The Manager in the Economy of Thought
Mar 2024

The role of the manager aptly represents the origin of many prevailing management models. This position emerges from a fundamental need and an obsession: productivity. In an industrial world, the role was distinctly oriented towards surveillance. In the knowledge economy, the role is heavily focused on adhering to processes and procedures. However, the advent of AI compels us to shift our perspective, and this new perspective could be labeled as the economy of thought. In this emerging economy, tasks such as doing, producing, avoiding errors, and many other activities will be taken over by artificial intelligence. Now, it's time for contemplation, as engaging in repetitive tasks comes with a cost, as indicated by Open AI: $20 per month.

In this evolving scenario, the question is inevitable: What happens now to these managers? This question naturally begets others: What truly constitutes the content of a manager's job? It is evident to me that a substantial portion of their salary is attributed to the performance of this role. Let's propose a simple hypothesis: Imagine we strip the following responsibilities from that manager:

- Communicating progress on how the company is faring.

- Allocating and coordinating vacations within the work group.

- Ensuring that people allocate their working hours correctly.

- Calibrating the performance of their team to determine variable pay.

- Monitoring the completion of tasks in terms of form and time.

- Providing feedback on the results of their performance.

We could delve into detailing additional functions, but this concise list prompts several questions: How much of this will be automated in the short term? As productivity becomes the realm of artificial intelligence and we transition towards a thought economy, will these responsibilities retain relevance in a manager's role? Taking a step further: Does a managerial role still make sense? What will become of the considerable sums allocated to the exercise of this role? Many questions abound, and the answers are not straightforward, but what appears concerning is the continued existence of this role in its current conception. These managers, inheritors of a post-industrial world, inclined towards control to ensure productivity, are beginning to witness the ground beneath them eroding.

Companies will gradually reassess the resources invested in these profiles unless there's a guarantee that this investment will result in a workforce operating at its maximum potential. Considering the data: global engagement levels, mental health status, and absenteeism rates, it seems that this investment of resources is leading us in the opposite direction rather than fulfilling its intended function.

These observations provide indications that the methods that once served us well in managing a workforce oriented towards obedience are becoming obsolete in the knowledge economy. However, the outlook becomes even bleaker if this approach is employed in the thought economy—an economy where technology aims to liberate us from repetitive jobs that have been our companions for the last hundred years, and where surveillance might make much sense. Imagine setting schedules and objectives for ideas, solving complex problems, creating products that don't exist, inventing new forms of everything, and managing conflicts. In these cases, monitoring, regulating, and measuring serve only to narrow our perspectives.

What we have long asserted as distinctly human is now here. It has arrived to stay and demonstrate that this is our moment. The significant question is whether we are up to the challenge. The overarching question is whether we know how to think or if we have already atrophied like those birds that lost the ability to fly because their sustenance was on the ground. For those birds, the emergence of any predator becomes a matter of life or death.