It’s not an argument of whether automation makes things easy and ships things faster. Automation saves time and money for sure. But it does that only when it follows the right processes, has the right context and use case.
Some say automation is the best thing that’s happened in the tech world. While others say it might be the worst.
The fact is automation is as good as the person responsible for it. Before you automate anything, your processes must be aligned and scalable.
Automation cannot multiply your production if your processes are not properly aligned. And to properly align the processes you need to first know what you are doing.
You cannot automate everything hoping that it’ll scale automatically. Tasks that are constantly repeated and are not $1000 per week are better off automating.
It’s not that automation is bad. The misuse of automation is bad.
Unless you know how to do that particular task from scratch, don’t automate.
To have in-depth learning about a topic, you got to get your hands dirty. It’s a time consuming process. But it makes you a pro at what you do. New technology is making us lazy and slowly we all will be just relying on software.
Paul Graham in his essay Do things that Don’t Scale says ‘ If you can find someone with a problem that needs solving and you can solve it manually, go ahead and do that for as long as you can, and then gradually automate the bottlenecks. It would be a little frightening to be solving users' problems in a way that wasn't yet automatic, but less frightening than the far more common case of having something automatic that doesn't yet solve anyone's problems.'
Take an example of baking a cake from scratch and buying a pre-mix. A pre-mix is cheaper, time saver and tastes similar to a cake made from scratch. It doesn’t teaches you the science behind it. You don’t know what was the proportion of dry ingredients. You don’t know what made it rise.
You can’t call yourself a baker after baking a pre-mix cake. Similarly, not doing tasks manually yourself and automating them will make you dependent on the software. You won’t have an in-depth knowledge about your domain.
Manual work will give you a deeper understanding of all aspects in your domain. You will create better processes and frameworks for your company. Making you a true expert in your field.
Look at what Arvind Kahl (author of Zero to Sold) has to say about doing manual work.
Doing tasks manually also involves building your own frameworks. Copying someone else’s framework and applying them to your business is just like adding pickles between your chocolate cake. (well maybe not that disgusting) What I mean is you cannot copy a framework made by someone for their work and apply 100% of it to your business.
Frameworks are made keeping time, business, people and more over the use case in mind.
Just like kitchen knives, frameworks need upgrade too.
Learning the fundamentals to make your own framework + doing tasks manually in the beginning will build your deep knowledge stack and make you an expert in your field.
Sahiba gave an example during a podcast of how she used to manually reach out to 1000s of people on LinkedIn during the initial days of HelloMeets. Doing this not only help her understand what works but also human psychology.
Automation cannot teach you psychology. To be an expert in something you not only need know how things work but also how humans use that thing. Building something is not a one time thing. You consistently upgrade, improve, iterate. Depending on the reacting of people using it.
Like Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky says in a podcast- "If you want your company to truly scale, you have to do things that DON'T scale. Handcraft the core experience. Serve your customers one by one. And don't stop until you know exactly what they want."
When you are an expert at your field, you can start following a systems mindset.
Thanks to Paul Graham, Sahiba Sethi, K. Reid Wightman, Arvid Kahl, Brett Goldstein, Brian Chesky and Nat Eliason for the inspiration.