With all of the hype about AI and machine learning transforming how business is done, it’s easy to focus on automation and data at the expense of letting the human elements atrophy.
It’s obvious that robots are here to stay. And they’re doing more and more kinds of work that only humans had previously been able to do. This has many workers worried and wondering how to robot-proof their jobs, and with good reason as McKinsey reports that up to 800 million workers are expected to be displaced by automation come 2030.
However, machines still haven’t acquired some skills and abilities that remain essential to human interaction. That doesn’t mean AI will never successfully have empathy. But for now, humans have that market cornered; it’s just that there’s always room for improvement.
Whether you’re a business owner, executive, mid-career, or entering the job market after graduation, you want to be cultivating and strengthening some core human skills that will improve your business and ensure your growing value to any organization.
Some see AI and automation as a threat. To those who want to perform repetitive work with minimal cognitive load, the machines probably do represent a threat to their livelihood. Others see that the wonders and potential of AI and machine learning also need complementary strengths found in uniquely human skills and abilities. Humans and machines work best when they work together, and this will become the new normal. Just like any team, different members bring different skills and perspectives to the table. In many contexts, just as AI and machine learning can calculate and operate at rates unfathomable for human beings, uniquely human abilities such as empathy are still superpowers to AI.
Develop strengths that are uniquely human: Formerly known as “soft skills”
Improve critical thinking and problem solving
Machines do what they are programmed to do. They can’t assess a situation and understand the many intersecting cultural and emotional contexts that will often factor heavily into finding the best solution to any given problem. Most problems that need to be solved are wicked and messy, and only human beings in the room can negotiate such a volatile web of meanings and consequences.
In Forbes, William Gormley’s work on critical thinking is discussed, saying that he differentiated critical thinking and other cognitive abilities in the workplace. “It’s a complement to creative thinking, which is much more about novelty and inspiration, vs. analysis and weighing of arguments. Both have to be brought together to do problem-solving. Problem-solving typically leverages critical and creative thinking to find a solution to a particular issue.”
In Scientific American, Heather Butler discussed her research, stating that critical thinking “can improve with training and the benefits have been shown to persist over time.”
With so much information available – the truthfulness or usefulness of which is often questionable – being able to think critically and evaluate the credibility and value in multifaceted and fluid contexts is an essential skill for success both in business and in life.
Boost your emotional intelligence (EQ or EI)
Coined by Daniel Goleman, the term “emotional intelligence” is “comprised of four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Nested within each domain are twelve EI competencies, learned and learnable capabilities that allow outstanding performance at work or as a leader.”
The compelling case for fostering improved emotional intelligence is that the domain of EI contains more than 80 percent of competencies that set top performers apart from others. Unsurprisingly, companies with executives who have higher emotional intelligence are more likely to be highly profitable. EI is contagious; it’s learned. Whether you’re an executive or not, boosting your emotional intelligence enables you to work well with others, build stronger relationships, and increase your productivity as well as that of others.
Take the time to do your research and get to know other people. Learn about a culture, whether it’s that of the company you work for (or want to work for) or the cultural background of your managers, co-workers, partners, clients, or customers.
Grow your empathy
You’ve likely heard empathy mentioned a lot lately, especially when it comes to customer experience, employee experience, and generally improving organizational and business performance and productivity. Research supports the business case for empathy in enabling meaningful communication, building trust with employees, colleagues, partners, and customers. Tony Robbins says, “Nurturing empathy in business brings numerous benefits, including increased sales, productivity, innovation, and competitive advantage.”
This is related to your emotional intelligence, of course. Take your EQ a step further from knowledge of cultural norms and acceptable practices to understanding and respecting the perspectives and emotions of others.
Update your human skills and knowledge continually
Expect to be a lifelong learner. Preparing for the job means your degree was just preparation for the beginning. A set of skills used to carry a worker through most if not all of their career. The “half-life of a skill was about 26 years,” according to Indranil Roy, head of the Future of Work Centre of Excellence (Deloitte). “Today, it’s four and a half years and dropping.”
Keeping up to date on the skills and technologies in your field or discipline is the minimum. Seek a mentor. Educate yourself. Going forward it’s vital that you expand your skillsets, gain new competencies, and look ahead to find out where technologies are developing and taking business. Increasingly, this includes being aware of broader social, political, and economic contexts, which all factor into your empathy, your EQ, and ultimately your ability to work with others in an ever-expanding and interconnected global economy.
Ultimately, if you are doing business with partners and customers who are human beings, you need human beings involved. Customers still want to deal with human beings. Employees must feel that they are contributing and that their work is valued, and employee experience has a direct impact on customer experience.
Even the most advanced organizations at the leading edge of digital transformation still need human beings to drive business to serve their customers. In fact, as discussed on the Marketo blog, human skills have become even more important to complement the rise of AI. And the human talent who embody and exercise their human talents have a great advantage in the workplace, in business, and in life.