The Learning Cafe

Optimus Prime has a desk job

  • Posted by Elysia Arnold
  • On August 28, 2018


What do robots and workplaces have in common? It all starts with this video recently published by Hank Green.
The video explores the idea that in the internet community we are all wearing robot suits! Not real robot suits, but external appearances that affect how people perceive and interact with us. With a stray tweet, someone with a giant robot suit can affect positive change or instigate conflict. Someone with a tiny robot suit might struggle to be heard, or achieve anything, no matter how hard they try.

The curveball is this: We aren’t aware of the size or shape of our robot suits.
Hank illustrates this with my favourite quote from the video above:

“Someone might be yelling up at you just hoping beyond hope that maybe someday you’ll hear them, but to you it feels like they are standing right in your face, with their spit hitting you in the skin. If your robot suit is really big, maybe someone throws a stone at you thinking it could never do anything but chink your armour, and to you it feels like you got hit with a rock.”

But it isn’t all about you,

“When you respond with a rock of your own, if you don’t know the strength of your own robot suit you might have accidentally thrown a boulder.”

But what does this have to do with workplaces?
This made me think of the robot suits we wear to work. Power doesn’t just come from being closer to the top of an organisation, it can come from holding valuable knowledge, being well liked, being able to influence others, age or tenure, gender, confidence (and a whole lot more.)
Sometimes those who seem to have power within an organisation can feel like they have a smaller robot suit than they actually do. Leading to them throwing bigger stones, in hopes of greater impact. But in reality, signalling bad behaviour by hurling boulders throughout the organisation.
I’ve also wondered how this idea ties into the role of inaction in conflict. When we look to an Iron Giant to address injustice in a workplace, are they actually a terrified bystander watching Godzilla vs King Kong in an epic clash? (Sorry, I’m running short on robot references)
It’s not a flawless metaphor, but it’s helped me to gain a perspective on why some people are unaware of their impact. Power dynamics within organisations can trick us into feeling like we aren’t just dealing with humans, it’s important to remember that we are. We need to consider not only the weight of our actions, but how magnified they could be the size and shape of our robot suit.

So what do with all this?
1. You can only learn about your robot suit by understanding other people’s reaction to it. Ask questions and understand your impact.
2. Even if we feel frustrated and small, be careful when throwing stones. Remember that others can see us as giants (even if we aren’t at the top of an organisation)
3. Help others to understand the size of their robot suits, remember that they can’t see theirs either.
4. If you’re a leader, remember your responsibility to challenge bad behaviour. Inaction might look like Optimus Prime sitting by while the Decepticons destroy the city!