How will human characteristics fit into the age of automation and artificial intelligence?
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The robots are coming for our jobs, apparently. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, but a recent report from the commission on workers and technology revealed that 20 million UK jobs will be lost worldwide by 2030. To automation. Robots. Nuts and bolts.
It only sounds terrifying because you know the plot of Terminator. If you leave that to one side, it’s interesting. A cause for celebration, almost.
If business gets it right and finds effective ways to hand administration and grunt work over to automation - something that’s already well underway - workers should be left with a chunk of free time to be more far more strategic, and use the two key skills robots will never truly possess: emotional intelligence and creativity.
But to do that, business leaders have to prepare. They have to equip their businesses for this new age of creativity.
First things first: busyness is not the key to successful business.
If leaders want their people to develop transformative, creative solutions, they need to give them the time and space to generate ideas. Naturally, this is a lot easier said than done.
But whether preparing for this hypothetical age of creativity or not, business leaders should be encouraging this anyway. Always-on, all the time isn’t healthy. It creates a poisonous, one-upmanship-led culture and doesn’t actually provide a whole lot of benefits.
Full-time staff in Denmark are 23.5% more productive per hour than UK workers, despite working four hours fewer per week. They’re not neglecting piles of work to go home and watch gritty crime dramas; they’re doing what needs to be done, faster.
Employers should be encouraged to entrust their people and give them the space to breathe, to think, to come up with the magic. Likewise, employees shouldn’t feel guilty for not being at their desk, staring at a screen for the entire working day.
Great ideas don’t always come when you want them to, so trying to force them is just a waste of everyone’s time. And when you’ve got a robot filing the monthly reports, there’s really no excuse.
Curiosity is at the heart of creativity. Businesses and their leaders could do well to inspire cultural creativity in the workplace - allow this innocent, glint-in-the-eye idealism to flourish. I’m not suggesting it be mandatory for every workplace to install a ball pit and vintage arcade machines.
It’s just about the little things, the flexibility to work around employees, rather than them trying to fit to their employer’s desired mould.
It could be something as simple as offering classes in coding, courses that teach them about the technology that’s currently in place, subsidised time or costs to go and learn about something else that inspires them, excites them, gets their creative juices flowing.
Moncultures are hard to shake off, and if workers aren’t given the opportunity to indulge themselves, explore, learn, then they’re not going to be accustomed to that later down the line. If 20% of their workload ends up being automated, they’ll just take on an extra 20% elsewhere, but they’ll still be just as burnt out.
The best workplaces are far from one-size-fits-all. That’s just not achievable in a rigid monoculture, robots or otherwise.
Opening these floodgates also means integrating inclusion & diversity more widely within your business. After all, the more inclusive and diverse a business is, the more creative it becomes.
Breaking out of the rigid, ‘This is how we’ve always done it’ mindset and cultivating an inclusive work culture provides an ample platform to let diversity in.
If your culture is rigid, it attracts one type of person. Those from other backgrounds, with other ideas, other views - they’re left in the cold. To get to the root of this, you need to unravel everything, educating everyone from boardroom to post room about different cultures, different ways of thinking, different people.
The result? The dynamic of your business changes for the better. New ideas feed into current ones. You see things from a perspective you’d never considered before, putting A and B together to get 12. It gives you an advantage over other businesses and, certainly, any machine.
And of course, I’d be remiss to neglect the following: it’s essential that we prize emotional intelligence over assertive and competitive behaviour.
A quick Google search will turn up several examples of business courses that promise to turn workers into decision makers by making them more assertive; workshops that transform leaders into masters of the art of delegation.
But there’s not a whole lot of courses that aim to build people’s emotional intelligence. And that’s odd. Because emotional intelligence is integral to every decision you make at home, at work, anywhere.
Assertive, competitive behaviour feeds into that monoculture I mentioned earlier. It creates a hyper-masculine, totalitarian workplace.
To prepare for the age of creativity, emotional intelligence and genuine empathy is integral.
So we’ve got to hack empathy, hack our priorities, hack our culture.