Why do we think software solves the “people issues” of work?

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Man, I actually wrote about this same topic on April 5, 2015 — so almost four years ago at this point. For context, here’s what I was doing on that day:

  • Married {nope now}
  • Lived in a different place
  • Working at a different place
  • Didn’t yet have a dog
  • Was in a completely different friend group
  • Barely active on social media minus maybe some drunken FB shit
  • Had only been blogging about 16 months
  • Had never done freelance {now am about 3.5 years of such}

So even though times are changing, apparently I’ve thought the same for a while. Let’s outline the core argument.

Let’s say you created the greatest piece of software ever

This thing can do anything. I mean, if an employee has a question about benefits, the software shoots a tiny plane into the employee’s ears, the plane reaches the brain and it answers the question before the employee can ever ask it. The software is that good. It does everything. It solves every conceivable issue.

But, that employee has a manager named Danny. Danny is constantly harried. Priorities shift on a dime. If things don’t go exactly according to his preferred process, he blows up and loses it. He has a very quick temper. He will demean and place people on performance improvement plansin a New York cocaine heartbeat. He is not, by any stretch, a good manager.

How many problems with Danny can this software suite truly solve? Maybe 50 percent at most? 70 percent on a push? Because the employee still needs to interact with Danny, get work priorities from Danny (HA!), be berated by Danny, etc. Is the software going to fix that? No.

Human beings are social animals

I mean, right?

Typically things get better for human beings when there is:

  • Context
  • Social interaction
  • Personality
  • Shared experience
  • Small talk
  • Etc.

Think about addiction. You know why addiction is such a problem? Because the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection. And broadly, we’re not that connected anymore. We have lots of tech and we can see our girlfriends flossing on IG Stories pretty fast just by clicking a button, but it’s actually one of the most isolated times in human history by some measure.

We have more addiction because we’re losing connection.

It works with work and technology too. We have billions of dollars in engagement/experience software, or “HR technology.” Billions. I mean people are still throwing money at this stuff left and right, which is logical because it’s all a big inefficiency and venture money is designed to fix ineffective process. (In some ways.) Despite all this money and all these platforms, most people globally still hate their job.

How could that be possible?

Two reasons:

So what makes work bad?

A partial list:

  • Feeling small
  • Feeling like no one cares about you
  • Feeling like no one listens to you
  • Absentee managers
  • Lack of purpose
  • “Get this done. I needed it yesterday.”
  • Lack of priority
  • People not talking to you about what’s happening (around layoffs, gossip we all know is true, etc.)
  • Tasks that take forever to do

OK, boom. See, tech can help solve the final bullet. All the other bullet points are human-to-human issues. Tech does not solve for those. It can claim to, and sales bros can send you sleek one-pagers about “Changing The Way We Work For Good,” but listen — → if a fire-breathing dragon is your leader, which is the case at most places, eventually the village will burn. It doesn’t matter if the village has a sweet contract with Oracle. The flames will still be there.

So what would solve work?

Better managers, more priority-laden discussions, more context around assignments, the ability to grow in a role, less politics, less bullshit, less demeaning, more conversations, more socialization, more teamwork, less focus on money, more focus on soft skills, more ability to connect to a purpose if you don’t face revenue.

Can any of these things happen?

At scale? In for-profit? Probably not.

In some places, before they scale or before they have growth-focused investors? Sure.

That’s part of whyjob-hopping actually does make some sense. To have a full career, you need to see both sides of all coins in order to figure out what works for you and what absolutely does not.

What else ya got on software saving the world?

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