Why you should care
Because human traits like irritability and laziness may help keep robots from taking our jobs.
In a new five-part podcast, The Future of X: The Workplace, in partnership with Smartsheet, OZY paints a picture of the workplace to come, from productivity and privacy to social enterprise and the rise of gamification. Listen up on OZY.com, Spotify, Apple or wherever you prefer to stream your audio.
You’ve heard the horror stories. Humans, as a future workforce, are facing extinction. The robots are coming! No job is safe! The prospect of this kind of impending robot revolution can seem daunting.
Fifty years from now, machine learning and artificial intelligence will interact with our lives in increasingly astounding ways. But will human connection actually strengthen during the period of growing automation? And what will that mean for the greatest force the world has ever known — human achievement?
The nature of what we consider human work has been evolving for a long time. “We’re only a couple hundred years away from where most people’s idea of employment and jobs was [to] work on farms,” says James Canton, the CEO and chairman of the Institute for Global Futures, a think tank based in San Francisco. “That’s where 90 percent of all jobs were not even 100 years ago.”
Looking back at the history of humans, laziness has been a huge driving force …
Liselotte Lyngsø, Future Navigator
Canton says that robots aside, we as the human race are already falling behind when it comes to the skills required for the jobs of the future. “We need to recognize that whatever your job aspirations are, you’re gonna need to appreciate the innovation economy and that may mean learning some new skills such as better communications, soft skills such as leadership, team building and emotional intelligence.”
And some of these competencies aren’t skills as much as human traits, like — wait for it — irritability or laziness. “Looking back at the history of humans, laziness has been a huge driving force,” says Liselotte Lyngsø, founding partner of Future Navigator, a consultancy based in Copenhagen which spots trends in technology. She believes that automation will push future workers to roles and tasks that are quintessentially human. According to Lyngsø, frustration often leads us to find a better way of doing things. Same with laziness. “Machines won’t be lazy. They go 24/7, but it’s an inherent human ability to say, ‘Hey could we do this in a smarter way.’”
AI could even empower us to change the way we value work and our workers. And when you empower workers to be more creative and efficient, you also help solve another pervasive problem in the workplace today: people feeling less connected to what they do. “We will not achieve greatness as a society when people feel less and less connected to their work,” says Mark Mader, CEO of Smartsheet, which builds software tools for collaboration and project management. “While it seems counterintuitive, AI-driven software that relieves us and takes work away from us will actually cause us to be more connected.”
Still, this won’t alleviate the very real worries out there — that individuals’ jobs are at risk, or that, without tech skills, they’ll get stuck partway up the career ladder. But Mader believes there is room in the future for those who will never be coders. “Too many people have been told they need to have a certain educational background, and if they don’t have that they’re not going to participate in the next big wave,” he says. “But the main takeaway that I want young people to hear is that you have a role in the future, even if you are not a coder.” Mader advises though that even if you aren’t a coder, you should “stay very close to technology.”
Creative, tech-savvy, multidimensional. These are some of the traits that will be essential to navigating the workplace in the decades to come.
This episode’s Future Tip? If you want to take the next step toward your own future, go study HR. A survey by the MIT Sloan Management Review asked global business leaders to identify the most important skills for workers in a digital workplace, and only 18 percent listed tech. Instead, leaders highlighted transformative vision, collaborative skills, forward thinking and having a change-oriented mindset. Online courses to help develop your visionary skill set are often found in … human resource programs! Why? Well, HR tends to combine business needs with human nature — something we’ll all be tasked with in the years to come. Interested? Here are a few of our favorites:
- Modern Empowerment in the Workplace/Future Learn
- People and Organizations/MIT Open Courseware
- Creating Meaning for Employees/Alison
Check out our first episode of The Future of X: The Workplace. Now available on OZY and all podcast platforms.