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Big Ideas: “Humans working alongside robots to increase productivity and retention” with Kass Dawson of SoftBank Robotics

Humans working alongside robots is becoming more common every day and is indefinitely changing the world. SoftBank Robotics is leading the way in human-robot interaction, transforming the way we work with technology to redefine the future of work. The potential for technology to augment work is increasing as robots become more capable of mobility, collecting […]

Humans working alongside robots is becoming more common every day and is indefinitely changing the world. SoftBank Robotics is leading the way in human-robot interaction, transforming the way we work with technology to redefine the future of work. The potential for technology to augment work is increasing as robots become more capable of mobility, collecting data and automating repetitive tasks. As we begin to introduce robots into the roles of low-skilled labor, workers will have the opportunity to expand their roles and focus on higher-value, more rewarding tasks. This can ultimately lead to an increase in their productivity, longer retention, and a more rewarding experience for employees.


Asa part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kass Dawson. Kass Dawson is the Global Head of Marketing Communications at SoftBank Robotics, engaging in the development and execution of effective strategic and tactical plans for all communications in conjunction with SoftBank partners. Before SoftBank Robotics, Kass worked at Facebook as the Global Head of Marketing for the Automotive vertical, driving the company’s strategic vision to maximize automotive business around the world. He has also advised manufacturing and technology leaders like Mercedes-Benz and Jumpstart Automotive Group in a broad range of strategic marketing initiatives.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Istarted my career at a law firm. I was considering law school and decided quickly that I preferred more of the creative sciences, as I was simultaneously doing concert and open mic promotions in New York City. This entrepreneurial spirit and experience in promoting got me into my first marketing job with Mercedes-Benz. I helped launch new sales programs, coordinated PR efforts for corporate social responsibility, and eventually helped drive marketing communications for new, younger and more diverse audiences that the brand was craving.

Almost 20 years later, I realized that although I loved marketing, I wasn’t truly a car guy. So when a former colleague approached me about helping to launch a humanoid robot in the US, I took that leap. It was an opportunity to build a brand, a marketplace and the demand for a specific product that I viewed as the marketing trifecta. Today, we are defining innovative solutions in the robotics space, and I am happier than I have ever been in my career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career at SoftBank Robotics?

Being a part of the robotics industry, I get to see a lot of really interesting things. For example, the field of Human-Robot Interaction, or HRI, is one that continues to evolve and grow on a daily basis. But one of the most fascinating things I have seen is when robots can interact with one another, sharing information, to improve their collective output and help create even stronger automation. We were able to do this at CES this year, connecting our humanoid Pepper robot with the Tally robot from Simbe Robotics. Tally is an inventory tracking robot that collects information regarding items and reports when they are out of stock. It also maps the shelves and floor plan of the store. We were able to connect this information with Pepper to help customers find items, and on the back end, know if items were in stock or not and automatically promote items that were overstocked or had been on shelves longer than average. So, individually the robots help save human employees time and provide for a better experience for customers. But when we combined them, we automated the promotion of specific items based on inventory and relevance to the specific customer, a win-win for both the business and the shopper.

I think the moment folks saw these two robots working together to answer customer questions and provide tailored product suggestions really showed them the benefits of true automation. Finding out whether or not your favorite cookies are in stock may seem small, but when you can’t find the items on your list — or an employee to ask — it’s a real service. It’s just one of the many ways automation will help improve business and lives.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Humans working alongside robots is becoming more common every day and is indefinitely changing the world. SoftBank Robotics is leading the way in human-robot interaction, transforming the way we work with technology to redefine the future of work. The potential for technology to augment work is increasing as robots become more capable of mobility, collecting data and automating repetitive tasks. As we begin to introduce robots into the roles of low-skilled labor, workers will have the opportunity to expand their roles and focus on higher-value, more rewarding tasks. This can ultimately lead to an increase in their productivity, longer retention, and a more rewarding experience for employees.

How do you think this will change the world?

SoftBank Robotics believes in the power of robots to bridge technology and our world like nothing we’ve seen before, allowing us to elevate our thinking and focus our efforts on activities requiring real human ingenuity and expertise. In the Americas region, we are already seeing the positive impact our robots can provide in banks and retail stores. Last year, we introduced our humanoid robot Pepper into HSBC’s flagship branch on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Pepper was brought in to streamline branch operations, greet customers and educate them about HSBC services. Since introducing two Peppers last June, the branch has seen an estimated 5X increase in daily foot traffic, and thanks to Pepper, the staff has been able to focus on deeper and higher-value customer interactions. And we believe this is just the beginning of how robots can improve the ways in which people connect and interact with businesses.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

As robotics and AI continue to become more prevalent within the workforce, people will continue to question how this technology will impact their jobs. It’s the right question to ask and we should continue to discuss it. SoftBank Robotics truly believes robots won’t replace workers, but rather, will make their existing jobs more engaging. Robots will automate tedious tasks and redundancies, so workers can focus on higher-level work that will ultimately be more rewarding. As purveyors of robots, we also understand the responsibility we have to ensure that the future workforce understands how to work with these (and other evolving) technologies. So we are dedicated to ensuring that STEM education for today’s and tomorrow’s students helps set everyone up for success.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

The idea of interacting with a robot is still an odd concept for many people, especially in the US. As robots continue to be introduced into retail environments and other public settings, we are seeing more and more people become comfortable with human-robot interaction. In order to reach widespread adoption, we will need to see more businesses introduce robots in a customer-facing role, so people can familiarize themselves with the technology and see the benefits they provide.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Failure is only “failure” if you fail to learn from it! — Early in my career, I was put on a team to build a new line of business for the company. Although it was kicked off by executives, their interest in it quickly waned, and we spent an entire summer working on something that ended up getting shelved. I personally learned the importance of doing all your homework in building out the business plan, as well as a lesson in patience. The organization eventually learned how to properly expand into this new line of business, which they successfully launched 5 years later.

In business, never take it personal… especially when it is. — As a very proud person, I have had to learn how to take criticism (no matter how it is given)…constructively. I once had a tough conversation with a colleague where some of my shortcomings were laid bare in a rather nasty way. My initial reaction was to join the argument by blocking faults with faults, but I realized that there was some truth to what they said, and I chose to look inside and work on the fix with that person, and changed the tone of the conversation. Afterwards, I was able to grow and improve as a result, and that person is now a trusted friend.

Learn to celebrate all of the wins, even the small ones. — The yellow brick road was not just one giant yellow brick. It was a path created by hundreds and thousands of bricks being placed. In the last two years, I have seen a number of times when our smaller projects have helped pave the way to much bigger successes. It was interesting to see team members doubt the value of some of the tactics we have implemented. Although it can be tiresome explaining the value, it is very rewarding when these efforts lead to larger deals and greater exposure for the product/brand because other companies or media express interest. So regardless of size of the deal, or impact of the success, we as a team find time to acknowledge and celebrate all our wins.

People really want to be held accountable. — As our solutions have evolved, and our offering refined, we have been able to get more specific with our goals, and measurements for success. In doing this, we have been able to place more stringent objectives on team members, and it is exciting to see how positively they have responded to that. It also works for our organization, because that accountability is exacted up and down the hierarchy of the organization. Leadership expects to be held accountable by their respective teams, just as they are holding their teams accountable. This organizational value has created a culture of success that is invigorating for everyone.

In the fast-paced world of technology, adaptability is critical for success. — Earlier in my career, I took pride in defining a solution, and sticking to it through all the trials and tribulations it faced. However, my last few jobs in the tech space have forced me to recognize that change is not only inevitable, it is also necessary to stay relevant. So, as our solutions change, and use cases are redefined, the ability to rapidly adapt has helped our offering be even more successful in the marketplace. The mindset towards “adaptability” (or embracing change) is also something that helps our employees maintain happiness and success within our organization.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

As technology advances, there is no telling what the workforce of tomorrow will look like. However, workers should always continue to educate themselves and upskill in the areas where there is work. At SoftBank Robotics, we believe robots are going to play a major role in tomorrow’s workforce, so it is important for today’s students to develop STEM skills. We are working with the SoftBank Group to donate over 100 Peppers to educational institutions in San Francisco, Boston and British Columbia. We are committed to better preparing students in our communities and have developed a program that utilizes Pepper to help students develop their computer science skill set.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

Education. I am sure you are looking for an answer with financial gain, but I think it is more important that we leave a mark on this world, and I would invest in Computer Science and STEM Education for underserved people and communities. As has been proven in business, diverse minds help bring unique, powerful and profitable solutions to the table. If the future of work is in AI and robotics, then that same paradigm should hold true. Having more diverse minds working on these solutions can only improve the future outcomes.

What principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

In life, to treat all people the way you would want to be treated. From the homeless person on the street, to the janitor, to the intern, to the associate, to the manager, to the CEO, we are all humans, and deserve to be treated as such. Often times, you see people reacting or responding to different folks based on the perception of their social rank or status. Doing so is a sign of weakness that we should all eliminate — everyone deserves to be treated the same. We all walk through this life and have to face our own struggles. So treat everyone with the kindness you would expect, as that will help them get through their day and its obstacles.

In my career: Don’t just work on the home runs- the big hits are way more valuable when the bases are already loaded. So the walks, singles and doubles are all equally valuable. Sometimes it is easy to work on the bigger or flashier projects, because the rewards and recognition are so alluring. However, setting a habit to tackle all of the tasks (no matter how small) with the same commitment will help ensure greater success for yourself and the organization.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Set milestones or objectives that will help you achieve the larger goal. Like the age-old adage, “how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The larger goals and objectives can be daunting, especially if they are set to push us beyond our comfort zone. To achieve them, you have to take one step at a time. So it is important to set up milestones against which you can check in and ensure you are working towards that larger goal. These smaller successes will also provide the positive motivation you (or your team) may need in order to stay the course while chasing the goal.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

From retail, banking, education and beyond, SoftBank Robotics is the leader in providing robotics solutions. Most recently, we have partnered with Simbe Robotics to tackle the challenges retailers face in handling inventory dynamics in their stores. By connecting Pepper with Simbe’s Tally, a shelf auditing robot, we can improve the retail experience by helping customers quickly and easily find specific products. By augmenting labor with technology, we can decrease some of the biggest costs for retailers, while simultaneously creating a better experience for customers.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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