Automation as a Mindset: "Building Down" in the 21st Century

Automation isn't essentially about technology. It's a mindset. Technologies are the toolkits with which we automate. In the end, "Building Down" means focusing less on climbing up what's above you than on re-architecting and re-engineering what's already in front of and below you so that you can do more with less.

Michael Wedd
Illustration: © IoT For All

In the digital era, the way we build organizations and grow as individuals, teams, and units within them is changing. In the past, we would build an organization that contains business units. It scaled upward and outward. People joined generally at the bottom of “the ladder” and, with hard work and time, they climbed up that ladder and took on more responsibility across the unit and/or organization.

A mindset shift is in order. Technologies like IoT and AI change what organizational growth and management* means. It’s no longer just about what people can do with other people. Neither is it instead about what people can do with machines. It’s about what people can do with people and with technology.

(*Note*: by “management” I don’t mean being the boss of lots of people. I mean managing tasks, processes, systems, things, and yes, people too. This article applies equally to the desk clerk and to the CEO. It’s just a difference of scale and whether you’re managing tasks or people).

What Is “Building Down”?

It’s an idea within a mindset that highlights a course of action for people to scale something: their role, career, business unit, entire organization, or a whole multi-stakeholder market offering. It’s about not looking upward, thinking the answer to what you seek lies above you, if only you were to climb high enough or grow big enough. It’s about looking and building downward from wherever you currently stand, breaking a larger task into smaller components, building structures and processes around and beneath you and your team that combine digital and human capabilities.

The Building Down Process

To begin here’s the “building down mindset” in a nutshell. Note that “it” refers to whatever you’re trying to grow (role/career/organization etc.):

  1. Componentize: Break it (role, unit, company, etc.) down into its component parts. Let’s say you’re a publisher. You write, you edit, you publish, distribute. All of those could be components. Then take distribution. That could be broken into SEO, social media, PR, etc., and, of course, analytics. Think of the software principle of “separation of concerns.”
  2. Cluster Components: Divide those components into roughly three groups: stuff technology can do, stuff other people could potentially do, and stuff that you’ll still need to do. Maybe, in the above example, grammar and spelling can feasibly be automated, but higher-level content vetting and curation still needs to be a human task.
  3. Automate Some Components: Do your research for the “technology” grouping—for example, on IoT For All—to understand which technologies could potentially be used to automate what components. Following the above example, we could use Grammarly to catch a lot of the language-level problems, but you still need someone to vet articles—although you may be able to use automated tools to make that process easier.
  4. Redistribute: Maybe you or your business should hire some contractors to take over certain components. Maybe some new all-in-one, plug-n-play software platform can handle certain other components. And there are probably several new tasks associated with managing your newly redistributed workloads, e.g. overseeing that new platform, managing those new contractors, etc.
  5. Test: Does it work? Are you actually able to do more with less? Or are you just spending more time managing this new redistribution? Or, in the worst case, was it easier for you just to do all this yourself? Hopefully, though, you’re now able to do more with less, taking a higher-level approach to whatever it is you’re trying to automate. Adjust accordingly.
  6. Repeat Responsibly

Automation Is For Everyone—Not Just Execs

Automation isn’t really about going and buying a bunch of gadgets and AI and stuff and then—voilà! We’re in some Bladerunner world. No, automation is more of a mindset because the more important step in an automation transformation is identifying areas for automation, figuring out which technologies can do something well and what people can do better.

In the end, by “building down” I mean the act of focusing less on what’s above you than what’s in front of and below you already. Building down means treating that which is in front of you as an opportunity to rearchitect and re-engineer things such that, with a combination of technology and people, you can do more with less.

Michael Wedd
Michael Wedd - Senior Editor, IoT For All
Michael is a Senior Editor at IoT for All. After majoring in cultural anthropology, he became keenly interested in the social and cultural importance of IoT. In addition to growing this vibrant community, Michael enjoys endurance bicycle touring, ...
Michael is a Senior Editor at IoT for All. After majoring in cultural anthropology, he became keenly interested in the social and cultural importance of IoT. In addition to growing this vibrant community, Michael enjoys endurance bicycle touring, ...