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Episode 49: Beware the Hidden Dangers of Automation

by Hannah Rose | Mar 8, 2023 10:00:00 AM

Fun fact: our chatbot is Bender. And if we got a cease and desist order for that, Doug would frame it.

It’s already March! This is a special week because we have two episodes filmed almost back to back, though you’ll get them a week apart. And if you’re reading/listening to this in the future, you’ll get them back to back!

Today Jess wants to talk about the dangers and downside of automation. Jess looks at automation very similar to the advice that Peter Parker was given from his Uncle Ben - with great power comes great responsibility.




Additional Resources:

[Blog] Why Automation Is So Damn Hard: 5 Rules to Make It Work
[Blog] 6 Tips for Getting the Most from Your Marketing Automation Software
[Blog] Four Reasons Marketing Automation Fails

Show Notes:

Why does everyone jump to automation? Why do we feel like automation is going to make our life easier?

To some degree, that’s the underlying premise and promise of technology, that it’s going to automate everything. The myth is that automation does the thinking for you. Think of it like a dishwasher. The dishwasher is a mix of manual and automation. We put a name in a CRM and go to look up their name, that’s automation. 

Another example of automation that tells you the good and the bad is the printing press. Before then everything was handwritten, so if you wanted to write a book, you had to write the book over and over again.

One thing that’s coming out with greater clarity is ChatGPT and generative AI. It communicates with clarity and certainty and is very often wrong. There was a huge thing about Bing’s AI bot that got into an argument with someone, insisting that it was 2022 and not 2023. Automation does the same thing; it communicates with certainty. We start putting in all these rules to try to prevent something and all it’s doing is trying to find the fastest way to what you define as the end point. The beauty of automation is to think once, never have to think again. The nightmare of automation is think once, never get to think again.

One of our rules with automation is if you can’t do it manually, you can’t automate it. Automation doesn’t have judgment. What happens is if you have small misalignments, automation magnifies them. Automation is an exponential answer, so if you have chaos and you automate it, then you’re going to have a lot of chaos.

One thing that happens with automation is it can create many problems. Because in the creation of the automation, it oversimplifies things, steps are skipped, it ends up creating chaos and you end up spending more time dealing with things and you end up creating more friction and managing more friction to deal with the automation being out of whack. 

Automation tends to make things invisible which means people become less and less connected with what’s going on.

Why has the percentage of emails increased dramatically in a period of time where access to insights is easier than ever before? Because they’re invisible. If you have to write the email, what do you have to do? You have to think

Going back to creating more friction, Jess agrees that people don’t want to think about what’s going on. When we start to outline the automation is when people will start to skip over steps and then they’ll activate the automation which causes friction. The other danger of automation is once you activate the automation, there’s an inclination to go in and put a bandaid on it once there is a realization that something is broken. If you haven’t forced yourself to work through and think through it, you’ll play whack-a-mole without anyone remembering why it is you’re doing something. There’s not a want to go back and outline what the path is when we realize something isn’t working.

When you bump your arm hard against the doorframe, what do you do? You rub the spot. Why? Because it makes you feel better. That’s because you’re creating nerve confusion. If you’ve ever had an electronic stim done, it puts so much input on the nerves that your brain can’t keep track of it, so it ignores the pain which allows for things to loosen up. You rub your arm because it tells your brain that something weird is happening and to turn that off for a little while.

We have this word to define organizations that add a rule and a rule and a rule to address people that are breaking it. We call it bureaucracy. As humans, we’re natural heuristic beings. We think in heuristics. Automation is precise and literal. What we do is we see a pain, we treat the symptom. We say, “it would be better if we just automated this.” So we go in and we create whatever for the automation. What we don’t do is we don’t stop and map it out step by step. Automation is going to look at every single step, and if any step is missed, it’s going to create chaos. If what you want done is going to take more time than it’s worth, then maybe you shouldn’t automate that. 

The idea around automation is that you do a lot of work up front and then you get to let things run. The automation isn’t going to do the thinking for you, you need to do the thinking for the automation. 

When you’re automating complicated things, you need to think about what’s going into the automation. Once you turn the automation on, it doesn’t mean that you don’t still have to think to some degree. Part of the training that comes in is asking questions when something is off or isn’t working right. 

The difficulty with automation is it’s so process myopic. All it cares about is the process. It doesn’t pay attention to the outcome. There is no variance with automation. The moment you automate, there’s no variance. Automating anything of value without ritual is a waste.

The danger of automation is its power. The danger of automation is it eliminates the need for thinking. When you automate, it’s a means of eliminating friction. When you automate high value activities, you eliminate the value. Automation is always making the trade-off decision. If you haven’t thought about the guiding policy for that trade-off, that’s where damage ensues.

Jess’s Takeaways: 

  • You create more friction when you build an automation because it makes everything invisible.
  • Automating your low value stuff over your high value stuff, there’s a huge difference between the two.

Next Steps: