Automated Complacency

According to Pater (2014), complacency is one of 10 top leadership mistakes. I wonder whether or not the other nine are caused in part by an excessively-relaxed mindset. The additional nine mistakes noted by Pater are arrogance, distraction, disconnection, command and assume, tunnel vision, overcomplicating or setting unrealistic goals, failure to use leverage, reinforcing ineffectively, and “no juice.”

Despite all its benefits, automation is associated with complacency because the technology may disconnect us from the processes we manage (Carr, 2014; Strand, Nilsson, Karlsson, Nilsson, 2014). The very tools that create vast efficiencies have the unintended consequence of depleting our skill levels. Supplanting the knowledge work formerly conducted by highly-educated professionals are computers, which guide pilots in flying planes and doctors in diagnosing patients as well as architects in designing buildings (Carr, 2014).

The saying “use it or lose it” is relevant, especially when our skills become rusty from lack of use. Consider the following mistakes attributed to pilot error:

Even a slight decay in manual flying ability can risk tragedy. A rusty pilot is more likely to make a mistake in an emergency. Automation-related pilot errors have been implicated in several recent air disasters, including the 2009 crashes of Continental Flight 3407 in Buffalo and Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean, and the botched landing of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco in 2013 (Carr, 2014, para. 11).

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) task force last year found that pilots have become passive and reactive as they watch the automatic pilot control the flights. The desired state, of course, is proactive anticipation that comes through hands-on engagement. In fact, the FAA recommended that pilots fly “by hand” more frequently A study by scientists at Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that people using sophisticated software suffered from short-circuited thinking whereas those using simple software developed a deeper capacity to perform work with fewer mistakes, which produced higher-quality strategies (Carr, 2014).

In short, it is a mistake to rely too much on technology to avoid working hard because it may result in “de-skilling” and an accompanying higher error rate for the given task. “When those mistakes happen, designers respond by seeking to further restrict people’s responsibilities—spurring a new round of de-skilling” (Carr, 2014, para. 26). We need to control technology as opposed to letting the technology control us.

The solution endorsed by Carr (2014) is not to abandon technology. Rather, it is to use “human-centered automation,” which     permits technology to assume routine functions already mastered by humans, but requires human control over complex decisions. For example, airline pilots, doctors, accountants, engineers, architects, and other professionals would rely on their own judgment rather than depending on machine-generated algorithms to make decisions for them.

Keeping our skills current is essential to long-term success. Complacency creates a trance-like state in which we disconnect from our passion and disengage from our work. As I ponder complacency at the intersection of fitness and leadership, I surmise we can use exercise to feel present in the moment. Exercise is a low-tech strategy for improving cognition and brain plasticity (Pieramico, Esposito, Cesinaro, Frazzini, & Sensi, 2014). Oppenzzo and Schwartz (2014) found that creativity is increased when individuals increase their levels of physical activity. Perhaps exercise conquers physical complacency to better prepare us to fight off the urge to shut down mentally when technology makes our lives so much simpler. Training our bodies out of a complacent state may very well prevent snoozing through important decisions that are handled best by human ingenuity rather than by machine automation.

References

Carr, N. (2014, Nov 21). Automation makes us dumb; human intelligence is withering as computers do more, but there’s a solution. Wall Street Journal (Online) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1627147017?accountid=28644

Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D. L. (2014). Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking.

Pater, R. (2014). Overcoming the top 10 leadership mistakes. Professional Safety, 59(6), 30-32. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1545821501?accountid=28644

Pieramico, V., Esposito, R., Cesinaro, S., Frazzini, V., & Sensi, S. L. (2014). Effects of non-pharmacological or pharmacological interventions on cognition and brain plasticity of aging individuals. Frontiers in systems neuroscience, 8.

Strand, N., Nilsson, J., Karlsson, I. C., & Nilsson, L. (2014). Semi-automated versus highly automated driving in critical situations caused by automation failures. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour.

Copyright © 2014 Carol R. Himelhoch. All rights reserved.

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Does Exercise Promote Creativity?

The link between risk-taking and innovation has been supported through research because both are associated with creative behaviors within organizations. Inherent to risk taking is a willingness to invest in failures, accrue debt, and commit resources at levels consistent with the manager’s individual risk-taking propensity. “A manager’s preference for risky behavior is positively associated with the attainment of higher innovation results” (Llopis, Garcia-Granero, Fernandez-Mesa, and Alegre, 2014, para 3). Risk-taking also entails feeling comfortable with the ambiguity inherent in uncertainty. Managers with a higher risk-taking preference are more likely to realize gains (Llopis et al., 2014).

Creativity often entails defying the status quo. In organizations that feel threatened by deviations from custom, leaders find ways to stifle creativity. The idea creator may feel punished through subtle cues, which signal that suggestions are not welcome. The creative individual may feel outcast and will often shut down or leave.

According to Henker, Sonnentag, and Unger (2014), leaders influence the level of creative expression in employees either through a promotion or a prevention focus (Regulatory Focus Theory). A promotion focus “is associated with developmental needs and goals related to the ideal self, ” (p. 3) whereas “a prevention focus is linked to security needs and goals related to the ought self” (p. 3). In their research, Henker et al. found that a promotion focus was a mediating factor between transformational leadership and creativity. The implication is that leaders can foster creativity by shaping a promotion-focused environment. Such leaders are often transformational.

In my book Transformational Leadership and High-Intensity Interval Training, the leaders interviewed foster risk-taking and creativity. The self-confidence they developed through their CrossFit® training enables them to provide a promotion focus. They are constantly striving to improve both in their physical training and their organizational lives. They feel good physically, and the mind-body connection reduces stress and promotes a focus on excellence. One leader commented:

I think it [CrossFit® training] helps me. One is I feel better physically. And I think that then puts you in a better mood mentally. I mean I think that also it helps me to — Knowing that I can go in there and do something pretty intense and crazy or however you want to say it and really push myself to the limit, makes me feel really good but also makes me feel I can do that in any area of my life.

Risk-taking often involves failure. One leader I interviewed embraces failure. She explained how failure is part of the scientific discovery process among the pharmaceutical researchers she leads. One must persist through failures to achieve major creative breakthroughs. She connected that process to her physical training as well. She said:

You see I failed at everything but I’ve never given up, you know. When you’re not afraid of failure, you’re ready to take the leap. I’m two hundred pounds overweight. I go to CrossFit®. Is that a prescription for failure? [LAUGHS] But you know what I never gave up. … I’m so much better off now than before.

The leaders in my study developed perseverance to endure challenges deemed insurmountable by many. Their resolve is something they developed because their physical training promoted their personal growth, all of which translates into their transformational leadership behaviors.

There are many paths to becoming a transformational leader with a promotion focus, and who is willing to embark in prudent risk-taking. My research suggests that exercise may be one path. More research is necessary to explore this potential developmental tool further.

References

Henker, N., Sonnentag, S., & Unger, D. (2014). Transformational Leadership and Employee Creativity: The Mediating Role of Promotion Focus and Creative Process Engagement. Journal of Business and Psychology, 1-13.

Llopis, O., García-Granero, A., Fernández-Mesa, A., & Alegre, J. (2014). Managing Risk-Taking to Enhance Innovation in Organizations. In Management Innovation (pp. 75-90). Springer International Publishing.

Copyright © 2014 Carol R. Himelhoch. All rights reserved.