At birth, we are helpless. We spend about a year unable to walk, about 2 more before we can articulate full thoughts, and many more years unable to find for ourselves. Compare this to other mammals. Dolphins are born swimming; giraffes learn to stand within hours; a baby zebra can run within 45-minutes of birth. Across the animal kingdom, most are strikingly independent soon after birth.
Most animals that become sufficient quickly have “prewired” brains for doing exactly what they need to do to survive. They have much less ability to adapt to significantly different surroundings. In contrast, humans can thrive in many different environments. This is possible because the human brain is born remarkably unfinished. Instead of arriving “prewired”, a human brain allows itself to be shaped by the details of life experiences. As a baby through adolescent, we are constantly learning and adapting to our surroundings and making judgements and decisions from those experiences. By the time we are twenty-five years of age, the brain transformations of childhood and adolescence are over. The brain is now fully developed. You may think that who we are as adults is now fixed in place, but it is not. In adulthood our brains continue to change.
Every four months our red blood cells are entirely replaced, and our skin cells are replaced every few weeks – within 7 years every atom in our body will be replaced. We are constantly changing versions of ourselves.
Based on these facts, we would expect that people would all understand that they have the ability to “steer the ship” and control their destiny for personal development to some degree. However, on average, most adults do not focus on continually improving and tend to fall into routines that have us walking through life on auto pilot. As it relates to work, not only should we no longer do this, we cannot do this due to the rate of change in technology. I wrote about embracing continuous growth in a previous post about Creating Win Win Scenarios.
“To do this, employees will first need to embrace the constant evolution of technology and understand their jobs will likely continue to change over time. Ensure your organization and employees are aligned with this understanding by helping them embrace life-long learning and enabling them to become more adaptable and pragmatic to the evolving needs of your organization. Help them feel comfortable with these changes by teaching them about how their new roles will help lead to a better work environment.”
As we look to improve how we do our work, we need to look at what we do at work. The reality of work is that only a minor percentage of the work we do drives most of the value. This is known as the Pareto Principle. The Pareto Principle, named after esteemed economist Vilfredo Pareto, specifies that 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes, asserting an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs.  To put in work terms, the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that 80% of “value” is derived from 20% of the work.
To further this argument, Ashling Partners previously conducted a survey on employee engagement. Our results included:
• 86% of respondents believe their contributions at work have a meaningful impact on the overall success of the organization.
• While 56% of respondents believe that most of their time is not spent on activities that are meaningful to the overall success of the organization.
• Finally, 95% of respondents believe if their work contributions were more meaningful to the overall success of the organization, they would be more engaged as employees.
In other words, most employees believe they are making a meaningful difference at the company overall but also believe that most of their specific tasks are not contributing to overall success of the organization. Most of their tasks are not meaningful, but the remainder of their work does provide a meaningful contribution – enough for them to believe they make a meaningful contribution overall. This seems to further defend the Pareto Principle logic that a small amount of the work activities they do drives the majority of the value they provide to the organization.
Process Automation can be leveraged to address this challenge. Technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can take over the mundane, repeatable tasks that people spend a significant portion of their time completing. By removing the administrative tasks of data entry and data manipulation, people could now have the time to truly analyze and react to the data – thus doing more meaningful work. RPA itself is a result of continuous improvement from a prior emphasis on implementing enterprise applications like ERP & CRM to standardize the processes. RPA has been around for about 10 years but has significantly picked up steam in the last 2 years. It is commonly perceived as the first stage in the evolution of automation and artificial intelligence – which, of course, continues the evolution of continuous improvement.
 The Brain by David Eagleman 2015 Pantheon Books