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Technology is fostering rather than hindering human creativity in the workplace

Contrary to popular fears that the advance of technologies such as data analytics, machine-to-machine communications and robotics are circumscribing the influence of humans on business activities, new research from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) suggests that future human-technology relationships are much more likely to be marked by harmony rather than acrimony.

Nearly three in four respondents (74%) to a global EIU survey, for example, dispute the notion that technology is making it more difficult for employees to be more creative or imaginative.

Almost six in ten (58%) say increasing technology-intensity has made employees more rather than less creative in developing ideas both for new product ideas and for new or improved business processes.

And little more than one-third believe that technology is stifling open discussion with their organisation (36%).

These are among the findings of Humans and machines: The role of people in technology-driven organisations, a new report published today by the EIU and sponsored by Ricoh.

The report consists of a series of articles examining issues posed by human-technology interaction in selected sectors—financial services, healthcare, education and manufacturing—and their implications for decision-making, customer relationships and many other areas.

Each of the articles points to areas where the line between humans and machines are becoming blurred and where potential exists for the role of human imagination and intuition to recede.

Examples from disparate sectors include medical diagnostics, automated equity trading, manufacturing-floor robotics and, in education, massive open online courses.

"In all of these examples, the given technology developments are likely to enrich individuals' roles and push employees up the cognitive value chain rather than squeeze them out of it," says Denis McCauley, the EIU's Director, Global Technology Research and editor of the report."

Other findings from the research include the following:

  • System disconnects and process failures cause most technology-related problems. Only 12% of survey respondents say that technology is the main point of failure when things go wrong in their organisation. When problems do arise in the use of technology, the two most likely causes are that systems are not connected to each other (40% of the sample) or that technology is evolving faster than the processes being written to use it (38%).
  • Threats exist, however, to scenarios of enhanced creativity and imagination. The vast majority of survey-takers (82%) report that the time they spend using e-mail has increased in the past three years, and over half (52%) say the increase has been substantial—a worrying trend if one accepts the premise that e-mail is a creativity-sapping activity. And while technology tools are helping employees to be more creative and innovative, they are not necessarily freeing up more time for such activity.
  • Greater harmony requires more creative processes. Smoother interaction between humans and machines will not come about of its own accord. For this to be achieved, considerable attention is required to the processes organisations develop to govern how the technologies are used. Almost nine in ten respondents (87%) agree with the proposition that human-technology interaction will only add value if organisations are more creative with the processes created to connect the two.

Humans and machines: The role of people in technology-driven organisations is available to download free of charge.

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