Spiros Margaris

How much boredom do humans need at work?

10 Sep 2019   |   Technology

Spiros Margaris

How much boredom do humans need at work?

10 Sep 2019   |   Technology

Many might think that repetitive tasks are a thing of yesterday. We are moving into a new world with AI and machine learning where tasks all around us will quickly be given to machines who will do it better than us. ​

Humans have been both good and bad at knowing how to handle mundane and repetitive tasks. Sometimes it takes the life out of us, and sometimes it’s just what we needed. Many of our most brilliant moments come in the middle of otherwise boring work. ​

Spiros Margaris thinks a lot about the role of humans in fintech. He’s a well-known futurist with a lot backed on technology becoming even more pervasive in our lives. But dare we say that the future of the work might end up being just a little bit boring–and in the best way possible? ​

What we learned from this episode

-Yes the robots are coming. And they’ll take the quick and easy jobs first.

-Most of us aren’t good at leisure and hobbies. Where would you find meaning if you didn’t have to work all day?​

-Universal basic income might have its place, but it doesn’t fill in the gap for meaning. We need to find a way to provide meaning for people, even if we aren’t working as much. ​​

What you can do right now

-Go get bored. ​

-Take up a hobby that you find deep meaning in. ​​

Key quotes

“Even boredom is sometimes good. You become much more creative if you’re bored. Seriously.”​

“It’s nice that we came to the close of almost our conversation now with starting repetitive work as something bad. And then, through our discussion, Neil, realized that it’s not all bad.”​​

Links mentioned

Spiros on Twitter

Margaris Ventures​​​

Today, our guest is Spiros Margaris. He’s the founder of Margaris Ventures. And he’s a great speaker. And this is Work Minus Repetitive Tasks. Hi, Spiros. How are you?

Hi, Neil. Thanks for having me on your show.

We’re very excited to have you on the show. You got a lot of great things to say. You operate a lot in the FinTech space, but on a much broader level, too. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Yes, of course. I’m a venture capitalist in the FinTech, ensure tech, and AI space. And basically, I’m an advisor and invest in many startups globally. And I’m the number one FinTech influencer at the moment by Analytica. I have a big audience and a great community which follows me. So, I’m very privileged.

So, how does it feel to be the number one, the top influencer? What is that like?

I’ve been there for a while. It’s nice. It’s hard work. And it’s a great honor because it means the community appreciates your work. But it only works together with the community. I mean, I always appreciate the work from others. And it’s a nice feeling, obviously. But it’s hard work.

So, tell us a bit more about FinTech. We’re talking about Work Minus Repetitive Tasks and so I want to know where do you see FinTech as compared to other industries? Is it more of a pioneer when we’re talking about advanced automation? Or is it a laggard? Or where do you see it?

I think, probably, I don’t know if it’s a laggard or definitely not a pioneer. I mean, automation has been there before. Of course, computing power allows for more automation, for more implementation of AI machine learning. I think it’s just an industry, especially for startups, that compete against the big players to differentiate yourself. So, basically, they use AI machine learning, all kinds of automation, to provide services that big players, that big banks, insurance companies don’t, or not yet in that sense. But automation is also used by big players. I mean, it’s a way of robotic process automation to cut certain processes. Coming back to your question, I don’t know where we are. But I think we’re still early stage. Everyone uses it, all kinds of industries use it, because it’s the only way to scale the big data and to find predictability. I mean, Netflix uses it. Amazon uses it. It’s just a tool, technology that’s very handy to do predictions, and very handy to do a lot of things.

What are the easy sells you feel like in terms of you’re saying getting even these large organizations to catch on to these things? And where is it that you’re having trouble finding people who are willing to be those front runners?

I think automation, AI machine learning scares people because it’s associated with job losses. And I think there is that part. I mean, some companies, they use robotic process automation in order to cut jobs, in order to reduce people at the back office or on some other places where often those automations are better than humans. But it’s not the case for every job. And I think that’s the resistance by people to let organizations deploy AI machine learning, but they do it anyway. But I think, coming to that, I think it’s very important reskill people, to prepare people what’s coming and to give them opportunities to find new jobs, or to find new skills which they can deploy in the same organization. Because I think people, it’s not only what they do now, they bring a lot of experiences, knowledge, don’t want to lose that, regardless of how much AI machine learning you deploy.

Let’s talk about these repetitive tasks. We said Work Minus Repetitive Tasks. So, what are some of the things that you’ve seen in your work and the companies you’ve invested in that’s been positive towards both reducing tasks, improving efficiency, doing things better, and how that impacts job markets?

The companies I’m involved in, they’re smaller companies, they’re startups, I mean, they’re big startups, some of them, but they’re not these big organizations. And the repetitive tasks at the back office where people have to organize documents, which are better done by computers, through AI machine learning. And I think that’s one of the great advantages of using this new technology is to give the people opportunities to do more intelligent things, the things that are much more interesting for them. Because it’s like in the old days when people worked in the factories. My parents worked in factories. And I think a lot of tasks were very repetitive. I think it’s tremendously boring. It numbs you. And I think if you can take away things that are repetitive, that are not as interesting to do, and enhance your work, even better. I think that’s the way we have to see it, to think, how can we give those people opportunities to stop doing the boring stuff and give them a little bit more fun at work, I mean, as much as possible? So, they come back and say, I don’t have to do this thing I never liked to do. It was so tedious and so repetitive. Let machines do that. And let me, for instance, give a good example, like a private banker, for instance. If a lot of KYC basically know your customers and do all those checks or credit checks, and if that will be done by machines, and you would have more time to talk to those people, and to your clients, or prospects. I think that would be more fun and better use of people.

We call it know your customer, but there’s very little actual interaction with the customer going on.

Yes, I know. I know. That’s also the sad truth. But I believe that like, I always use example, travel agency. We all book our flights online. But if we do something more special, we like to have people advising us, we like maybe to go to the travel agent, or somebody who talks to us and guides us through some complicated journey. Like I go to a safari, I mean, whatever we do, which is usually more complicated than just from A to B. In life, like we’re getting older, there are more issues, I mean, we have kids, maybe we want to deal with inheritance, taxes. There’s some things that are not so straightforward, that we like to have people talking to us, and advising us. And some things, obviously, we would like to be done by machines and to be done cheaper. So, the whole thing, the whole services we offer as a firm can be a little bit more personalized because we don’t have to ask all these little questions and bore the people. But ask the real questions that maybe are more important to the customer and to the banker, for instance. I mean, if you don’t bring something special to the table, besides a repetitive work you do, then it’s going to be hard in the future.

Exactly. And that’s one of the big things we talk about on the show is that a lot of times the work we’re training humans to do right now is that repetitive task. And so, we’re almost preparing them to be out of a job. So, especially in FinTech, what are some of those essential human things that people need to do? You talked about being that private banker to be a true advisor. What are some other roles that you see humans continuing to play for a long time in FinTech?

I don’t even think of FinTech. I’m just talking in general, big banks. FinTech, I must say the FinTech industry is probably not the best example for human interaction, because naturally, they use few people in the workforce, and a lot of things are digitalized, in order to add costs. So, I’m afraid my industry is not at the forefront of deploying more people. I’m afraid so. It worries me a little bit, but it’s just part of the game, I’m afraid. I think it’s more the large organizations that have this mix of technology and human interaction. But I think even the FinTech companies were lean, work very lean, maybe one day, they will realize not all of them, it’s nice that there’s a human behind the technology. So, basically, even if we could do it with all the technology, with chatbots. So, you’re calling, and one day, it already does a great job, it will answer all your questions, it’s never angry at you. But maybe it would be a competitive edge if we can afford it, as a company, to use those human interactions where people know there’s a person behind. Because there’s almost a quality to it. And when you talk about people, automation, I mean, we don’t all have to go into AI machine learning and to technology. There are a lot of great jobs, creative jobs that can’t be done by AI machine learning. In healthcare, there’s a lot of jobs that don’t need as much technology. It also needs humans that deal with sick people, humans would deal with all the people. But I think we’re still early stage of figuring out the best balanced way of use technology in humans. But I think it would be scary world if we only have machines, and humans will not have anything to do.

So, Spiros, you are an influencer, you’re an investor, you see a lot of things. But a lot of times on your feed, we see the good stuff that you want to put out there and the good ideas that come out from other people. I want you to tell me what are some of those ridiculous ideas that people come to you with, whether that be pitches they have or the stuff you’re feeding out that you’re saying, no, I’m not going to put this out there. What are some of the bad visions that you’ve seen in the future?

I don’t put out anything that I don’t find interesting. I don’t have to agree on things but I have to find it interesting enough to say, okay, it’s not my view, but it could be true what the person is saying or writing. So, I like to put both sides out. I don’t like to just put my view out. I don’t like to put only my view out, I mean, the things I like. And I think where I stated often is the two sides of AI machine learning and workforce. Some people say there will be more people deployed. And I’m on the other side where basically, we have to find a way to deal with people who will lose jobs, who will not find a new job. And those are two sides. I’m on the side which I think is going to be painful period with automation. And the argument that comes always is the Industrial Revolution. Farmers went to work in factories, and more people had jobs. But nowadays, the skill sets needed to find certain jobs, there’s a skill gap between what’s needed and what people are able to do.

It doesn’t mean there are not going to be jobs, like in healthcare. People get older so you need care. And those people will be having jobs. There will be jobs out there. But I think in general, we will have to deal with maybe, not social unrest, maybe one day, one of my theory says that one day, there used to be the day when people said, Wall Street is really bad. Can people hated all those bankers and all the investment bankers, but I think one day we will hate a lot of people who somehow connected to tech, to Silicon Valley. And you will hide the fact that you made a fortune or you work in such an organization, because the pain out there is going to be so big that you would be scared to show that you’re one of them, one of the Silicon Valley guys, or one that became rich through AI machine learning, through technology. I think people don’t talk about that a lot. But I think that’s the next, that will be something in the next 10 years, we have to find a way of avoiding that.

And I want to talk more about that right now. Do you feel like the tide is starting to shift? I feel like for the most part, for a long time, the likes of Google and Facebook, they’ve been in general positive. People, they have the detractors and different things. But you’re starting to see some shifts now where they’re getting called in to testify more. There’s getting to be a certain amount of unrest. But is that just people who don’t understand the technology? Or is there like a legitimate fear, animosity people are building?

They’re legitimate fears. I mean, even Libra, the digital currency Facebook wants to put out, I mean, of course governments don’t like it. Of course governments want to regulate it. Because it’s shift of power. Power, maybe, to a tech giant like Facebook. And I think governments don’t like it. And also, like with Cambridge Analytica scandal, I mean, but that triggered the law. People all of a sudden realized, the old saying, if you don’t pay for your product, then you are the product. And people realize slowly that the data they provide is the fee they’re paying for what kind of service they want. And I think, I’m not saying that the Congress or the governments are always right. Not at all. But it is good that there’s the counterparty that says, hey, wait, explain to us. What do you want to do with this? And it’s great that there’s press about it because it educates people who maybe are not, who do different job, maybe as a doctor, maybe as a bus driver, but it’s good that people hear about the stories, good or bad, and make their own opinion about it. And I think, I’m not against tech giants, but it’s good that there’s some check in place.

So, when we’re looking at how fast things are changing, I feel like we can look back and say, okay, it feels like right now we’re making incremental progress. You see some things happen. You see a few things in automation. You see things like chatbots and banks that can go quickly in and do things for you. But how quickly do you think the pace of change is going to alter in the next five years? Do you feel like, right now we can keep up with these changes, but do you feel like in the future, we’re going to start to fall behind pretty quickly?

No, I mean, I think for all of us who are really involved in this space, things were moving extremely fast. But I mean, technology is moving extremely fast. And as Bill Gates once beautifully said that we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next 2 years, but underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10 years. I think change can be huge, but it’s just going to happen. It’s going to be around. I mean, I don’t understand how the iPhone works. But I use it. So, the changes are happening fast, that doesn’t mean that we have to understand it, because as a consumer, you just will use it. But I think there will be huge changes happening. Like, one topic is autonomous cars, but another thing that’s going to happen before 2030, or even later, but things can go faster than we expect. But I don’t think we should be scared about that. I think, I mean, it depends, then we go back to the workforce, but in terms of technology we use, it’s going to be more user friendly. I don’t think we have to worry about understanding it. Because if you want to be a successful technology company, you probably provide services and products that don’t need any understanding, just use it. I mean, eventually, I think in five years, people are not going to type as much, already technologies out there, but it’s going to be even easier. You’re not going to have a keyboard. You’re just going to talk. Please answer this. And it’s going to give you a perfect email response or going to write a perfect article. Say what you think. There’s going to be an AI machine learning editor that will correct it. And so, technology will have advanced then, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be more difficult for you to use it. Does that make sense?

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s going to change. And we’re going to change along with it. I mean, you see, even with tech suggestions and email suggestions that Google builds into Gmail, like these things are happening, and they’ll happen quickly. Even now, a lot of our exchanges or text messages are almost automated in the sense of we know what to say, and the technology behind this figured out that we have patterns in the way we communicate. And we just adopt those patterns and say that they fit for us. So, I think that’s a real thing. It’s coming up for sure.

And then we come back to repetitive tasks and other maybe, then probably all of us have a little more time of doing other things. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be more skilled. Actually, maybe if a lot of things are automated, probably we lose a lot of skills.

Yeah, absolutely.

We might have more time at hand. But we have to use it somehow.

Yeah, what are we going to do with the time? That’s the thing. Everyone says we have all this time coming up and leisure time, but I feel like as a species, we haven’t been really good at filling that time with something useful. We just find other things to busy ourselves with.

Yes. And very fortunate if you have something to, besides of your work, it’s your family and your hobbies. But not everyone has that.

So, you mentioned scaling up the workforce, that being a major concern for you. If you can zoom out, broad picture, what are some other, or maybe just one other big societal problem that you feel like is something we need to address very quickly, very soon, in order to accommodate for this world we’re going to go into very soon.

I think one topic that many people talk about it is universal basic income. I think that’s basically providing people some minimum wage, regardless of their work or not. And I think that more and more people are comfortable with that thought. Not everyone because some people believe you have to work to earn a wage. But if there’s not enough work out there, we have to find a way to provide those people with income and somehow decent way of living. But the one problem with that is I’m for it. I’m for universal basic income because I believe some people will be left behind and we have to take care of them. As much as I’m a technology guy, but money is not everything. You have to give people meaning. If you get a check, that’s not enough. So, we have to figure out I think, that we can give people paycheck somehow I think it’s in the interest of everyone. But to find a way of providing meaning to life, and otherwise you get just frustrated, and if you don’t want a lot of frustrated people with nothing to do with their time. So, interesting repetitive task, as boring as it is, it provides you at least with some work. I mean, that’s very controversial, I’m saying.

I totally agree. I mean, I think that there’s even sometimes when, I’ve worked in a factory before doing the same thing over and over again. On some days it was really bad. And some days, I kind of liked it, because I was able to numb my mind and just focus on other things and got to do other stuff. So, I can see how people even, if they’re doing spreadsheet work or something like that, to some extent you enjoy that. But it almost has to become like a hobby when you realize how fast a machine can do it better than you or how you really should be pursuing other things that are there. But some amount of monotony I feel like it’s good for us.

Even boredom is sometimes good. You become much more creative if you’re bored. Seriously.

It’s true. No, no, I love this.

It’s nice that we came to the close of almost our conversation now with starting repetitive work as something bad. And then, through our discussion, Neil, realized that it’s not all bad.

There’s a part of being human that’s just sitting around, enjoying life and being bored and stuff. I mean, my wife tells my kids that all the time. She’s like, it’s good for you to be bored. That way you’ll figure out something better to do later. Like boredom is a part of life, not even in a negative sense. But like you’re saying, in a positive sense.

Makes you hungry for change. And change is good. As much as we don’t like it always.

I love it. Spiros, this has been great. I like where this discussion has gone. I hope we can take this further into the future, too, to really think deeply about what it means to take repetitive tasks out of work. And what do we replace those with? I think that’s the big question I’m left with is, if we take it out, what are we going to replace it with? Are we good at being leisure people? Are we good at finding other tasks to do? Are we good at being bored? Those are really important tasks to look at.

And society questions that needs to be addressed and thought of. But it was excellent. I enjoyed this conversation. Seriously. You know why? Because through talking, I know we talked about this now, I came to new insights, which I hadn’t thought of, I mean, I never thought that I would say repetitive work is might be good.

That’s why we got to keep doing the podcast. That’s a human thing. Well, good. Spiros, thanks so much for being on the show. You’re obviously easy to find being the top influencer out there but tell people if they’re still under a hole where they can find you.

Of course. You can find me on my website margarisventures.com, or my Twitter handle, spirosmargaris, probably will be attached to the podcast. Thanks for having me. It was an honor. And it was a true pleasure, Neil. I must say, you never know what to expect. I have so many podcasts, but you never know what to expect and sometimes you dread it. But this was quite the opposite.

Absolutely. Same for me. Thanks so much.


Venture capitalist, futurist, keynote speaker and senior advisor, Spiros Magaris is the founder of Margaris Ventures, and is the first international influencer to achieve ‘The Triple Crown’ ranking.

He was ranked the international № 1 FinTech, Blockchain, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) influencer by Onalytica. He regularly appears in the top three positions of established global industry influencer rankings.

He is a keynote speaker at international FinTech, and InsurTech conferences. He also gave a TEDxAcademy Talk. He published an AI white paper, “Machine learning in financial services: Changing the rules of the game,” for the enterprise software vendor SAP. First non-IBM Keynote Speaker at the biggest IBM event in Europe (10/2019) “2019 IBM Systems Technical University”.

Subscribe to The Digital Workplace

Join the journey to a better future of work