I enjoyed reading Geoff Colvin’s previous book, Talent is Overrated, where he argues that exceptional talent is not something we are born with. It is a function of ‘deliberate practice’, over years. Anything and everything from complex mathematics to drawing is a result of gaining knowledge and then practising away for the fabled ten thousand hours, till you succeed.
This time he takes a swipe at the growing fear that robots and advances in Artificial Intelligence are nudging us slowly but surely towards a jobless future. Robots can now do the jobs that were once considered possible to be done only by human beings. The US Army will have 10 robots for every human soldier by 2023. Not surprising, since smart, safe and cheap robots are already here. A company like Affectiva analyses human emotions in ‘media, content, products and experiences’.
Computers are already able to provide a more accurate diagnosis of cancer than any physician and offer better legal advice than any lawyer. Robots will start outsmarting us in every sphere. So why would we need humans to do anything? The Second Machine Age says that the future belongs to those who can keep learning and reinventing themselves. But learning what? To find the answer to this question, you need to read Humans are Underrated.
Geoff Colvin’s book talks about the importance of, what he calls, the ‘Relationship Worker’. According to him, the relationship worker has a greater advantage in the new economy—much more than the ‘Knowledge Worker’. While the machines will pull up information and data faster than any lawyer can, they cannot fulfil our need for social interaction. ‘Understanding an irrational client, and forming the emotional bonds needed to persuade the client’ will be the differentiators in the future.
In the past, we have defined top performance in machine-like terms. We will now need to define them in human terms — the ability to understand human feelings and emotions, and respond accordingly. Even now, the greatest leaders are those who touch our lives, and follow a humane approach. This will perhaps become the only reason to have a human colleague in future.
We learn to read human emotions through in-person interactions with parents, siblings and peers. However, as each one of us spends more and more time with our devices, we are missing out on the opportunity to learn these skills. Americans aged 16–45, who have access to at least two devices, report seven and a half hours of screen time daily. Indonesians and Filipinos report almost nine hours of screen time. An average child spends about four and half hours staring at screens. So, it is not surprising to figure out that while the demand for these skills will rise, there is an acute shortage brewing with people becoming less adept at reading others’ non-verbal cues and being able to empathise.
If all it takes to build a non-existent skill is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, then this may be a wake-up call for us to spend those ten thousand hours building our empathy for fellow human beings. The secret of remaining gainfully employed may lie in doing precisely what we all despise —dealing with irrational friends, family and colleagues. You may be spending your future doing just that!
(The author is chief learning officer, Wipro group. Follow him on Twitter @AbhijitBhaduri.)