How to redefine the role of humanity in the workplace

Imagine that you are standing up in the middle of a large crowd. You have to look someone else in the eye. You are not allowed to talk or interact with that person for two minutes.

It’s much harder than you think. Time drags by.

That’s exactly what I asked the audience to do before I kicked off my keynote in Istanbul. People felt (really) nervous. They couldn’t keep the eye contact. Some starting moving, others tried to establish physical contact, many started chatting before the time was over.

I was speaking at the International HR Now&Next conference and wanted to set up the context. No matter how much we want, we cannot hide our human instinct.

We are social animals. We want to socialize with other people. It’s intuitive and natural. Many times, when talking about the role and future of technology, we forget about the basics.

What does it mean to be human? And, most importantly, what world do we want to live in?

The future is not the problem

“Technology is taking over, what shall we do?”

There’s a lot of worries about the future.

I see two primary reactions.

Futurists are telling us that robots will replace humans in no time, that the future is already here. However, like most predictions, they don’t go as planned. The movie Back to the Future is a great example. Flying cars were meant to be the new normal by October 21, 2015. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Do you?

Opposers, on the other hand, underestimate the future. They are in denial and believe that’s not going to happen. For them, things will continue as normal.

However, both reactions are extremists and exaggerated. The future is not the problem, how we react is. We need to find a more balanced approach. And, as author and futurist Richard Watson added: “our vision about technology and the future is very reactive and short-term.”

The only thing we can be sure about is that live in a time of uncertainty. Rather than resisting the future of believing that we know what will happen, let’s acknowledge and celebrate the unexpected.

Adapting to a new work reality

There’s no doubt that things will change rapidly. However, there’s no reason to panic.

Yes, many jobs will be automatized. According to Oxford, 70% of jobs will disappear in the next 25 years. Some will be easier to replace such as telemarketers and retail salespersons. Others will be more difficult to automatize like dentists or recreational therapists.

But if we observe the previous years, jobs are already changing. Social media managers, user experience designers, app developers — to name a few — are all jobs that didn’t exist five years ago.

This will continue to happen. As technology moves on, many new jobs will be created to support it. We will need self-driving cars mechanics, algorithms ethicists, digital currency advisors, drone managers, home automation contractors, and the list goes on and on.

Not all new jobs will be tech related. Nostalgists will help people navigate the crush between the past as we know it and the future. Not everyone will want to give up current ways of living. They will need help to reconcile both worlds. Today we are already experiencing lots of tensions as people tried to adapt to a more tech-driven world. This will become worse and worse.

Richard Watson said that AI:

  • Can’t create at a high level of creativity
  • Is not empathetic
  • Can’t manage or inspire people
  • Has no morality — it needs to be programmed

There are many versions of the future. Most probably, most will be wrong to a certain degree. The question is: how do we prepare for this uncertain scenario? How can companies prepare people for jobs that don’t exist yet?

The end of job descriptions as we know them

Knowledge is essential but is losing relevancy. A degree is no longer an indicator of future success.

As things change and evolve, our ability to learn new things is much more important than what we know today. The same happens with our skillset. Organizations might continually train their employees to adapt to ever-changing demands of new jobs.

Our abilities and mindset will be more critical to achieve success. Adaptability will become the new competitive advantage to thrive in an ever-changing environment.

Careers will be less and less linear. Fluid mobility will take over. Career change will become the new normal. Work must be redesigned around people. We need to move from a “job-centered” workplace to a “People-centered” one.

As automation takes over repetitive and predictable tasks, the need to find fulfillment and purpose will become more relevant for everyone.

Collaboration is the solution

As human beings we like comparison. However, most are deceiving.

Some people believe human beings are superior to AI. Other think that we are inferior compared to technology. A few, believe that we are equal.

I believe it’s all of the above. Actually, the sign of interaction and collaboration is a combination of all those elements (greater than, less than, equal than).

We need to stop comparing if artificial intelligence can beat humans at chess. Who cares? Let the machines win. We need to reframe the problem. Instead of competing against tech, let’s collaborate

How might technology helps us bring out the best of being human?

Embrace our humanity

It’s time to get back to basics.

Let machines be machines, let’s human be humans.

Being vulnerable is what makes us unique. Let’s embrace our perfect imperfection. We are not supposed to be perfect. Let’s stop trying to beat machines.

Our vulnerability feeds our emotions, creativity, empathy, sense of humor, personalities, imagination, and more.

Being vulnerable does not mean being weak, as many people believe. On the contrary, accepting that we are not perfect requires self-confidence and courage as Brené Brown has been advocating for many years.

The power of Empathy

We possess the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes. To understand others in spite of their imperfections. The need for life-long learning and high-touch work will turn empathy into a critical ability. Doctors and nurses dealing with special needs patients or the elderly play understand this concept very well.

Curiosity is the mother of creativity and innovation
Our ability to connect what seems unconnected. To ask What if? Creativity is not just critical to innovate and to differentiate from a business standpoint. It will become a powerful ability to adapt to a fast-changing environment. It’s also critical to design the new world we want to live in. Rather than to react to tech-driven changes, lets’ define the world we want to live in.

The power of stories

As I said before, we cannot hide being human. We are social animals. We like to connect with others. And nothing does that better than stories. We don’t remember stats, but we can remember a story forever because it connects with our emotions. Telling stories is a human ability. Everyone can share the news but what differentiates one journalist from another is storytelling.

Decision-making is not just logical

According to scientists both the heart and gut have brain cells tissue. We don’t have one but three brains. Making decisions is not just a logical process but needs to integrate all our senses, emotions, and instincts. Neuroscientists have demonstrated that, when the emotional parts of the brain are affected, people cannot make basic choices like if they want to eat chicken or pasta. Their IQ is not affected but their lives are impaired. We need to revalue our integrated decision-making process, not just our logic.

A unique trait: our personalities

A robot can play music or get you a tattoo. However, what makes a human DJ or tattoo artists unique is their styles. It’s not that they can do it, but how they do it. And their personality doesn’t just show in their work. It’s part of the overall experience. We engage with artists because of how they behave and what they reflect upon ourselves.

Our personalities play a critical role at work too. Diversity of thinking is a consequence of having teams composed of people with different backgrounds and walks of life. Diverse personalities make teams more interesting and productive — It’s the opposite to group-thinking.

Mistakes drive innovation

Being vulnerable equals to being imperfect. And that means embracing our emotions as well as making mistakes. An uncertain world requires companies to experiment more than ever. Trial and error involves making mistakes. But, most importantly, that we can learn from them, as I explained here.

Most significant discoveries in the history of humanity, such as penicillin, were mistakes or unexpected acts of nature. Our ability to explore is critical to continue driving innovation. Embracing vulnerability during the exploration process is very hard for many, as I observe when consulting organizations.

— — —

The future is uncertain —we need to collaborate with technology, not compete with it.

Our ability to adapt to a changing world is a competitive advantage. Developing self-awareness, creativity, and resilience are critical to understanding reality — to learn, adapt and evolve.

We need to bring back humanity to the workplace. Let’s recover the value of being vulnerable, our perfect imperfection. That’s the most important asset that humans can bring to the table.

Let’s focus on designing the world we want to live in.

Let’s move from a reactive to a more strategic view about the future.

Work has always meant about personal fulfillment. Now more than ever. We need to have a purpose-driven approach to design the future. Technology should enhance humanity, not diminish it.

We need to spend more time thinking about the human experience in the future.

What world do we want to live in?

The future is uncertain. Adaptability will turn it into a friend.

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This article first appeared on Medium.