I read somewhere recently that in the future there will be only two kinds of jobs: you will either give instructions to robots, or take instructions from robots.   It strikes me that if you exchange the word ‘robot’ for ‘artificial intelligence’ it becomes an even more challenging statement.

Man talking to robotThen again, aren’t we already both giving and taking instructions from artificial intelligence? I’m thinking about when we ask Google Maps for directions: we make a request for a solution to our problem (locating, and then finding the shortest/quickest route to, a desired destination) and then usually follow the instructions provided.

Here is an interesting definition of artificial intelligence: “Artificial intelligence (AI) is a subfield of computer science that focuses on creating computer software that imitates human learning and reasoning. Computers can out-perform people when it comes to storing information, solving numerical problems, and doing repetitive tasks. Computer programmers originally designed software that accomplished these tasks by completing algorithms, or clearly defined sets of instructions. In contrast, programmers design AI software to give the computer only the problem, not the steps necessary to solve it.” Follow this link to read more about AI from this source.

Do you talk to Siri? I’m referring to the iPhone app, of course. Siri is my first obvious experience of talking to artificial intelligence and I am increasingly intrigued by the ‘relationship’. What is the ‘right way’ to speak to artificial intelligence? I find myself saying, ‘Please’ and ‘thank you.’ It’s absurd! (Do you also mutter a curse when Siri fails to understand you or doesn’t get you the ‘solutions’ you want?)

Then again, why do I feel the need to talk to artificial intelligence at all? I’ve reflected on this a bit, and come up with this answer: because I want information I don’t have. And perhaps also to get a different, unbiased and independent point of view.

Almost immediately that answer throws up another question: “Is that sometimes true of the conversations I have with natural intelligence, i.e. other people?” Yes of course! Especially in the workplace, many of the conversations are when I am wanting information I don’t have or want a different point of view. And going back to that artificial intelligence quotation above, doesn’t this strike you as an approach to ‘creating thinking people’ in a lean transformation: give the people (computer) only the problem, not the steps necessary to solve it.

I must admit that my preoccupation with talking ‘the right way’ to artificial intelligence has then triggered the question, “What is ‘the right way’ to speak to natural intelligence, i.e. people?” And in parallel with this preoccupation, I have been reading about some of the exciting discoveries on how we learn (or not!) from mistakes, come up with creative responses to taxing problems, and ‘what we do when we don’t know what to do!’

My preoccupation yielded this question: what characteristics differentiate effective workplace improvement conversations with artificial intelligence from those with people?

A few weeks ago, I literally woke in the middle of the night with this idea: there is only one characteristic that differentiates those conversations – respect. Artificial intelligence does not have self-esteem or ego or status at stake, but we humans do. All those exciting discoveries about how we learn from mistakes, what distinguishes high-performing workplace teams, etc. find their way back to the concept of ‘psychological safety’.

If there is any merit in this, it means ‘showing respect’ and ‘having respectful conversations’ are necessary skills for team leaders, managers and process improvement helpers. Unless of course you only work with robots. What do you think?

Kind regards,


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SAPICS Conference