Algorithmic versus Heuristic!

A key point of difference

Algorithmic work is work that can be split into a sequence of steps and has lent itself over the last forty years to outsourcing to low wage countries and now, in a potentially much bigger way, to being done by machines – robots or programs incorporating Artificial Intelligence. 

Heuristic work is work that requires creativity, problem-solving and collaboration amongst different people, it cannot be broken down into simple steps. 

We can say that the future of human work is heuristic work whereas for most of human history, we humans have done largely algorithmic work. 

This is an historic change. 

A major difference between these two types of work is the importance of conversation – an intrinsic human activity – hard to imagine living without some form of conversation. 


Yet, in algorithmic work, conversation plays no role in the work itself.  An instruction may be given, clarification may be requested but, in the work,, conversation is not important. 

Obviously, in organisations doing algorithmic work lots of conversations take place but the key feature is that they are not essential to the work so are not structured to support the work. 

In heuristic work, conversation is at its heart.  It is through conversation that trust and understanding are built that underpin collaboration, through conversation complex problems can be defined and solved.  It is through conversation that ideas are exchanged and new ideas created. 

In heuristic work, conversations are structured so as to support the work.  Organisations doing heuristic work have lots of meetings and workshops as well as informal conversations.  Yet these still need to be structured appropriately to ensure that the right types of conversations are taking place – conversations that build connections, conversations that are about the work that needs to be done. 


John Corrigan is an expert in helping individuals to bring their whole of mind to their daily life and increase their effectiveness and the effectiveness of those around them. This expertise scales from the individual to the team to the organisation. At the core of this work is the practice of encounter.  Earlier blogs can be found here

John Corrigan