Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will by Geoff Colvin is an inspiring book about how and what we can individually do to prepare ourselves and our children for the 21st century workplace revolution happening before our eyes.
White Collar Middle Management Ranks Will Continue Disappearing At An Accelerated Rate. Geoff’s detailed, fact-based research is sobering. Continuous advances in software design, machine learning, and artificial intelligence results in the need for fewer, white collar workers.
Remember, white collar workforces? MBA-types, MD-types, JD-types, aka the left-brain masters of the universe?
Cognitive, analytical work is on an accelerated chopping block. Increasing automation and computing power means replacing humans isn’t isolated to blue collar Americans.
A Phenomenon Extending Beyond Decades-Old Outsourcing. Why? Because machines do old-school, cognitive, and analytical work better than humans. That prowess IS EXACTLY what machines do better.
A Rallying Cry Questioning Conventional Wisdom
Professionals. Educators. Parents. I bought Humans Are Underrated after reading Geoff’s July 2015 Fortune cover story by the same title. His book is a rallying cry. It’s a call-to-arms for executive professionals, educators, and most importantly parents.
He challenges current and long held beliefs about high value 21st century professionals:
- What are the required skills and attitudes?
- Don’t we still need middle management? Doesn’t middle management provide value?
- Why STEM (science, technology, education, and math) isn’t the ultimate solution?
- How we teach ourselves and our children these high value skills?
We’re All On Notice. Being aware how technology is transforming our professional lives is one thing. Making the choice to adapt and act because of this accelerating transformation is another one.
That’s the challenge Geoff issues to us. Our individual choices will determine whether or not we become “jobless future” cautionary tales.
This Challenge To Adapt Inspires Me. Geoff’s conclusions can be hard to accept. After reading this review, I hope others will be inspired to invest in Geoff’s book not only for ourselves but also for our children.
Bonus: Here’s Geoff’s eBook PDF summarizing the governing questions from Humans Are Underrated. It’s from the ChangeThis.com website (sister site of 800-CEO-Read).
The 21st Century Executive: Right Brain Creative Leadership Informed By Left Brain Analytics (And Vice Versa)
Let Someone Else Code. Develop Your Right Brain, Pro-Social Orientation. Really? What about the articles in the mainstream press about coding bootcamps transforming right-brain creatives into six-figure earners (particularly women)? Isn’t that the way to go?
That’s a short-term solution. It’s not a sustainable, competitive advantage. Why? Offshoring.
Empathy Leads The Pack As A Competitive Differentiator. Geoff’s extensive research describes and proposes the following solution: develop and practice our right-brain skills. The most valued 21st century skills are (but not limited to):
- Social Sensitivity
- Relationship Building
- Collaborative Brainstorming
Right Brain Skills Can Be Learned And Can Be Successfully Trained. What if I’m not good at dealing with people? What if I’m not a naturally creative person? What if I’m more of a left-brainer? So, I’m screwed. My children are screwed too if they’re not natural extroverts. Right?
No. We can learn important right brain skills. We can teach them to others. U.S. organizations are proactively and successfully developing right brain skills in our current and future medical students, practicing physicians, and military leaders:
Become A “Two-Brainer.” Our predominant brain orientation doesn’t matter. What counts is an awareness of our current skills (and the ones we lack). Choosing to commit and learn is the key.
Developing ourselves as “two-brainers” is the objective. American companies want two-brainers because they’re in short supply. Here are key quotes within that context in Humans Are Underrated:
To look into someone’s eyes—that turns out to be, metaphorically and quite often literally, the key to high-value work in the coming economy, as we shall see.
Ask employers which skills they’ll need most in the next five to ten years, as the Towers Watson consulting firm and the Oxford Economics research firm did, and the answers that come back do not include business acumen, analysis, or P&L management—left-brain thinking skills. Instead, employers’ top priorities include relationship building, teaming, co-creativity, brainstorming, cultural sensitivity, and ability to manage diverse employees—right-brain skills of social interaction. (formatting added for emphasis)
but the overall trend is a giant employment increase in industries based on personal interaction.
But jobs of human interaction—doctors and teachers, for example—increased by 4.8 million. The institute reported that “interaction jobs” have become “the fastest growing category of employment in advanced economies.” (formatting added for emphasis)
Learn To Give: The Business Case For Giving Versus Taking. Geoff extensively quotes the research of Wharton School of Business Professor, Adam Grant. Adam’s book, Give and Take, describes his data-driven research validating the financial ROI of “nice” finishing first. His findings are relevant because developing and designing these organizational traits and cultures leads to sustainable, competitive advantages.
Role Model Two-Brainers: Angela Ahrendts, Ruth Porat, and Mary Barra
Who Are The 21st Century Executive Role Models We Can Learn From AND Emulate? As a learner, I need a visual and auditory target. This is the one area of Humans Are Underrated where I craved more leadership examples.
There’s one more minor complaint. It’s further down in the education implications discussion.
I’m a Marissa Mayer fanboy. I enjoyed Geoff’s discussions and research on the power and impact of in-person, on-site, collaborative brainstorming make me think differently about the harsh, public criticism Marissa endured for changing Yahoo’s remote worker policies.
Angela Ahrendts. Ruth Porat. Mary Barra As Executive Role Models. Along with Marissa Mayer, these CEO “two-brainers” are 21st century leadership role models (left brain analytics married with right brain empathy). Another important reason: Geoff’s research backs up how/why women’s right brain, pro-social behaviors elevate collective problem solving.
Angela Ahrendts’ TEDxHollywood speech matches with Geoff’s lessons and research from Humans Are Underrated (from time stamp 11:08 to 12:44):
The more technologically advanced our society becomes, maybe, maybe, the more we need to go back to the basic fundamentals of human communication. (formatting added for emphasis)
Is STEM Education Still The Right Path For Our Children?
Yes. But, As Noted Earlier, Left Brain Prowess Alone Isn’t A Sustainable Competitive Advantage. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) are an important foundation. But, that’s the bare minimum. That’s the base.
As we and our children age, computers and machines keep getting faster and better at left brain cognitive analysis (i.e., the well-paying work American middle management used to do). More machines will take over that work (or it will be off-shored).
Humans will still be needed (but fewer of us). Teaching and developing right brain skills matters:
The emerging picture of the future casts conventional career advice in a new light. Most notably, recommendations that students study STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, math—need fine tuning. It has been excellent advice for quite a while; eight of the ten highest-paying college majors were in engineering as of 2014, and those skills will remain critically important. But important isn’t the same as high value or well paid.
Engineers will stay in demand, it’s safe to say, but tomorrow’s most valuable engineers will not be geniuses in cubicles; rather, they’ll be those who can build relationships, brainstorm, collaborate, and lead. (formatting added for emphasis)
More people than ever will be working with knowledge, but knowledge won’t be the source of their greatest value. We need a new term: The most valuable people are increasingly relationship workers. (formatting added for emphasis)
Fast Company’s 10 C-Suite Jobs Of The Future. That’s the title (and hyperlink) to Jared Lindzon’s July 15th Fast Company article. Some of these jobs are more left-brain oriented (and vice versa for right brain orientation). It’s clear these jobs require hybrid executive skills (i.e., left brain and right brain):
- Chief Ecosystem Officer
- Chief User Experience Officer
- Chief Automation Officer
- Chief Freelance Relationship Officer
- Chief Intellectual Property Officer
- Chief Data Officer
- Chief Privacy Officer
- Chief Compliance Officer
- Chief Human Resources Officer
- Chief Administrative Officer
Teaching The Next Generation: The Power of “Feel,” Cultural Awareness, and Moral Ethics To Do The Right Thing
The Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy For Arts, Technology and Business of Innovation. Check out Erica Muhl and Jimmy Iovine describing USC’s unique graduate program to educate and create a new generation of creative executives.
Jimmy’s comments on “the power of feel” and “being culturally inept” align within the “two-brainer” context of Humans Are Underrated (timestamps 4:23 – 15:50; 17:35 – 18:40):
This Is THE Model of 21st Century Education. The USC education model is steeped in entrepreneurship principles to learn and apply left brain and right brain skills as students scale their businesses by:
- Forging Relationships
- Earning Trust
- Demonstrating and Giving Empathy
Let’s Not Wait Till Our Children Are Adults. Entrepreneurs are poised to succeed in the 21st century economy because they’re forced to learn those right brain Humans Are Underrated skills. The entrepreneurial community knows you learn these skills on-the-fly. It just is.
Why not provide our children these learning opportunities when they’re young and in school starting in middle school (not when they’re unemployable adults worried about putting food on the table)?
Teaching and Promoting Moral Ethics In An Era When Machines Can Cheat. This is my additional, small complaint. Humans Are Underrated indirectly addresses moral hazard and ethics. This subject wouldn’t have crossed my mind if it weren’t for the timing of The Volkswagen Software Emissions Scandal.
Now, we can program our machines and computers to cheat and lie. Basic human values in “doing the right thing” take on unprecedented importance.
Empathy, Crisis Management, And The Moral Ethics Of Doing The Right Thing: Advice to Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of Theranos. When Mary Barra took over the CEO helm at General Motors (GM), crisis management engulfed her. It was trial-by-fire. Everyday.
But, Mary Barra survived and prevailed because of her ability to demonstrate genuine empathy. She saved GM’s and her own reputation. From Fortune.com, GM’s Mary Barra: Crisis Manager Of The Year by Ben Geier:
How exactly, then, has Barra emerged with her reputation almost intact? A simple combination of honesty, humbleness, and a seemingly sincere desire to fundamentally change the errors that led to the problems she’s faced. (formatting added for emphasis)
Barra has made a practice of saying that she doesn’t want GM to “move past” the ignition switch scandal, or to “put it behind” the company. She doesn’t want this to be a bad memory that fades into the background. Instead, she says she wants the scandal to remain a constant reminder of what happens when people don’t do the right thing, and to use it to change the culture of the company. (formatting added for emphasis)
If Elizabeth Holmes is smart and moral (I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt), she and the Theranos Board of Directors will access Mary Barra for advice in ethically navigating the public relations crisis and perceived cover-up at Theranos. Otherwise, damage control will escalate.
- Deals with American healthcare
- Involves a high profile, Silicon Valley Unicorn
- Targets a high profile, billionaire, millennial CEO
Whether or not, Elizabeth H0lmes follows Mary Barra’s empathic and moral leadership example is her choice.
For Our Children. For My Daughters.
Photo Credit: Peter Werkman via flickr
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