Learn More About Matt Beane
Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic systems are increasingly prevalent in business today, and their influence on how we work will only grow from here. What’s going to happen to the workplace? How will jobs change and what do executives need to do now to prepare? According to Matt Beane, University of California, Santa Barbara Technology Management professor, for all the opportunities these technologies create, they’re also having unforeseen impacts on learning and innovation.
“The way we learn and build skills today is changing itself,” says Beane, a digital fellow at the Stanford University Digital Economy Lab and MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy. “The headlong introduction of sophisticated analytics, AI, and robotics into many aspects of work is fundamentally disrupting traditional on-the-job learning, which has always been a time-honored and effective approach.”
A leading social scientist and former principal for a management consulting firm focused on group and team dynamics, Beane studies the relationship between humans and intelligent technologies. His research shows leaders, including CEOs, chief technology officers and human resource executives, that as tools become more sophisticated, workers get fewer opportunities for mentorship that involves practice and learning from mistakes; the very kind necessary to effectively leverage those sophisticated tools. As a speaker and advisor, Beane’s unique expertise at the intersection of AI, human capital and the future of work provides practical frameworks for leaders to develop strategies for implementing tech solutions while enabling workers to simultaneously build skills and connections with each other and enhance an organization’s human capital.
Our Chimeric Future with AI: Bringing Mentorship Into the Future
With workers becoming disconnected from each other when humans are removed from adjacent tasks, Beane points out that a mindful approach to AI system adoption is vital. The solution, he explains, is to automate and augment so everyone benefits.
“You can automate in a way where the tide lifts all boats,” says Beane, who was named to the Thinkers50 Radar Class of 2021. “It’s possible to apply automation such that it will empower experts to improve the quality of their output and the quality of their job as a result. It’s more satisfying, more fulfilling and workers are more productive. The same can become true of the employees they work with.”
With highly automated systems leading to fewer opportunities to learn through hands-on instruction, some workers are turning to unvetted resources like YouTube videos to see examples of expert work. With in-person, hands-on learning becoming rarer, Beane says we must find new, AI-enabled avenues for mentor/mentee relationships.
Such a relationship could take the form of AI-enabled skill and task matching systems, online skill repositories and newer hardware like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)-powered systems that will intelligently connect expert and novice workers, allowing them to develop skills jointly. It’s what Beane calls “our chimeric future.”
“An infrastructure like this would do for skill what the internet did for knowledge: it would become a place where we’re all contributing to and extracting value from a dynamic resource,” says Beane, former Chief Human-Robot Interaction Officer of Humatics, an MIT-connected, full-stack IoT startup. “We need a global learning infrastructure that doesn’t leave the skill haves and have-nots further apart. Organizations that build a 21st century “SkillHub” like this will be relevant and successful thanks to an adaptive, engaged workforce.”
Implementing AI While Enhancing Human Capital
Beane points out that while newly automated tasks may improve output quality in the near-term, the unintended consequences of removing humans from the process and siloing duties can be detrimental to an organization. With workers becoming increasingly disengaged and young employees unable to take advantage of traditional skills-building avenues like mentorship and apprenticeships, he says it’s critical for leaders to understand how individual jobs are connected and how their employees learn skills in the first place.
“Many times, leaders don’t realize they may be making a trade-off for better productivity while snapping the bonds between experts and novices,” Beane explains. “Leaders need to be committed to the notion that it’s possible to implement a tech solution while enhancing these bonds – and the skills that flow from them.”
Beane drills down the most important aspects of quality skills development within expert-novice relationships with what he calls “The Skill Code.” For skill to flourish, he’s found, work needs to involve healthy forms of “three Cs”: Challenge (difficulty and struggle), Complexity (broad, multi-dimensional context), and finally the irreplaceable human Connection (bonds of trust and respect). With research-backed checklists, his ideas can guide leaders and workers everywhere to set the stage for optimal skill development – even while putting automation to work.
Matt Beane, University of California, Santa Barbara Technology Management professor, has conducted extensive studies on robotic surgery, robotic materials transport and robotic telepresence in health care, elder care and knowledge work. His research appears in top management publications such as Harvard Business Review and Administrative Science Quarterly. Named a Human-Robot Interaction Pioneer, Beane is a regular contributor to such popular outlets as Wired, MIT’s Technology Review, TechCrunch, Forbes and Robohub. Beane has also served as a founding executive at Humatics, an MIT-connected, full-stack IOT startup, and a principal for a management consulting firm focused on group and team dynamics.
Beane graduated from Bowdoin College with a degree in philosophy. He received his master’s degree and Ph.D. from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Matt Beane is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.