then finding a new station!

The towering inferno left a deep impact on our lives. The Airmec radio, which is now a museum piece, still reminds us that even in the digital era, we need to have an analog mind that rolls over to find new things. Future roles for human beings will do more with understanding and managing emotions, plights, feelings, and situations at the workplace than equating results directly to efforts displayed by a dashboard. Leadership skills will involve being sensitive to the environment than manipulating it. It will take a leader to reward a team that has really tried as against a computer to applaud those who achieved targets — the winners!

In the digital world, thinking analog will bring out the real leaders! 

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Topics: Technology, Life @ Work

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