Saturday, August 4, 2018

Human Capital and the Efficiency Paradox

How might the changing roles of human capital in the marketplace, affect societal perspectives regarding efficiency gains? For instance, consider how the approach to 20th century quality service generation, dramatically affected the relationship of required human capital inputs to aggregate output for time based services. Indeed, these organizational patterns continue to negatively impact total factor productivity. While automation isn't always the appropriate response to achieve (further) gains in standards of living; much depends as well, on the human capital roles which are at stake in these processes.

The fact that knowledge production can be a meaningful form of consumption in its own right, helps to explain why knowledge providers are sometimes dubious about organizational patterns which promote efficiency gains. All the more so, since knowledge production for time based product is closely associated with personal identity, autonomy, and agency. Charles Handy in "The Hungry Spirit", observed how efficiency efforts might be ineffective in some instances or possibly even counter productive:
Unless we get efficiency in perspective we may find ourselves so busy being efficient that we forget the original purpose of the enterprise. Efficiency is not always the same as effectiveness.
Often, time based product is based on activities which people actively enjoy engaging in (whether via production, consumption or both), as opposed to activities that are mostly tolerated because they're perceived as necessary. Even so, is an hours long trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles "necessary" in the same sense as a non elective surgery, or does the former feel more like "lost" time? Nevertheless: When service producers are responsible for the preservation of services product (whether surgeons or government employees in this instance), they may naturally be more inclined to determine the present structure of those activities is totally necessary.

In order to discover more specific value sets for automation potential, we can also identify when a given service experience feels as though time lost, or time gained. One apt example: Is a service worker enjoying their time on the job, or are they mostly waiting to "get off the clock"? Yet presently we are are reluctant to lose mind numbing jobs such as this, because of uncertainty how automation will affect future employment patterns. If we are proactive regarding workplace potential, so that we can better preserve positive experiences on formal economic terms, with a little luck our services workplaces won't just devolve into the default circumstance of future budgetary realities.

Producers and consumers alike (in other words all citizens) may occasionally need to participate in decision making processes for time based product, if automation is to continue making a positive difference for standards of living. Unlike the separately existing product of tradable sector activity, the producer consumer relationship of time based product is more often a dual experience. These additional elements of human involvement can make notions of efficiency somewhat more complicated. It's when automation leads to the loss of meaningful or purposeful experience, that technology in this instances either needs to be reconsidered or otherwise approached differently.

Hence a useful societal dialogue could include questions such as "How important is the personal attention (time) element in a given service product? Does the producer version of this description differ substantially from the consumer version? If so, why, and how much should that matter? What distinguishes experiential service product so that it acquires personal meaning? What potential service product diversity has already been suppressed, due to regulatory restrictions? What makes rights to participation in a diverse range of multi skill service product, so important? Many individuals enjoy some aspects of production, more than consumption processes which are associated with these activities. For instance, as a pianist (decades earlier), I preferred playing classical music to listening to it either live or recorded. Might individual preferences such as this, encourage us to think differently about services supply and demand?

To sum up, the efficiencies of automation need not stand in the way of our natural desire to become more fully human. For that matter, automation has played a tremendous role in amplifying our desire to become more fully human, in part due to centuries of earlier automation processes which freed our time. Perhaps the more important perspective is, can we achieve such aspirations, while still encouraging means to increase aggregate output in relation to aggregate input - all without reducing the production experiences which hold meaning? Doing so, would make it simpler to preserve the kinds of human interaction which societies find so important for services generation - especially that which takes place as experiential product.

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