The Business of Being Human

The industrial revolution made us wealthier, healthier, and, arguably, more civilized. But it took a big toll on sour humanness.

The Q1 issue of the Digitalist Executive Quarterly is now available.

The skills that allowed artisans to build a clock or sew a dress from designs in their minds were lost, while repetitive tasks on assembly lines or in office cubicles became the dominant human contribution to the economy. Uniquely human abilities became so overlooked over time that they were lumped together under the dismissive term soft skills and confined to a few “noncore” areas like marketing, PR, and design.

But now the traits that make us human are becoming more valuable than ever before. Robots, artificial intelligence, and machine learning will ultimately take over rote, repetitive tasks, forcing us to focus on what machines can’t do. In the future, the so-called soft stuff will be what puts food on the table.

As we argue in one of Digitalist Magazine Executive Quarterly features, “The Human Angle,” being good at being human doesn’t necessarily come naturally. According to psychologist and researcher Tasha Eurich, just 10% to 15% of us possess self-awareness, even though it’s the foundation for excelling at our most human skills: creativity, problem solving, empathy, and cooperation.

AI and machine learning will challenge us to hone these skills. Thanks to advances in brain science and behavioral psychology, we have new ways to learn or improve them. But we will also need to learn how to collaborate with the machines.

Human-machine collaboration isn’t new. Technology has always helped us augment our abilities—whether it’s the stone tips on ancient spears that enabled our ancestors to obtain food and defend themselves or the exoskeletons that today enable us to move large objects with dexterity that machines alone can’t match. We worry that machines are evolving at such a rapid pace that we might not be able to keep up, but like our forebears, we are discovering how to harness new technologies to our advantage.

Our cover story, “The Blockchain Solution,” offers proof that augmenting human abilities will be another way that organizations stir up their industries in the future—specifically, the supply chain. Today’s supply chains are so complex that they require a tremendous number of human intermediaries to plug the gaps: lawyers, accountants, customer service reps, warehouse operators, bankers, and more. A combination of emerging technologies, including blockchain, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things, will reduce the need for human intermediaries and allow us to focus instead on using our creativity to transform the supply chain from a tactical cost center to a lever for competitive advantage.

Ultimately, however, improving our human skills individually will mean nothing if our colleagues don’t reciprocate.

CIOs are trailblazers in this regard. They have long understood that success requires the support of a broad, diverse group of executives and employees. Our feature “Hack the CIO” reveals the strategies CIOs use to unite the organization in pursuit of a single goal.

As AI and machine learning take hold, so must the CIO’s guiding mindset. CIOs could never afford to be afraid of technology. Neither can we. The connection humans make with AI and machine learning must be a symbiosis rather than a confrontation. But it will only be a symbiosis if we take decisive action to make it so.

You may be thinking that’s easy for us to say. But we believe that the research supports us. Read this quarter’s issue to see if you agree.