Founder's Friday Episode 05 - Jean-Pierre Kallanian
How important is it to be human?
I’d encourage you to take a moment to really consider that question. In a world where cutting human capital seems to be increasingly important to improving efficiency, we must deeply consider the role that humanity plays in the modern economy. Technology seems to be replacing more and more of the jobs that we previously thought needed a “human touch.” Business owners are increasingly finding that they can achieve similar results through technological alternatives, saving labor costs and maintaining a consistent output along the way.
But this week’s founder, Jean-Pierre Kallanian, feels that a human-centric approach to business is still paramount to maintaining a strong corporate identity and culture. And I have to say, after my conversation with him, I couldn’t agree more.
JP is a graduate of Lehigh University, both for his undergraduate degree and masters program. His first job out of school was with the Massachusetts Youth Justice System, offering counseling services to children who had found themselves in a difficult place in their lives.
“All those who I counseled in this position had court orders to be there, so it wasn’t always easy,” he mentioned. “There were many unforeseen difficulties. Perhaps it was a difficult anniversary, of someone dying or going to jail for example, and the situation could blow up without any precedent. That’s where I learned the value of teamwork. It would always take more than one professional to calm that individual down”.
It’s true that much of our economy could be automated by technology, but situations like those JP faced require a uniquely human approach. Clearly, dealing with these situations had a profound impact on JP’s professional career, as the lessons he learned served as a catalyst for him to found EPIConsulting.
EPIConsulting is centered around the EPIC model JP himself developed: Explore, Play, Inspire, and Connect. JP notes that this “model” isn’t so much of a model, as it is a naturally-occurring phenomenon when people have a safe space to express their vulnerabilities.
“People are naturally curious and playful, this is how we learn from each other and develop a sense of empathy”, he notes.
JP’s experiences working with children in the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice System also served as the foundation for the book he wrote. After he felt his time at the Juvenile Justice System coming to an end, he was looking for a way to gracefully end that chapter of his life and begin a new one. After a conversation in the park with a stranger who encouraged him to explore writing, JP returned to his home with a table of contents already written in his head.
The book was about how we can learn from our children by asking the right questions and having eye-level conversations with them, rather than telling them what to do. He recalled, “The words flowed out of me naturally. I found inspiration from the experiences I’ve had with my own children and those whom I’ve counseled”.
I then talked with JP about the effects of Covid-19. This virus has brought us further from continuous human connection than we have ever been before, and greatly accelerated the physical, and sometimes emotional, distance between us. I was curious if his clients felt more or less of a need for his services in the current climate.
“Personally I think that this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s certainly changing the nature of how we work with other people, and unfortunately it's drying up some of the fiscal resources that companies might ordinarily use on a human consulting practice. It’s difficult to tell from where we’re at now”.
There is an interesting conversation to be had around the degree to which we replace human interaction with technology. On one hand, there is a tremendous monetary incentive to replace some actions with automated technology and/or AI. On the other hand, humans are ultimately the embodiment of a company’s vision and culture; as such, automating human jobs can certainly be a slippery slope.
Personally, I feel that there is an attainable middle ground between technology and humanity. Much of a firm's competitive advantage lies in delivering its products and services at a lower price. At the same time, if I call a company’s headquarters, I want to speak to a human being and not a robotic call system. Likewise, as a client of a service business, I want a genuine human connection and ultimately an extension of my own team. The sweet spot between technology and human resources lies in automating the more redundant and time-consuming tasks, while spending most of your time focusing on higher-level decision making, and connecting with your end customer.
The Astral Consulting Group approaches every business case with a clean slate, and applies a unique framework to build workflows to suit each client's individual needs. Our founding partners come from engineering backgrounds, and understand the importance of reasoning from the ground up. As such, we combine this "first-principles" style of thinking with a holistic growth mindset to evaluate each case from both the top-down and bottom-up. This creates a comprehensive process unique to each solution we develop, and gives our clients insight into both the granular details of their business and the high-level strategy and vision to propel them forward.