I love the term ‘Futurist! How cool would it be to have a title like that?!
“So what do you do Mr./Ms. Futurist?”
“I study the future in order to help people understand, anticipate, prepare for and gain advantage from coming changes…” as defined by the Association of Professional Futurists.
I heard a futurist speak at a conference recently and was instantly both mesmerised (on behalf of the positive, confident and rational grown woman in me) and petrified (on behalf of the inner scared little girl).
The older I get, the stronger my ‘grown woman’ becomes, enabling me to consciously and constantly challenge myself to stay open and fluid in the face change. Not that I have much of a choice in today’s world if I want any level of success or piece of mind, lets be honest!
So the study of where we are heading as a civilisation is one I definitely lean into with interest… and a little trepidation.
Where are we headed?
The topic of discussion shared by the futurist I was listening to, and many subsequent articles and papers I’ve ready since, is about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics will impact our world of work in the near future. A camp of professional futurists, researchers and analysts seem to be equally split between those who believe:
- this trend is catastrophic, with a large number of todays’ skilled jobs due to be displaced and taken over by intelligent software and robots, resulting in high unemployment, income inequality and substantial social unrest. Very bleak indeed!….. And;
- we will evolve, survive and thrive, same as we’ve always done. This group is more optimistic about the human race’s ability to adapt to these changes. They still predict that AI and Robotics will displace many of todays’ roles, however have faith that “human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution” (Pew Research Center).
No matter which camp you sit in, both have very valid points and make for an interesting debate.
However, there is one argument that both parties share. One that offers a silver lining to my inner scared little girl, as well as providing a fantastic opportunity to make a real shift in the way we look at work, business and leadership.
What does it mean for us?
We are human beings! And as human beings, we have the ability to connect, inspire, engage, empathise, be creative, unpredictable, use our judgment... and the list goes on. Computers are only ever following a set of instructions and therefore can’t replicate these things, at least not yet!
This is a game changer! Historic characteristics of good business and leadership saw:
- power through position/hierarchy or brand
- high levels of knowledge in tightly controlled places accessed by a limited number of 'special'
- technical skill and capability valued over attitude and people skills
- directive and authoritative styles win over collaboration
We know that in today’s world these characteristics are becoming less and less effective. These days, the smartest person in the room, is the one with access to a smart device! Brand names are competing with online reviews and social media ‘likes’ driving consumer behaviour. Customer Experience and Organisational Culture are fast becoming the competitive advantage businesses are looking for, many times over product, brand or a strong P&L!
So where to from here?
Well, if the true essence of what makes us human is going to be one of the key differentiators between the jobs available to us, and those remaining for robots to do, then I guess we all better brush up on our Emotional Intelligence, and start focusing on all that ‘soft and fluffy stuff’. The ‘stuff’ that will be critical to us surviving, thriving and ultimately succeeding in this next chapter.