The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode 126 · 1 month ago

The Augmented Workforce: Enabling Humans with Technology


Sometimes it feels like technology and humans are at odds with each other, but our guest today will tell you that the future of manufacturing will involve technology that supports human beings.  

Trond Undheim is a futurist, scholar, venture partner, nonresident Fellow at the Atlantic Council, co-founder of Yegii, and lead ecosystem evangelist at Tulip. Trond hosts the Augmented Podcast and is the author of Augmented Lean. In this episode, Trond talks about how the best leaders in manufacturing implement industrial technology to empower their workers and achieve efficiencies.  

Join us as we discuss:

  • Why do the topics of automation, innovation, and technology mean so much in the manufacturing sector 
  • A synopsis of Trond’s new book Augmented Lean
  • What is an augmented workforce, and how does it change the way people work
  • Trond’s futuristic approach to manufacturing and the augmented workforce 
  • Why manufacturers don’t need to put a spin on the industry to make it exciting  

More information on Trond’s new book Augmented Lean:

Maybe the factory of the future isn't so much a place where there are all these sort of humming technologies as much as it is a place where human beings get to express themselves, innovate, and work as a team with as little as possible disruption from technology that doesn't fit with what you're doing at the moment. So it's not like we're painting a picture of less technology. We're painting a picture of hopefully more meaningful technology. Mm hmmm. Welcome to the Manufacturing Executive Podcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that are driving mid size manufacturers forward. Here you'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share about their successes and struggles, and you'll learn from B two B sales and marketing experts about how to apply actionable business development strategies inside your business. Let's get into the show. M h Welcome to another episode of the Manufacturing Executive Podcast. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host and the co founder of the industrial marketing agency Guerilla seventies six, where we help B two B manufacturers grow through revenue focused marketing programs, people and technology. Sometimes it feels like these two things are at odds with each other. If we choose one, the other will suffer. But as my guest today will tell you, the future of manufacturing will involve technology that supports the human being designed to arm our workforce with the exact tools they need to be as innovative and effective as possible. This augmented workforce won't need to adapt to machines, but instead will be enabled by technology to be at their very best. Let me introduce our guest. Tron Undheim is a futurist, scholar, podcaster, venture partner, Nonresident Fellow at the Atlantic Council, co founder of Yeggy, and lead ecosystem evangelist at tulip. He formerly worked with m I, t w P, p Oracle, and the EU. Tron is a co author with Naton Linder of Augmented Lean, an author of Health Tech, Future Tech, Pandemic, Aftermath, Disruption, Games, and Leadership from Below. He also hosts two podcasts, Augmented and Futurized, and as a Forbes columnist. Tron holds a PhD on the future of work and artificial intelligence. Tron, Welcome to the show. I'm excited to be here. Thanks Alas, Yeah, you bet so. I had the pleasure of being on your show. I think back in January, if I remember correctly, as when when that one went live on the Augmented podcast. So it's always fun to have somebody back on my show and being kind of the other side of the mic here. So I'm looking forward to put in spotlight I new this time around. That's fair, although I think you were probably much more deserving. But thanks for the favorite. Wow too kind, I don't know about that. So well, Yeah, looking forward to this conversation, Tron. I know that you're really passionate about the idea of matching technology and innovation with real human needs in our society, and I think that's a good place to start here. So I was just wondering if you could talk about why this topic is so important. Technology is very often viewed as some sort of external force that we're just hit with, but in all of my work and and everything that I've learned it it is very far from the reality. Right. Technology is something we create and hopefully something that contributes to the bettermental society, but it's not something that just happens to us. So that's very important, and especially as you know, there are all these debates about machines taking over or you know, changing things...

...that we want to happen in society, perhaps in undesirable ways. I think it's really really important to keep in mind that, you know, we get the society we deserve includes technology, innovation. These are wailed things that we have to bring forth and invest in, and we could choose not to. So when we think about workforce issues that I'm really passionate about, or we think about innovation, which is really exciting I work a lout with startups, or indeed, when you think about planning and governing the world, these are not just things that happened to us. Again, there are things we can take it active attitude towards, we can help shape and they can create good things. They are of course, also full of risks. So that has been a perspective that's been with me for many, many years. I've written about it, researched, and I keep learning more and more about the dynamics between technology and humanity. I've heard you say that automation started in the wrong place and that the true needs of the workforce to precede the technologies. I think kind of a build on your last question or the last question I asked, you can share your perspective on this for us. Yes, it's actually quite simple automation when it is viewed in this sort of way that I just described as something external that just happens to you when it becomes an industrial technology, right, the temptation is to just go for the surface efficiencies. In other words, you automate things and create really efficiencies without thinking about your workforce or without thinking about the long term or even in immediate term consequences of what you're doing. In other words, you're chasing perhaps problems, or you're chasing for impressive statistics. But what happens is that you're not fully aware always of what an introduction of a machine will do to your own workforce ultimately to the industry that you are, you know, putting it into. And that's what we in the book, you know, call mindless automation. And unfortunately, this perspective, which sounds kind of done when I'm stylistically describing it, this is the default mechanism by which technologies have been introduced in the manufacturing sector almost since the Industrial Revolution. So unfortunately this is the typical way let's talk about your new book, Augmented Lean, which I know is just literally fresh off the press. Can you tell us what that's all about. Yeah, So augmented Lean, it's obviously a spin on Lean, which two people in the industrial sector is familiar, rights very familiar. Term refers to many many things, but it's certainly a project to reduce waste, to think about the things that going too the work process, and to be mindful about how you are focused on quality and seeking efficiencies obviously but essentially seeking to simplify things. And that kind of principle is very much valid. So we were not we're not in this book augmenting Lean because there's something wrong with lean as a management perspective in industry and obviously inspiring all other industries. But what we're reacting to in this book is this idea that when digital transformation comes on top of these Lean principles, it's very easy to again just sort of copy paste an idea of digital on top of this without changing and realizing that digital technologies they do actually transform everything, or should be thought of as transforming everything about your organization. So you need to think about new things. It's not as simple as pasting digital on top of leans, something changes within Lean, and something actually profoundly needs to change in your organization in order to prepare for these digital introductions. And digital isn't essentially just a technology that you paste on top of an existing organization. It's something far It should be something far more significant. So we...

...are describing the way that the organizations that we found that do this best, the kinds of impact that digital has had on their organizations, which is far different from just this simplistic notion of investing in a digital technology. It starts much earlier. It starts with what are the challenges that you're trying to solve. It starts with going down to the shop floor doing these very traditional lean practices. There's something called gamba walks, right, so you walk around your asking your workers, what do you need? Where are your bottlenecks, what are the challenges here? And many, many times digital technology is invested in this mindless automation way where we're assuming we are just going to buy all these things and it's going to make things better. But in fact, augmentation, right, it refers to a whole other perspective than automation. Automation is sort of making things marginally more and more efficient. Augmentation means helping individuals workers make their work situation better so that they can perform better, feel better, and have essentially less distractions and more time to innovate, which is the real idea in the contemporary workplace, right, We're not just chasing efficiencies anymore. Things changed very fast. So incidentally, this is an answer to this idea about robots taking over and all these things that are out there, because of course there's many, many more technologies coming into the workplace. But what we are saying is you need to really really think hard about why you are introducing certain technologies and make sure that they fit with your organization, and you can't just sort of put them they there and expect workers to accept it understand it. So there's a whole theory that we can get into when it comes to how you introduce a technology in the workplace in order to get the most out of it long term, the long term benefit and without destroying really important pies and work practices that that you you know, any organization will will have an established way of doing things well. Very often when you introduce the technology, you actually rupture some of those processes. And you actually make it more difficult for yourself. Yeah, it sounds really interesting. And I know you have so your books called augmented ly and you've got a podcast called Augmented for people listening who may just not even be that familiar with the idea of an augmented workforce, Like, how would you define what that means? And in different sort of I don't know, different components of an augmented workforce. In a very simplistic manner, you could say that, you know, even pen and paper and white boards and things that are familiar to people in a you know, on shop floor or even to office workers if you think of it. You know the basic you know computer now these days, and and all kinds of software programs. These are all tools. So really any tool that improves the way you do work and it's tailored to an individual or to a group of individuals, those are augmentation tools now, and augmented workforce just refers to the fact that, you know, this is a system, so you need to think about how these things work together, and not just how the technologies work together, right, all these different components, but you need to think about how this impacts the way that individuals who are going to be using this. Does it change the way they have to, you know, get up in the morning and adjust for the work day. Does it change the way they actually execute certain actions? And in many, in many ways it has. Right. We have been forced certainly in the you know, if you are an office worker, you have been introduced to all of these different software tools many times historically they're not even connected to each other, so you have to...

...learn all these new tools. Sometimes they're even mandated right there, their records tools. They are systems a record that you essentially have to use, you know, to submit your expenses or stilly things like that, but it could also be, you know, in order to execute your work. The thing is, the system of all of these tools is a burden. At the end of the day. We are going for simplicity because that's humans cannot really operate when they have too many constraints around them. And so so the idea then of an augmented workforce is a group of people that has exactly the amount of tools they need to be not just the most efficient, but also the most innovative and nothing more, nothing superfluous. So the vision that we're painting in this book is that of a ever transforming workforce that has these fluid interface pass that they're interacting with that never are obtrusive to the workflow. And this is something that's the key back to lean right, because a lot of this digital transformation speak, many times it's called you know, an industry industry for a point, know this idea that it's that you know, fourth kind of industrial revolution, and there's certain things connected with that. The problem is that you know, whether it's one, two, or three industrial revolutions, you know, people still need to be at the center, and for so long in automation it hasn't been so an augmented workforce for us is to basically to say that we're going to move from a workforce that really had to adapt to machines and infrastructure. Kind of your typical factory would be that, right, you just you come in, you have to clock in, you have to put yourself with the machines. Are you have to follow the logic of the machine and the assembly line. Well, we're saying the opposite. Maybe the factory of the future isn't so much a place where there are all these sort of humming technologies as much as it is a place where human beings get to express themselves, innovate, and work as a team with as little as possible disruption from technology that doesn't fit with what you're doing at the moment. So it's not like we're painting a picture of less technology. We're painting a picture of hopefully more meaningful technology. Okay, let's take a quick break here. I want to let a couple of our strategists at Grill seventy six tell you about something pretty cool that we're doing right now for marketing folks in the manufacturing sector. Peyton and Mary take it away. Yes, So, I'm Peyton Warrant and I'm Mary Kio. Twice a month we host a live event called Industrial Marketing Live. Right now, we have a group of fifty plus industrial marketers from a variety of manufacturing organ izations. We meet up digitally to learn, ask questions, network and get smarter. Every session has a designated topic, and one of our team members at Guerrilla seventy six opens up by teaching for the first half hour or so. Topics have included how to get better at a manufacturing webinar, getting started with paid social on LinkedIn, how to optimize your website for conversions, creating amazing video content, and so much more. After we break it down, we open it up to Q and A so we can help you apply all of this in your own businesses. This is pure value, no cost, no strings attached, no product or service pitches, just so unadulterated learning experience. Oh and on top of these live sessions, we've also opened up a Slack channel where our attendees bounce ideas off each other and learned together all week long between sessions. We're building a true community of manufacturing marketing professionals here. So if you or someone at your company...

...has the word marketing in his or her job title, please consider telling them about it. They can visit Industrial Marketing Live dot com to register. We love to see you there trying. You refer to yourself as a futurist. What's that mean and how does it fit into this conversation about an augmented workforce and the future of manufacturing. The funny thing about the future is that tomorrow is tomorrow for some people and it's today for others. So it's always funny in this like future of work discussion to think that we're talking about the future of work when in reality, our book is about our reality, right. We have discussed real companies J and J, Stanley, Blackendecker, d mg more, the German toolmaker. All of these companies are big industrial companies and we have we also have worked with smaller startup companies and intermediate sized companies. They are to some extent doing this today and we can get into some of the mechanics of the management frameworks around augmented lean But to us it paints a picture of a future for the overall industry and perhaps with ramifications across the workforce. So there is a futuristic angle to it. But we are speaking about today now. I am calling myself these days a futurist, which a bit of an ambitious label. All it means is that I care deeply about where society is going, and I have developed some tools and use some tools in a kind of the There is a futurist tool kit out there where you're constantly thinking about how evolving technologies you know, are impacting society. So so that is what a futurist tries to do. Lately. A futurist isn't so much all about prediction as as we are trying more to paint pictures because we really lies the change is happening very very fast, so it's really hard to predict. Although the ambition I think is still there. It's very important actually to try to predict. But as futurists, I think we are much more humble these days. So it is, you know, actually becoming a crossover of an academic endeavor versus a bit of an artistic endeavor, because a lot of it has to do with the imagination. But this imagination is not free flow. We're basing it on projections of things we think might happen. And in his book in particular, we are kind of extrapolating a situation where the augmented workforce could happen and every factory could look like this, and perhaps every office you know in any sector is going to resemble a little bit more of this approach where you are really thoughtful before introducing a new technology, because you're realize that there's endless amounts of technologies and software tools and hardware gizmos that you could use. The question is not just can you afford them, because that's kind of as irrelevant question. Really, it is does it really produce something? For you in the long term, and does it have you know, how do you adjust to it? Those are the really important questions that leaders need to think about, and manufacturing leaders, especially Tron. You told me something in a previous conversation that caught my attention. You said that you don't think we need to put a spin on manufacturing to sound, to make it sound like a more interesting space, and I love hearing that. I'm curious what you instead have to say to the outside world about manufacturing. Very often we think that manufacturing is a place that we wish had a lot more positive connotations towards it, and we are kind of adopting this idea that we need to make it sexy, we need to tell young people that it's the place to be, And for a lot of different reasons, I think that's the wrong approach. First of all, it is the place to be, and there...

...are so many exciting technologies now coming into manufacturing. So the best manufacturers they have the best of both worlds. You are making things, you're making real things. They are not always physical things. But manufacturing is an exciting place to be. There are tremendous simons technologies there. It takes a lot of skill, but it is real. You're producing something, you're actually contributing to a core functional society that I think doesn't need a spin. It will be very, very visible quite soon, and if you're a good manufacturer, these are some of the most exciting workplaces of the near future. So I think let's stop thinking about how to spin it overall as an endeavor, I think it's an exciting endeavor. I think it's becoming more exciting, you know, by the minute. And I think all of these, you know, at the surface the excitement that we have seen in in digital overall, which is largely I think what this idea talks about. When we're gonna make it interesting to young people, were going to tell them how cool it is and how we have digital tools or something. Well, all of that is of course happening. It's just that it's happening in an even more deeply interesting way. So there's no need to put a spin on it. It'll it will actually start to happen. The more important thing is also we need to make sure that we're walking the walk right. You can't just put a spin on it. These are transformative days for manufacturing. If you don't have an interesting workplace, you are obviously also going to go under commercially. So I think it's just be whose business leaders to look at their own organization and basically just make sure that you're doing things the best way you can, and then the overall perception. I think as a futurist, in less than a decade from now, this manufacturing and austrial production is kind of again gonna capture the imagination of people the way it did in the days of forward. You see this a little bit with Tesla actually, you know, as as a kind of a harbinger, harbinger of things to come, where there's a fascination around the fact that this is more than an automobile. This is kind of digital, but you see that it's visual and you can drive the thing. It's actually on the roads today. That kind of a product when we can create and be part of creating something like that in many, many different fields, you don't need to put a spin on that. That is very, very exciting. Yeah, I really love your perspective there. I think it's just such a positive way to look at what's going on right now. It's not about trying to pretend something that's not actually happening is happening. It's more about figuring out that put the spotlight on the things that are happening so more people can actually have visibility into that. Maybe. Yeah, I I think that's happening. And I think there's there's a lot wrong with trying to put a spin on anything, right. I mean, you're you're a marketer. But the thing is, good marketers know this that the story you you want to tell has to be the story that's already there. And this really is what I believe. So if you have a story to tell, of course you need to be a good storyteller. But you're not spinning as much as you are unearthing. Right. You are just like a sculptor, right You sort of you're actually discovering what was already resident in your material, and you're, you know, you're sort of chafing that out as opposed to making something, you know, something up. Yeah, I agree with trying Is there anything I did not ask you about that you'd like to add to this conversation. Well, I think the important thing to keep in mind if you are a leader in industry today is don't chase the short term efficiencies and forget about the long term...

...innovation that you know you're responsible for as a sector. I think it's really important obviously to stay up to date on opportunities that technologies give. But if we spend this decade on the next chasing short term efficiencies that you know you've looked at your colleagues factory or you're you're you're looking at some theoretical benefit, and you're making investments that you know they look good short term, but they're actually not contributing anything to value creation in your own company or overall in society, then I think you need to just take a second look. So you know that's augmentedly and is actually not very complicated perspective. The data of it is perhaps that it seems a little bit too simple. It is not hard to succeed with these things, and but unfortunately, you know, if we continue along the path that we have, then we are running towards a work force and a industrial sector with ever increasing complexity. When we are actually taking shortcuts on that way. If we spend enough time simplifying the technologies, making the demands to manufacturers of technology to simplify the interfaces, then at the end, you know we are going to accomplish more, because simplicity is the key to achieving creative work. And whether there are more or less machines in the workplace, if you don't have these simple interfaces, you destroy the motivation of your workforce and it's difficult for them as a collective and as individuals to make a mark. And you know so, I guess lastly, this discussion about reskilling. So there's this idea that we need to steal up our workers and there's this massive skilling problem. Well but we in this book are almost turning it on its head. Of course, you need skills, but what if the machines needed less skills to operate, Does that make them any less valuable? I don't really think so. I think it's the opposite. You demand easier interfaces and you can do more complex things because you free up the energy that was otherwise spent coordinating sending people to these long courses to run robotic interfaces, when these robotic interfaces from the beginning should have been much simpler. I mean, I'm not picking on robotic interfaces. They are getting simpler, but this goes for all kinds of technologies. We we just have to demand more and incidentally, this is a bit of a peppiable mind. But think about all of the dollars that have been invested in office workers the productivity revolution of i T over the last thirty years, billions of dollars. It's just about time that some of that money now is spent on frontline workers on the workforce, the desk list workforce that are no less in need of these tools. And you know, it's now slowly being addressed with things like no code, digital tools that you can use in the workplace to help you carry out your work, where you can get digital work instructions on demand just in time, prompts from sensors, and computer vision that is actually watching what you're doing, telling you perhaps what you're doing wrong, or nudging you along. These are behavioral technologies essentially that are long overdue in industry, and I can't fathom why investors wouldn't have invested in them in the seventies. But of course the reason is that we were all stuck in the wrong paradigm of automation and didn't really fully see that quite liberating perspective of augmentation, which starts with humans at the... It is so obvious, but it is a blind spot because it is so obvious. Tran, this was a really great conversation today. Can you tell our audience how they can get in touch with you and also where they can find your new book, Augmented Lean. The easiest is probably to go to augmented Lean dot com. That's where you can find information about the book. My name is complicated to spell, but if you can spell half of it, I'm sure you'll find Tronden Time and you can look up some of the momentum books there. You know, I'm on LinkedIn and not so much. I guess I'm on Twitter and other things. The podcast Augmented is also easy to find. And my other podcast Futurized, which talks about much broader technology and societal trends in the next decade and even beyond that, is you know, easy to find. So that's Futurized and Augmented and other than that. Augmented Lean dot com is the website for for the book and a lot of discussions and we're hopefulling to build a community there, so check that out perfect well, Tron, thanks for doing this today. You're welcome. It's excited. Thank you so much. You bet As for the rest of you, I hope to catch you on the next episode of The Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to The Manufacturing Executive podcast to ensure that you never missed an episode, Subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learn more about industrial marketing and sales strategy, you'll find an ever expanding collection of articles, videos, guides, and tools specifically for B two B manufacturers at Guerrilla seventy si dot com, slash learn. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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