Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will
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As technology races ahead, what will people do better than computers?
What hope will there be for us when computers can drive cars better than humans, predict Supreme Court decisions better than legal experts, identify faces, scurry helpfully around offices and factories, even perform some surgeries, all faster, more reliably, and less expensively than people?
It’s easy to imagine a nightmare scenario in which computers simply take over most of the tasks that people now get paid to do. While we’ll still need high-level decision makers and computer developers, those tasks won’t keep most working-age people employed or allow their living standard to rise. The unavoidable question—will millions of people lose out, unable to best the machine?—is increasingly dominating business, education, economics, and policy.
The bestselling author of Talent Is Overrated explains how the skills the economy values are changing in historic ways. The abilities that will prove most essential to our success are no longer the technical, classroom-taught left-brain skills that economic advances have demanded from workers in the past. Instead, our greatest advantage lies in what we humans are most powerfully driven to do for and with one another, arising from our deepest, most essentially human abilities—empathy, creativity, social sensitivity, storytelling, humor, building relationships, and expressing ourselves with greater power than logic can ever achieve. This is how we create durable value that is not easily replicated by technology—because we’re hardwired to want it from humans.
These high-value skills create tremendous competitive advantage—more devoted customers, stronger cultures, breakthrough ideas, and more effective teams. And while many of us regard these abilities as innate traits—“he’s a real people person,” “she’s naturally creative”—it turns out they can all be developed. They’re already being developed in a range of far-sighted organizations, such as:
• the Cleveland Clinic, which emphasizes empathy training of doctors and all employees to improve patient outcomes and lower medical costs;
• the U.S. Army, which has revolutionized its training to focus on human interaction, leading to stronger teams and greater success in real-world missions;
• Stanford Business School, which has overhauled its curriculum to teach interpersonal skills through human-to-human experiences.
As technology advances, we shouldn’t focus on beating computers at what they do—we’ll lose that contest. Instead, we must develop our most essential human abilities and teach our kids to value not just technology but also the richness of interpersonal experience. They will be the most valuable people in our world because of it. Colvin proves that to a far greater degree than most of us ever imagined, we already have what it takes to be great.
From the Hardcover edition.
the training of their troops was even more decisive. “Several generals of that era told me that, if they could have kept the NTC, they would have won even if they had traded equipment with the enemy,” Chatham reports. THE BATTLE OF 73 EASTING One engagement proved especially significant as a demonstration of NTC-style training effectiveness in actual battle and also as a harbinger of another training revolution that continues today and is growing more important. On February 26, 1991, in the
on a crew’s first day of flying together, before people had the chance to learn through experience how best to operate as a team,” reports Harvard’s J. Richard Hackman, who also studied the intelligence analyst teams after 9/11 and is a preeminent researcher on groups. Scheduling crew members individually rather than as teams is more efficient for the airlines, but the results may give you pause next time you step onto a plane. “I once asked an operations researcher of an airline to estimate how
STORIES Effective storytelling has even become a significant factor in the security of the world. It stands to reason, as warfare is increasingly conducted in “the human domain.” In the postsuperpower era, most of the world’s war and violence involves terrorists and insurgents, what security analysts call nonstate violent actors—ISIS, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and many other lesser known groups worldwide. They’re largely volunteers, relatively few in number but supported by large populations,
prosocial, on average—and family size is declining worldwide. Similarly, much research has shown that children raised in settings with “high levels of collectivism, personal closeness, and interdependence,” as one paper puts it, tend to be more cooperative and collaborative. Those settings are mostly rural and in small towns; as people globally live increasingly in cities, fewer are growing up in such environments. At just the moment when organizations are seeking more and better work from teams,
balancing of an economic world that had long favored male abilities. Now members of both sexes have much to gain by acquiring the abilities they don’t have. Empathizing men, systemizing women—those people are winners in a world that increasingly favors a combination of high technological literacy and deep social sensitivity. But hold on. While there may indeed be much to gain by acquiring the skills of human interaction that one doesn’t already have, how easy is it to acquire such skills?