How to find out what a manager really does? Part 2

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In the previous post, I described how to create any mechanical robot to replace a given job, of course, if we can produce good enough mechanical mechanisms to simulate, for example, the actions of arms, legs, etc., and if we can equip such a robot with a human sense (for example, to judge the loudness of some phenomenon or to observe the environment). But what to do with another type of human work, which is thinking?

We’re doing just fine in this subject, too, but provided that the essence of the operation is computation. Thus, even a simple calculator or MS Excel programmed with functions (MS Excel is, after all, a programmable, large calculator) is, in a sense, a robot replacing our thinking – in this case, calculating the value of mathematical or logical expressions.

Let’s go further, however. What if the essence of the work is not computation, but managerial activities, such as creating a plan, setting goals, making decisions, coming up with a solution to a problem, and analyzing it beforehand, etc.? After all, a manager usually undertakes such cognitive activities, that is, he thinks in a certain way. He thinks differently than a musician, a cook or a surgeon. The objects of thinking are different cognitive activities.

Such activities are different from physical activities because they are difficult to observe with the human eye, or to record in video or audio form. Cognitive activities do not have to be accompanied by specific hand movements, eye blinks or even so-called “body signals” i.e. blood pressure or excessive sweating. Even if such signals are emitted by the body during a manager’s mental work, however, how do we know if they relate to planning, motivating or analyzing a problem encountered?

As you can see, it’s difficult to know what a manager is actually doing. On the one hand, if we ask an outsider, he will be able to tell us in general terms what the manager does. When we ask the manager himself, he will also tell us (although his memory will either be hollow or misrepresent the facts). On the other hand, if we want to gather true and complete knowledge of the activities performed, for example, in a successful project, we will encounter a great methodological and technical problem.

It is somewhat reminiscent of the question of how to make a pencil asked by economist Leonard E. Read in 1958 in his famous essay “I, Pencil”. The question is so baffling that in the first move anyone asked will try to answer how to make a pencil, but the more they go into detail, the more they will come to the conclusion that… they don’t know how to make a pencil. What’s more, it turns out that no one, literally no one, knows how to make a pencil!

See on YT: I, Pencil – Leonard E. Read | Animated version of great essay

Just like how to make a pencil, also no one knows what a manager really does. Simple research methods fail, such as a survey, an interview, even observation or an experiment will not give the answer to this question. Another way must be invented!

The way will be quite simple in idea, but not very simple in implementation. It will also have some limitations, for example, that the manager will want to participate in this way, and the knowledge collected about his activities may contain some gaps. But it’s still better than nothing!

I will describe this method in the next post.