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Will HR need a new name?

Let’s think about the bigger picture that is the context in which HR operates.

We are readily bewitched by our technology. People rush to buy the latest gadget even when it is beyond their means. Never mind that it might be produced by exploited workers in a far-off country, using materials may have been extracted at huge cost to humans and to nature. The great god “Economic Growth” demands it.  In the digital age it seems that all problems will ultimately be solved by artificial intelligence – Wow! A.I. is destined to surpass human intelligence any time now! Thank goodness. But where does that leave us humans?  Well, aren’t we destined to be the producers and consumers that AI controls?  Millions of us under the firm rule of unfeeling computers. Why on earth did we ever invent this “superior” technology that learned to enslave us?

That is a bleak picture of a dystopian future. Yet that is seemingly our trajectory.  It does not have to be that way but to go in a different direction will require us humans to assume responsibility. We can choose that it will be human intelligence, at its very best, that will shape our future. That is a shift away from the status quo.

Just to take a “simple” example, science tells us that the way we live is driving global ecology towards imminent disaster. Of course there are scientists in the pay of unscrupulous large corporates (peopled by people) who tell us all is well.  But anyone who sits in a garden in this wonderful summer warmth becomes aware that the forecasts in Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, “Silent Spring”, are very much in evidence – a crash in insect numbers and those of the birds they feed, among other ills. Something is seriously amiss with the way we run things on a global scale. Our intelligence is being usurped for short term economic gains at huge cost to future generations. We are colluding with our nemesis.

This is but one aspect of the way we run things, that has changed our society and our culture towards a search for instant gratification, for titillation, for me-me, for more (and the devil take the hindmost). Human intelligence is rarely developed to be its very best, but only to suit the growth economy which depends upon ever increasing consumption. On a finite planet this is not viable.

I suggest this is an issue of awareness and of values and that HR has a role to play in changing the way we run things towards seeing a bigger picture – a global pattern and a longer timeframe in which intelligent human systems build an ecologically sustainable lifestyle. To what extent does HR embody values that realise human potential and can it become the conscience of our organisations? Can HR steer the way things are run and play its part in finding solutions, rather than slavishly being part of the problem?  Can HR be instrumental in developing  that “very best of human intelligence” – in elevating humanity towards wise leadership? Or in service to A.I. will it just change its name to HE (Human Exploitation)?

John Varney,  Centre for Management Creativity

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