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A year ago, I began hosting the Augmented podcast on behalf of Tulip, the frontline operations platform. At face value, we wanted to create a podcast for leaders in the manufacturing industry. However, we had bigger ideas about what we wanted to accomplish (see Automation to Augmentation - the podcast's vision to build a movement).
We hoped for feedback from listeners. We were excited to discover new things about our emerging industry. We wanted Augmented to reveal the stories behind the new era of industrial operations, one where technology could restore the agility of frontline workers. In this post, I thought I would summarize what the year has been like from my perspective and reflect on what the coming year will bring.
Why create another podcast?
In a time when every thought leader aspires to have a podcast, and every business has one, it is prudent to ask yourself: why does the world need another podcast? Even more for me, given that when the CEO and co-founder of Tulip, Natan Linder, approached me about doing a podcast, I was already a podcaster. For two years now, I’ve been running Futurized, a show where we engage with thoughts on our emerging future. I have had the privilege to host conversations that matter. The incentive to do another one at the same time was not enormous. Except, the vision for Augmented was too powerful to turn down: shifting the current industrial revolution towards favoring humans over machines. By doing so, we can maximize the impact of the machines we have come to rely on so much–without compromising human values. With the podcast, we would explore how to build human-centric technology interfaces. We would feature thought leaders who made this happen in practice, not just those who believe in the theory.
I had worked with Natan Linder and Rony Kubat on industry positioning as they were spinning out Tulip from the MIT Media Lab. I was among some of the first outsiders to get a peek into the product, I put on the first industrial workshop where Tulip was presented to an industrial audience, I facilitated the very first Tulip client introductions. I think it is fair to say that I have been a cheerleader from the beginning. Yet, I had not yet made the connection as to how we could work together more permanently. The more I spoke with Natan (for example, I interviewed him on Futurized podcast (see The Future of Industrial Operations) I started to realize that what Tulip is doing goes beyond commercializing and scaling a startup.
In fact, Natan’s vision to change this industry for the better by providing humanizing technology, made sense, given his education from the MIT Media Lab, where he worked with Professor Pattie Maes. Maes has a long-standing project to turn AI on its head, working for intelligence augmentation and serving humans, not artificial intelligence – which only potentially serves humans but certainly complicates matters (see Emerging Interfaces for Human Augmentation). That vision was something I could buy into. I have been advocating the same position for years, most recently in my book Future Tech: How to Capture Value from Disruptive Industry Trends (Kogan Page 2021).
We serve an audience of executives, industry leaders, investors, founders, educators, technologists, academics, process engineers, and shop floor operators across the emerging field of frontline operations. By frontline operations, I mean organizing interplay of machines and the folks on the shop floor, whether they manage a production line or simply are shift workers making it hum. In industrial settings, process engineers may be planners or plant operators, but their remit and responsibility are people, processes, technologies, and tools that are managed by people.
In the current hype around the technologies for “industry 4.0”, we often overlook the way technologies need to fit the frontline operations context. Too often, in my experience, executives become convinced it is the other way around. They attempt to change the organization to make room for technology. They let third parties attempt to deeply change their operations just so that they can “embrace automation” and get extra efficiency gains. That is a recipe for disaster. If you are wondering how to work with technology in the workplace the right way, you are the ideal listener of the Augmented podcast.
What we have achieved
Augmented showcases industrial conversations that matter, highlighting the most relevant conversations on industrial tech. Our guests range from Jeff Immelt (ex-GE CEO), via MIT professor Pattie Maes to industry manager Lena Jaentsch (at a German SME). Guest affiliations include Forbes, Microsoft, J&J, NEA, PTC, Stanley Black & Decker, and MIT.
After a year, we have published 60 episodes. Of those, 47 episodes cover industry 4.0, 23 episodes fall in the category of future of work, 21 episodes discuss leadership and strategy, 16 episodes display worldwide excellence, 13 episodes touch on women in manufacturing. We are balancing coverage between the corporate perspective (16 episodes) and the startup perspective (13 episodes). But managing to book and carry out interviews is not what we are most proud of. Our show presents us with a valuable opportunity to facilitate knowledge and professional insight to those who seek it. We have learned something from each and every episode and have hopefully shared those learnings with listeners.
What we have learned
We have already published a post on Top Ten Augmented Podcast Episodes of 2021 which did a first cut of highlights. That being said, there were a plethora of additional insights left out. These five episodes, in particular, taught us the importance of keeping a nuanced perspective when making judgments about how to deal with machines and people.
Elisa Roth, industrial researcher at the Institute of Manufacturing (IfM) at the University of Cambridge, taught us that the industry now needs to go beyond the traditional approach of formal training, apprenticeships, and on-the-job observation (see Episode 2, How to Train Augmented Workers). “We have reached the boundaries [existing ways of learning and development]. Complexity is rising. New customization increases. We have a lot more product variants than we used to have. The workforce is aging. The experts we used to have are retiring. The manufacturing industry is struggling to attract new talent. We need to improve our learning. [...] We need to find new approaches.”
Robin Dechant, co-founder of the training platform Aveo, is creating a global community of young manufacturing professionals (see episode 11, Empowering Workers to Innovate). He has a vision for young people to shape manufacturing: “I think in 50 years, we'll have managers who will empower more people in the manufacturing industry, who have more of a say of what their work routine looks like, what kind of tasks they want to do … [but] … bridging these two worlds, people who grew up digitally and people who grew up ‘half digitally’, I think there will be a big clash. [That’s why we must] be creative, take time to learn [because] you can only learn if you try things out.” Robin maintains an ambitious manufacturing startup map of hundreds of startups, the Industry 4.0 Map, which he regularly updates and shares in his Future of Manufacturing newsletter.
Entrepreneur Etienne Lacroix, CEO, and co-founder of Vention, informed us that we can expect to see shorter product life cycles, end-to-end approaches, and industrial workflows with 10x speeds to design, automate, order, and deploy (see Episode 5, Plug-and-play Industrial Tech). His startup, Vention, is assembling a library of modular industrial parts, “a platform that enables manufacturing professionals to automate their production in just a few days.” Says Lacroix: “To make technology very easy, there's a lot of complexity that takes place behind the scenes. If you want to be the one that creates that technology, unfortunately, there are a lot of layers to learn. [...] Bringing simplicity is hard. [...] There’s so much happening right now with new tech and new trends.Two-thirds [of that novelty] is pushed by companies that didn't exist four years ago.”
Elisabeth Reynolds, Executive Director, MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future, pointed out that structural changes in the labor market will be profound, and workers, organizations and governments alike need to prepare now and be ready (see Episode 7, Work of the Future). Says Reynolds: “Technology absolutely eliminates work, but we can't forget that it also creates work. Our challenge going forward will not be the end of work. [...] The challenge will be the quality of work [because] productivity gains have not been shared broadly. [...] The median worker, which is about 60% of American workers, who have less than a four year degree, have had largely stagnant wages [and] technology has played a role in that.” Right after the episode aired, Ms. Reynolds left MIT to become Special Assistant to the President for Manufacturing and Economic Development at the White House’s National Economic Council.
Scott N. Miller, Managing Director, Dragon Ventures, taught us the New Product Introduction (NPI) process (see Episode 33, Sustainable Manufacturing at Scale). He knows how to navigate the journey from prototype through high volume manufacturing and has perfected the access to Shenzhen, China business models for 10K unit factory first runs. This is a gamechanger for hardware startups trying to scale up manufacturing. Says Miller: “Using a contract manufacturer may be the right choice if you're doing lower volumes. Say you were building 100 to 500 units, then it's probably better to do it in house just because it takes longer to teach somebody else to do it than if you just did it yourself.The challenge is if you want to set up your own factory, then not only are you launching your own product, but then you've got to figure out how a factory works which adds a lot more complexity. Whereas, if you can work with a partner that already understands that and has that infrastructure, it can give you a head start.”
Daniel Szabo, CEO of Körber Digital, taught us that it’s possible to transform a (German) industrial company through digital acquisitions and spinouts (see Episode 20, The Digitalization of Körber). Körber went from mechanical engineering company, to diversified manufacturer through the 1990s, to an international technology group over the past five years, with a digital arm focusing on venture building, building digital solutions and digital enablement. Says Szabo: “We grow by buying entrepreneurial organizations on the machinery side, but also on the software side.There's a very strong appetite to become a digital leader in the manufacturing space.[...] The only way of doing that at scale is to empower people, democratizing the way we train people and supporting automation. [...] Although 95% of the tech stack is the same across industries [...] you need to [adapt and customize] to nail those little things that drive the difference.”
Do we have some regrets? Sure. We would have liked to feature even more diversity. We would have wanted to close more C-level guests in time for Season 1. We would have loved to reach even more listeners right out of the gate. But, as you all know, organic growth is a process that takes time to prepare.
What we bring to Season 2
Stay tuned for a step-change in quality, scope, and reach. The foundation has been built. Now we build the framing.
In Season 2, we will feature thought leaders from US Manufacturing Institutes, leading academics in industrial tech or manufacturing, insights from industrial behemoths, as well as, challenges from the most exciting industrial tech startups.
Throughout 2021, we mostly recorded virtually, but in 2022, we expect to record in-person interviews from our studio in Somerville, MA, USA, which is beyond exciting.
Lastly, we have a brand new podcast design produced by Tulip’s excellent design team, symbolizing our quest to build up a new generation of industrial frontline workers, spearheaded by operators who have digital engineering skills out-of-the-box through no-code software and who benefit from organizations that empower them. The floating rings around augmented lettering symbolize the depth and flow of knowledge when humans, not machines, are at the center of industrial production.
Interested in staying up-to-date on new episodes of the pod? Subscribe to the Augmented podcast Newsletter today! You can also get updates directly from the Augmented Podcast Industry Page on LinkedIn. We can be found @AugmentedPod on Twitter.
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