When Ross Mayfield’s article, The Coming Tech Backlash appeared in my LinkedIn feed I was intrigued because I have been thinking a lot about the role of technology in work after several years of working in education technology. Who gets the surplus value of automation? Who gets the leisure time created?
I have been re-reading philosopher Josef Pieper’s book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture which discusses the role that technology and labor specialization had in allowing for leisure in Ancient Greece. Pieper defines “Leisure” as an activity, not a passive consumption of goods or pleasure as is often the case now. Active leisure gives rise to culture, innovation, and art -the Greek word for art is techne whence our word technology comes. Technology is an art.
In 1818, near the end of the Industrial Revolution, a period of technological disruption unprecedented in history, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. The full title of the book is Frankenstein -The Modern Prometheus. So who was Prometheus and why did Shelley call her protagonist The Modern Prometheus?
Prometheus is a Titan god from Greek mythology. He is a god of technology and his name translates as “Fore Thought”. Against Zeus’ instructions he gives fire to man, the first technology. Zeus punishes Prometheus by chaining him to a rock where an eagle gnaws on his liver. In much of modern scholarship Zeus is a villain for punishing technological progress and innovation. But the symbolism is important: Justice chains Technology. “Unleash the techne,” say the modernists. Shelley’s response is, “the techne has been unleashed and it is a monster!” Zeus also hobbled another god of Technology, Hephaestus. Can there be a balance?
Zeus is the Olympian god who overthrew the Titans, himself a revolutionary. He is the god of Justice, Order, Balance. The Oxford Classical Dictionary says that, “the order of things as it is now is Zeus’ work.” What later scientists and philosophers would call the Natural Law is this “order of things as it is now,” since only things with a nature and an order can be studied (replication of experiments, etc.).
Zeus later allows Prometheus to be freed by his son Hercules (Heracles). We know that the Greeks were technologically advanced and were not Luddites, so how did they come to terms with technology while worshiping a god who shackled the god of technology?
Heracles’s name means “the fame of Hera”. Hera was the wife and queen of Zeus. If Zeus is the god of Justice then Hera is the goddess of Governance. She is tactics, he is strategy. Hera represents the customs and habits of daily political economy, the enacted reality of the Zeus principle of Justice/Order/Balance. Heracles had to complete Twelve Labors around (the known) world. By these labors he spread the fame of Hera, not Zeus. Why? Because, as we know in business, no strategy matters without implementation. The Twelve Labors of HERAcles are the implementation methodology of the Zeus strategy.
This idea is reflected in the Latin epigram “Leges sine moribus sunt vanae”, that is, “Laws (Zeus) without customs (Hera) are empty and vain.” A de-moralized society needs mores (customs) to restore morale. Perhaps, this is why Plato wrote, “It is not who writes a nations laws, but who writes its songs.”
I have been doing some interesting work lately that involves software which increases employee engagement while linking their daily activity more tightly to overall strategy. This has really clarified my thinking on Justice/Governance, Strategy/Tactics, Zeus/Hera. No matter how great and well-articulated the Zeus Principle is regarding Justice/Order/Balance, without the implementation via the Hera Methodology of the daily economy, it lacks agency. Conversely, what are daily habits and customs without an overall goal or strategy but empty rituals -make-work?
Documentation of process improvement is a form of governance in this sense, it is necessary for strategy implementation, but how often do we experience business process improvement documentation overload, where it is all “governance” and no strategy, all Hera no Zeus? Recently I had a conversation with a potential client in the who described this very thing: documentation without a vision.
This is what Stuart Hamilton has called “The Curse of the Methodology”.
The Curse of the Methodology: Instead of having the PM work out what needs to be done and then the PM taking care of it, (all behind the scenes), there emerged methodologies (PMP or otherwise) that try to ensure that the PM follows the menu of daily activities. Don’t get me wrong, a lean methodology to enforce good governance is a good thing, but on my last engagement, every project (big or small) had to lodge a minimum of 21 documents, and often as many as 40. These documents are lengthy, repetitive, and take weeks of the PM and other team members to fill out. Then they all go into the archive where they will never be read.
If daily work is not linked to a strategy, the work is misguided and the strategy is impotent. A similar dis-junction occurs if household, family habits and local community customs are not aligned to a teleology of the overall political economy. It may be that a national vision of Justice is impossible, and this can only be dealt with at the local and company level. I don’t know.
Among the Greeks, the principle of Justice chains Technology until Justice/Order/Balance can be implemented in the daily lives of the Greek world via the spreading of the Hera methodology. Then the god of Technology can be unchained. A corporate strategic order had to come into existence into which technology can be integrated.
The order of Zeus is only established when the fame of Hera is spread. The vision of Zeus’s justice and order are not enough, the daily customs and habits of thought and action must be in place before technology can be released to have its proper role in society, which is to allow for active leisure. Technology “augmentation” is Mayfield’s “Hera principle” implementation solution.
Technology in an ordered and balanced culture allows for leisure and therefore allows for more culture, art, and technology. Automation must be governed by Justice, and both the male Zeus principle and the female Hera methodology must be brought to bear on this issue*. Until there is clarification about what Justice means, and then implementation via social norms, technology will likely run roughshod over the culture, until it is chained to a rock.
*The differentiated roles and contributions of men and women in technology is an important one and discussed quite a lot, though usually as a numbers issue -we need larger quantity of women doing what men are doing in tech, instead of “we need more women bringing governance/insight/collaboration to tech” or some such thing.