How Process Automation Can Make Us More Creative [Podcast]

In this episode of Rebellious Optimists, adidas’ Director Platform Engineering Moh Ghadban explains how process automation is changing his colleagues' lives for the better.

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Rebellious Optimists – A People Podcast

Episode 8

Want time to create? Then automate.

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Process automation is fast becoming an essential part of our everyday lives. For Moh Ghadban, embracing these solution-focused technologies has been an absolute game-changer. As Director of Platform Engineering, Moh’s team is working to increase the productivity at adidas, by removing repetitive and boring parts of jobs. On the latest Rebellious Optimists episode, we speak about bringing balance and more happiness to our lives through process automation, and why robots really can be our friends.  

Man smiles with his arms crossed in front of a quote:

Twiggy Jalloh 02:54 

Hi Moh, welcome to the podcast.

Moh Ghadban 02:58 

Thank you, Twiggy, thank you.

Twiggy Jalloh 03:01 

What about automation appeals to you the most?

Moh Ghadban 03:03 

What inspires me the most is solving a real life problem. So for me, this is something that motivates me, I’m a person who likes to find solutions. And I also believe that we need to work to improve our lives. So as humanity, we need to find something that always keeping us improving. And I would say this is something where I started like twelve years ago, I was doing a kind of a data entry job, as a student, I was working to do some data entry into an application, basically. And this is where I realised that I’m actually just copying and pasting stuff from one place to another. Why can’t I just come up with something that will do this for me? And I would say this was the trigger. So it’s not really automating stuff for the sake of automating them. We’re talking about automation to fix a problem, to deliver a solution to make something better. And this is reflected in business as well as in personal life. So I also do this also in my personal life. I automated a lot of stuff, actually. 

Twiggy Jalloh 04:09 

Your career has really grown over the years. You started off as an intern, to now be director of automation that is quite a big deal. That is quite a big deal. And I know that a lot of people would want to know what you did, or how your journey has been at adidas, and how you’ve risen to your position at the moment. How did you achieve this in such a short amount of time? 

Moh Ghadban 04:34 

So before I started my internship, I was actually, I had my own startup journey, where I did some adventure with a couple of friends of mine that failed. But this is good, right? Because failure also teaches us to stand up and walk again and walk towards the target. And yeah, after my startup journey, I started as an intern at adidas. And to be honest, it’s a great place to be, there is a spirit to it, there is a kind of a feeling which allows you to innovate, which allows you to express yourself and be yourself. Because it’s not just about, okay, do your job and go back home. It’s about how can you create new ideas? How can you collaborate with your colleagues? How can you bring creative things to life as a part of every day life? And this is something you can also see in the adidas culture – you see the impact of it. And this really helped to drive delivering more value. And what really helped also, of course, is delivering value to the business, and delivering value to the colleagues, and focusing on the human first aspects. So yes, I have an engineering background, the key aspect is to really link what you’re good at doing to improving the work, improving people life and having an impact that is positive.

Twiggy Jalloh 06:00 

From what you said, I’ve taken two things. And, the first being that it, there seems to be a common thread here that whenever there is passion, and whenever there is a reason behind doing something that somehow changes lives, it just makes the job a lot easier to do and a lot more enjoyable to do as well. And it seems like a lot of people who stay in one company for a long time, and progress in the company, and seem to almost, yeah, just make a difference in their role, make a real difference and change lives. And I love that you are doing that too. In regards to the things that adidas did to create this startup culture, this culture where people feel free to express themselves, did adidas to anything in particular that comes to mind to create this buzzing creative atmosphere?

Moh Ghadban 06:55 

At the beginning of my career when I joined, I think this was the big exposure, which told me like there is an opportunity in this place – and it’s being encouraged. And being exposed is not enough, right? Because you need to also take a step towards what is offered for you. So I think what adidas did is really providing the right environment for really this hosting the enablement, the creativity for people. And all what I needed to do basically is just to take the chance and to be a part of it, to really take the opportunity. And this is something we say in, see actually in a lot of enterprises and a lot of companies where there are a lot of chances for trainings, learnings, upskillings. And it’s really up to the people, to the employee to take the step and be a part of the journey and make the best out of it.

Twiggy Jalloh 07:53 

What projects did you learn the most from? So say a project that didn’t necessarily work out very well, that you may have had high hopes for, please tell me about it.

Moh Ghadban 08:05 

Well, I can tell we have a lot of them. Yeah, to be honest. So when I think about projects that actually fails, and I learned from, tonnes of ideas came to my mind. And this is something because there is also a failure culture that we live through, right? So the concept of failing means learning. And fail fast, learn fast, is something super important. We also try to adopt it, I try to adopt it in my team. And it’s something that really helps us to move towards the next step and learn how to grow out of it. And just to give maybe an example, which is kind of personal, maybe not that much of a project related, but it’s a kind of personal automation that I used in my work life, where I was registering for an event. And the registration was done via email and the idea was like, first come first served, so you just have to respond to the email once you receive it. And I created a very simple automation, which is – think about it more as an Outlook rule, where you just create, if you get an email with this title, then just reply with – yes please, sign me up, or something like this. And I created this automation concept, which is replying on the server directly. And the email was sent and my robot was responding, right? So yes, please sign me up. Nevertheless, I was not on my machine, and I was not available at that time. I didn’t know that actually the robot responded. I was just having lunch and the team are – which is organising the event just replied, can you share with us more details? Right? Can you please share your name, your address, and so on and so on, so we register you. And the robot just replies – yes please sign me up.

Twiggy Jalloh 10:01 

Oh, gosh.

Moh Ghadban 10:03 

And the team replies like, hey, yeah Moh, we signed you up, can you please just share the information we asked for? And the robot replies – yes please, sign me up. And after a couple of tries, I think they realise – well, this is not normal. But sometimes, when you’re doing something very simple, very basic, very quick, you might forget, tend to forget about those best practices and those best ways how to automate a process. And what I learned out of it that, yes, automation can help. But to automate something, you really need to think about the end to end concept. And this is the mindset we try to live through. Also in our business, in our team, it’s an end to end thinking it’s not about just automating stuff.

Twiggy Jalloh 10:48 

So in regards to failure, let’s talk about that for a little bit. Because, of course, you’ve mentioned that it is important to fail, and failure has taught you a lot of lessons. So how important is having space to fail when working at a company?

Moh Ghadban 12:35 

I do believe personally in a failure culture, and what does it mean? It means that we need to embrace the failures that we get in our team, and we need to learn all of them. It of course, doesn’t mean that we just you know, fail all the time. It means that you can really fail and you learn out of it. It’s not about failing. And for me, I also try to not call it a failure. It’s really about having a mindset that say, okay, I did something which did not work out, I learned something out of it. Now I reflect it on my life, I reflect it on my way of working, I reflect it on the next time that I try it. And it’s really about standing up and trying again and again. And I think it’s super important because we cannot adopt creativity, we cannot be creative in a real essence of creativity without failure. After all, creativity is finding a problem, sorry, finding a solution to a common problem, finding a solution that was not there to overcome a problem regardless of how simple is the solution. Sometimes we just talk about innovation and creativity as it’s something which is you know, reinventing the wheel and creating huge stuff, and sometimes it’s much more simple. And to have this ability to try something simple, to try a new solution for a common problem. And seeing if that works or not. It really needs failures because you need to fail 100 times in trying different stuff before you find the right thing to do and the right thing to implement, for fixing a specific problem. And this is why failure and failure culture is important, because it really boosts creativity and innovation. And it really helps us to get out of the comfort zone. Trying new stuff without being afraid – okay, I might fail.

Twiggy Jalloh 13:08 

You’ve spoken about the fact that it makes processes easier, it saves time, energy, sometimes a lot of money as well. So please tell me about how you personally feel that automation brings value to people’s lives, especially in your everyday work.

Moh Ghadban 13:26 

one of the examples is actually how one of my colleagues just improved his work. This whole work experience much, much better just because of a very simple robot or a very simple automated solution. And I can tell you a bit about the background. So basically, this colleague of mine who used to download a report. So it’s a very simple report that needs to be generated on an application online. The problem is, this was a huge report with a lot of data behind. And once they, he wanted to download the report, he would actually ask the system to get the report. And then the computer will be loading. So the machine will be just loading the report. And sometimes this takes up to a couple of hours. So imagine sitting on your machine, you want to generate a report to send it to someone else, you click on Generate Report, and then well, you cannot work.

Twiggy Jalloh 14:29 

We’ve definitely all experienced that. Sitting there for hours and hours, and seeing the timer just go very, very slowly, and seeing three hours and 23 minutes beside it.

Moh Ghadban 14:37 

Exactly. And this is sad, this is, this is not fun. Because yeah, you can grab a coffee, you can have a chat, you can have a meeting. But after all, you might need to, you want to just respond to an email, you want to do something you want to continue your work. And this frustration was growing with time. So yes, if you do it once or a couple of times, it’s okay. Imagine if you have to do this a couple of times a day or a couple of times a week. This is really not fun. And basically by introducing a very simple automated solution that just downloads this report on a different cloud place, and then gives you a link that you can use it to share it, it just turned over the work, the work structure for this person, and the happiness that we saw was amazing, because this person was actually, you know, expressing like, I’m super happy. I just like it. This is like one of my dreams coming to life, you know, and just saying that, okay, this kind of expression, it tells okay, wow, automation can really be a game changer, even for simple, simple stuff.

Twiggy Jalloh 15:51 

So, the human-centred approach to technology that you take is quite fascinating. And I’ve never actually thought of this until, of course I read about you. Before I read about you, and I’m finding so much more about automation now. Why do you take this human- centred approach? And how do you think other people in technology, in automation, in similar roles that you are in, how, how can they too take a human-centred approach and what are the benefits?

Moh Ghadban 16:20 

I think it’s rather simple because technology is about humans. And technology is about people. As you also mentioned at the beginning, this is my core belief. I believe that we do technical advancement, we build new stuff only because it helps us to improve our lives and our quality of life. Actually one of my mentors, who is super into getting this human design approach and human-centric approach. She once told me that building something, building a solution should not be about utilising a technology, it should be about fixing a problem. And we had a lot of discussions about it. This was like a couple of years ago, and it was really something that for me opened the eyes and showed that whenever we’re working on a project, before we start talking about, okay, how we implement a solution, how we design a solution, we should always start with the core essence of it, with a problem. Why are we working on something? And this helps us to change the view because the first time you ask somebody, why do you want to automate they will tell you well, because it’s taking me a lot of time and so on, and so on. It’s okay. But why? Why is it taking you a lot of time why is this important for you? Why are you even doing this job from the first place? The answer will be different. And sometimes you will end up in a complete different place where you don’t even talk about automation, you’re talking about simplifying a simple step to make the life better. And this is all coming from this human-centred approach. And I believe that if this is reflected in technology, we will have much better time as humanity utilizing, using and utilising technology, because it will change the user interface of the application that we’re using, it will also change our user experience, it will change the way we are interacting with everyday common objects.

Twiggy Jalloh 18:33  

Oh, wow. I love that this is, like I said, this is all centred in solving issues and problems. And I think it’s the same for business as well. Most businesses always ask, what is your why? Why are you doing this? Do not start the business if your product or whatever you’re offering isn’t solving a problem. And that is exactly what you’re doing. And that is why it is making such a difference. So, Moh, what direction do you think tech and automation is moving in? Diversity in tech roles has increased in recent years. And I wonder where you see it going in the future.

Moh Ghadban  19:09 

I think that, in general, we are advancing and the technology is always advancing. We are in a continuously changing world, you might hear about digital transformation, everyone is talking about it. And from my perspective, I believe that digital transformation is a continuous journey. It’s something that had started a long time ago, and it will continue for a long time to come. And I believe that technology is going to a place where it will be as close as possible to every and each employee, as it has never been before. And I think robots will be a part of the diverse workforce in the IT system, or in even in the enterprise environment. So you’ll have your employees and you’ll have your virtual employees. And I see a future where virtual employees are just interacting with employees and working together as a part of one big ecosystem, where actually, things are much easier to get done. And people have a lot more time to focus on creativity, and to create new ideas, and they don’t have to spend time on some repetitive tasks or some boring tasks that they don’t like to work on.

Twiggy Jalloh 20:31 

I love that robots can do those annoying or boring tasks for us. But thinking about the direction that technology and automation is heading, should we be worried that robots or AI could take over all of our tasks and replace us in our jobs? Let me know, Moh.

Moh Ghadban 20:48 

I’m pretty sure that – no, I can already assure you, we should not be afraid of technology. And this is because of a very simple reason. When we’re thinking about those, you know, automation, and so on, sometimes, we tend, as I mentioned earlier, that we’re thinking about those movies and super robots and AI robots taking over the world. To be honest, this is something which is still not realistic. And this is something that is still not even available and possible with the current technology. So we’re not talking about artificial intelligence that are, that is actually thinking in the same human approach and taking its own decisions and something like this, we are still far, far away from this. Yes, we have machine learning, yes, we have advanced technologies that can handle data, that can find patterns, that can discover and make rational sense out of a lot of input. But it’s nothing which is actually creative and can replace a human thinking or a human aspect and creativity. And from my personal perspective, I think that automation will only be there to help us. And automation is actually only creating opportunities for us to even have, first more time to creativity and second, even more chances to do cool stuff and to do different jobs and different work. I hope you’re assured now.

Twiggy Jalloh 22:22 

Yes, I am very much – you have reassured me. And I am very happy that I can get on with all the creative fun stuff, and the robots can do – like I said – all the tedious things, without taking over the planet.

Moh Ghadban  22:35 

Sure.

Twiggy Jalloh 22:37 

Moh, thank you so much for joining me. It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking to you today. You’ve got me looking at things from different perspectives now, and it feels great, honestly, so thank you.

Moh Ghadban 22:47 

Thank you, Twiggy. It was really a pleasure being a part of this, so thank you also so much.

Twiggy Jalloh 22:56

I really loved that chat with Moh. I feel inspired by the power of automation, and assured that robots aren’t going to take my job. That has been Rebellious Optimists, a podcast from adidas. If you’ve enjoyed this chat, please head over to the adidas Gameplan-A blog, where you can find Moh’s article about using task automation to make time for more creative work. Plus, there’s insights and ideas from adidas on sustainability, creativity and leadership. There’s a link in the description, or you can visit gameplana.com. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time. 

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