John Henry was generally acknowledged as the best "steel-driving man," a man tasked with hammering a steel drill into a rock to make holes for dynamite. One day, his company adopted a "drilling machine," and he challenged the machine to a contest, arguing machines cannot replace human jobs" Who do you think has won this contest? Surprisingly, John Henry won by swinging his hammers without a break, only to end up dying in victory as his heart gave out after the race.

This sad, heartbreaking story from the age of mechanization and the Industrial Revolution provides many implications.

First, firms need insight and perception to determine whether the new wave of change is a signal or noise. We tend to resist disruptive innovations to the extent that they are revolutionary and force us to ignore new changes. This drives us to make the mistake of regarding the "signal" for future transformation as "noise." What would happen the moment we mistake a signal for noise? We should never forget the fact that this would change the fate of firms.

Apple's launch of the iPhone in 2007 heralded the beginning of the age of the smartphone revolution, serving as a monumental event that completely changed people's lives around the world. However, let us reflect on the responses when the product was initially launched.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer claimed that it would take up only about 2-3 percent of the market share, Motorola CEO Edward Zander wondered how Apple could ever be a match for them, and Nokia vice president Bill Plummer devalued the iPhone, saying that it is, "an evolution of the status quo."

How did things turn out? The mobile phone market leaders Nokia and Motorola ended up on the ash heap of history, while Apple still continues to make new history as a mobile phone leader, completely transforming human life with smartphones.

Second, we should recognize that the value of ourselves and the meaning of work may change an organization due to a new paradigm shift and new technology innovation like Chat-GPT and that the competencies and strengths we hold may be gone. What if, at this very moment, there is someone like a John Henry in our organization? Or we should also ponder over the possibility that we ourselves might be John Henry.

This is because we are likely to have received feedback as competent workers within an organization. Furthermore, since we have the experience of success with such competence, we may have more difficulty breaking the mold. This is kind of like how John Henry felt, as he was acknowledged as an expert within the organization.

ChatGPT has recently turned the world upside down; we can compare this with the Cambrian explosion. News about ChatGPT that pours out every day is quickly changing the world, and humanity is living in a period of a great upheaval in which it shifts from Homo Sapiens to "Robo Sapiens" in the neanthropic age.

In front of the Heungkuk Life Insurance building in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, stands "Hammering Man" by world-renowned sculptor Jonathan Borofsky. Why don't we bear in mind what human beings are as well as the value of ourselves and the meaning of work in the era of ChatGPT as we ruminate over the lamentable death of John Henry?

Hong Dae-soon is dean of Graduate School of Business Kwangwoon University.

QOSHE - Do you know John Henry ? - Hong Dae-Soon
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Do you know John Henry ?

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15.05.2024

John Henry was generally acknowledged as the best "steel-driving man," a man tasked with hammering a steel drill into a rock to make holes for dynamite. One day, his company adopted a "drilling machine," and he challenged the machine to a contest, arguing machines cannot replace human jobs" Who do you think has won this contest? Surprisingly, John Henry won by swinging his hammers without a break, only to end up dying in victory as his heart gave out after the race.

This sad, heartbreaking story from the age of mechanization and the Industrial Revolution provides many implications.

First, firms need insight and perception to determine whether the new wave of change is a signal or noise. We tend to resist disruptive innovations to the extent that they are revolutionary and force us to ignore new changes. This drives........

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