We’ve all heard the phrase, “if it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, then it must be a duck”. This has been attributed to many potential sources, including Joseph McCarthy. We may use this phrase at work to describe the behavior of a co-worker or manager. Our ability to bring our authentic selves to work is often very challenging and hard to do. Workplace politics, manager expectations, team cultures, and promotion guidelines often get in the way of our ability to be authentic and genuine.
In 1739, Jacques de Vaucanson introduced his mechanical duck – the Canard Digérateur, or Digesting Duck – which could eat, drink, digest, and extricate, though the digestion was later proved to be a bit of a trick. However, the duck was a huge hit throughout Europe. Voltaire wrote, "Without the voice of le Maure and Vaucanson's duck, you would have nothing to remind you of the glory of France."
Vaucanson also created an automatic loom that changed the world of manufacturing in France. How ironic then, that a phrase that we believe is made up (why a duck instead of a bear or cow?) – that runs to the nature of authenticity – actual stems from a robotic duck.
All of us have the challenge of staying true to our nature in the face of the environment we live in and work in. How often do we cave into groupthink, or just go with the flow rather than speak our minds when we know there will be a backlash?
HR professionals can help build environments where people feel comfortable standing out from others. The true value of diverse teams can only be had when different opinions can be openly shared – when managers are open to dissent and disagreement.
Ironically, we can learn this from an 18th-century automaton – Vaucanson’s Digesting Duck – a real creation, with fake digestive capabilities – to teach us the value of bringing our authenticity to work.
What does this mean to the future of AI and automation? The “Duck Test” preceded the Turing Test – how do we tell the difference between a machine and a human? What does this mean to the future of management? Are managers even necessary if the entire workforce is automated away? What does this mean to the employee – how can we, as individuals, differentiate ourselves such that a machine doesn’t take away our jobs?