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The Next Evolution: Where Humanity & AI Meet in Business

Jun 14, 2024

Tyler Nottberg

In the face of dramatic technological change, humanity remains vital. Years ago, Gary Larson drew a Far Side cartoon depicting someone who’d removed the front of a car radio to find a trio of miniature musicians. The caption read, “Aha!” When I see that cartoon, it reminds me of how I saw the world when I was younger. Only later did I learn that the world was even more bizarre. The music was coming from thin air.

Technology is thrilling, terrifying, and confusing. With the Model-T, Ford put a lot of buggy makers out of business, but it made traveling easier. My 100-CD changer was a revelation, but now, it’s a doorstop. Disruption is constant, which makes it difficult to navigate. The internet, smartphones, ChatGPT, and other generative AI platforms are now adding new layers of complexity to the blurry line that started dividing our digital and analog lives decades ago. Recent advances mean conversations and predictions about the future of AI are no longer academic.

The question we’re all asking now is where humans fit into that world. In my opinion, we’re still fundamental. Technology will help us continue to make miraculous discoveries, but it’s not an excuse to outsource our humanity. As one friend said to me, “Tapping a ‘like’ button is not friendship; it’s a data point.”

I use ChatGPT as part of my daily workflow and have no problem asking Siri and Alexa questions, but I’m not friends with any of those technologies because the conversation is one-sided. The connection is an illusion.

I can be incredibly productive without leaving my desk, but I’d rather talk with someone in person. I crave human interaction and will always seek ways to reflect that in U.S. Engineering’s culture. Now is the time to double down on making personal connections, ensuring Team Members feel like they belong and celebrating creativity. It’s the only way to manage technology and process burnout.

Solving the Right Problems Requires the Human Touch

Our Team Members know how to solve problems and, more importantly, how to solve the right problems. Identifying the right problem adds value because it requires human ingenuity and empathy to know where pain is being felt and determining how to remove it. Most technologies, on the other hand, are created to solve problems in bulk.

As individuals, we’re far more than the sum of the technologies we use. We’re much more interesting. As Emerson once wrote, Isaac Newton “used the same wit to weigh the moon that he did to buckle his shoes.”

U.S. Engineering has been a leader in targeted construction industry “pain relief” for over 130 years. I could fill a book with how we’ve done that. Some highlights include the teams that created the first material handling yards, our Field leaders’ efforts to implement advanced multi-trade construction, and anyone who’s developed and refined our preconstruction and estimating tools. I also think about the thousands of Team Members who’ve been involved in the millions of hours and dollars donated to our communities.

Lean Into Being Human

Carnegie Mellon Professor and Team USA’s coach for the International Mathematical Olympiad, Po-Shen Loh, recently said, “Think about what makes humans human and lean into that as hard as possible.” He was talking with his students about why AI isn’t something to fear, but I was hearing it in the context of how we should think about the next evolution at U.S. Engineering. It won’t come from AI, a new tool, or a new process. The next evolution will begin with Team Members who add value because they feel appreciated and are engaged in the work they do to build incredible projects and implement meaningful changes.

I’m committed to moving away from catch phrases like “manufacturing mentality” and toward concepts like creativity, ingenuity, and cooperation as our change management guideposts. Between the expertise that Field leaders bring to so many unique projects in our Construction, Innovations, and Service companies and the production power that Metalworks brings, our superpower is problem solving, and that’s a long way from producing widgets in a factory.

The breadth and depth of technological change is only accelerating, while the competitive nature of our industry increases. To stay ahead of the curve, we need to ask the right questions and solve the right problems together. Leaders and managers don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. Now is the time to tap into each other for more input, more cooperation, and more inspiration.

Tyler Nottberg, U.S. Engineering CEO and Chief Optimist

“Now is the time to double down on making personal connections, ensuring Team Members feel like they belong, and celebrating creativity.”

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