In the event you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years, let me summarize the basic narrative:
The robots are coming.
Well, kind of. The narrative’s (only slightly) more involved than that. Watson and pals from the petri dish of artificial intelligence creation are evolving at an ever accelerating pace. Their abilities to sift vast amounts of data and “learn” and communicate continue to develop. Which means they’re gonna drive your car and steal your job and maybe even run off to Tahiti with your spouse before you’ve had a chance to become passably fluent at texting in emojis.
So, the Luddites among us fear the rise of the machines, and some of us even want to rage against them.
It doesn’t help that science fiction tales are at their best when man’s ostensibly witless tools turn against him. Hal did it first, then Ex Machina made it sexy, and I’m pretty confident X-Files managed to fight the future somewhere in between, way back before Fox Mulder had a cell phone.
So lots of us are skeptical of any intelligence that doesn’t emanate from hairy crania. Which is completely unsurprising from the perspective of history. When did humanity last not fear technological development? Every time there’s a new wave of innovation that’s any more significant than a Web-enabled toaster that communicates with emojis, we silly humans sweat and fret and grab the pitchforks.
Which is, of course, stupid. Because, despite some fleeting discomfort that accompanies technological change, this is the very stuff that makes humanity better off. Sure, there was probably some dude whose primary occupation got displaced by the invention of matchsticks. But that seems to have worked itself out okay. And artificial intelligence is no different.
Or maybe it’s better. Because AI is going to allow humanity to be even more human than ever before. Actually, it’s going to demand that humans be more human than ever before. And that suggests, like, a totally raging way to profit from a future populated by Hals and Watsons and Alicia Vikanders.
There’s a fascinating opinion piece authored by IBM CEO Virginia Rommety in a recent Wall Street Journal supplement offering some perspectives on the future. Ms. Rommety writes about Artificial Intelligence (AI), distinguishing it from “IA,” or “Intelligence Augmentation.” She explains that IA is functionally different from AI, and that IA is really where the recent years’ developments in cognitive computing have occurred.
(Remarkably, she refrains from making any jokes about Iowa.)
Which, for better or worse, means we’re gonna have to wait a while before we can order Vikander-bots on Amazon. IA machines, which is all we’ve really got at the moment, evidently don’t have it in them to murder their makers in a compound hidden by rainforest. Or, sadly, to run off with you to Tahiti.
So Ms. Rommety contends the robots of AI aren’t really all that intelligent. They’re more like super-fly calculators that can text really well with emojis.
But whatever the particulars of cognitive computing, etc., the essential feature of IA or AI is that it is enabling a much more complete and rapid manipulation and understanding of data than ever before.
It also means, according to Ms. Rommety, that data analytics will continue to become more robust and necessary for success. The Watsons of the world will do all the heavy lifting, digesting data at a pace unimaginable to mere humans. Which, conveniently enough for a company betting its future on this kind of stuff, will dictate that enterprises use IA/AI/cognitive computing data-driven insights more fully and deeply in order to compete. Successful companies, Ms. Rommety says, will do this; others won’t, and will be buried somewhere in a rainforest.
Now, I’ll first mention my abiding respect for the (genuine) intelligence and leadership of Virginia Rommety. My personal feeling is that her tenure at the top post of Big Blue is not being fully appreciated. What she’s done to keep that company relevant is nothing short of amazing. She needs her own HBS case study.
And I can’t blame her for plugging the Watson data-lytics stuff. And I don’t think she’s totally wrong in asserting that successful companies will continue to utilize data more and more; the simple fact is that data analysis capabilities do continue to advance while costs continue to decline; there absolutely will be more and more usage. And I agree with the spirit of this assertion even beyond business: Individuals who are successful will likely be more data savvy than those who aren’t.
Nevertheless, it’s clear something like data analysis can never be a long-term lever for value generation in an enterprise, or for an individual. It’s too easily replicable, for one. After all, nobody wins at high-stakes competition just because they know how to use CRM software they bought off the shelf at Wal-Mart.
And this means that both companies and individuals who want to succeed need to hone their non-artificial intelligence capabilities. Which means they’ll need to be more human than ever to really get ahead.
The good news about all this is that being human, it turns out, is fairly easy for most people. Since, you know, we can’t really help it.
Connecting on an emotional level with one another, bringing together communities, bridging differences in opinion and perspective, channeling energy and drive to productive ends… these are, at their essence, human endeavors that can’t be convincingly executed by a machine – because these endeavors depend upon social value and social pressure and social needs.
Which, in a likely completely unintended way, is fully in evidence in Ms. Rommety’s very inspired Wall Street Journal article. She’s calling employees to action by giving them purpose, giving outside stakeholders a feeling of optimism about IBM’s prospects, promoting a set of opinions and perspectives about the future… Which, in a likely completely intended way, is an example of great corporate leadership.
Maybe Ms. Rommety needs two HBS case studies.
Regardless of how many HBS cases get written about IBM, the MBA students hashing out analysis and answers will have a simple prerogative in their personal development: Get the emotional and human and personal stuff right; don’t worry about the math.
Do we need mathematicians and economists and accountants and physicists? Absolutely. Well, except for maybe the accountants. And do we need these people to be reasonably good at math? Sure. But reasonably good analytical skills are a hygienic factor for success – necessary but not sufficient. And amazing analytical skills probably won’t get someone much further…if they can’t find a way to meaningfully connect the analytics with humanity.
In the face of accelerating quality in machines’ analytical capabilities, the value of an individual’s quantitative firepower vis-a-vis success will continue to decline. The overwhelmingly important factor for a person’s future success will be humanness. And, probably, learning how to text with emojis.
The concept of “Blue Ocean Strategy” is that obtaining competitive differentiation at a low cost is key to succeeding. With respect to those wily INSEAD profs who’ve done pretty well with this whole thing: duh.
But when it comes to leveraging your humanness – your personality, ability to connect with others, facility for emoting and empathizing, etc. – there’s hardly a better model for understanding the promise of being a better human to obtain success.
Which brings us to the part where I list a couple things that humans seem to do pretty well and which you can do too.
1. Channel Emotion
You know that part in the movie? The part where the chips are down and the bad guys are swarming and the battle seems lost? The part where there’s no reason to believe there’ll be a happy ending before the credits roll? That part? Yeah. It’s in just about every movie. And the reason there’s usually a happy ending is that the star of the show plants an emotional foot in the turf and cuts toward the end zone.
The troops rally. The flags fly. The Death Star explodes. Metaphors mix freely. The end.
No matter what you’re doing, if you’re not connecting with someone (or lots of someones) on an emotional level, you’re doing it wrong. Two plus two may equal four always. But that four’s a lot more meaningful to someone if you say it with a smile (or a smiling emoji). 🙂
The best architects manage to channel emotion in concrete and wood and glass. The best science fiction movies tug at your heartstrings. The best middle managers make people excited to do their work and feel like they’re part of something larger than plugging 2 + 2 into Excel.
2. Get Excited (& Funny)
I used to give talks with some regularity. Usually about stuff that, at its core, is pretty dry shit. Watson or Hal could’ve conveyed the same info, and Alicia Vikander would’ve looked a helluvalot better on stage.
But no femme-bot or Jeopardy! champ would’ve been as enthusiastic as I was about that dry shit. And that shit’s contagious. If I think Nash Equilibria are cool, maybe you will too!
Comedy’s the same. I used to always open my talks with an anecdote. They break the ice and settle people in for the show and do a bunch of other stuff that helps make things go smoothly. But most importantly, they offer a wide open door for fun. Any story can be funny if you give it a minute’s thought. A minute of human thought, that is.
If you can get someone to chuckle and lose grip of all the crap they’re worried about, they’ll love you forever. Even if you look nothing like Alicia Vikander.
3. Be Vulnerable
Want someone to love you right away? Nurture their ego by letting them help you with something they’re good at. And then praise the crap out of them for it.
Manipulative? Maybe. But no more so than anything else we people do to make society and teams and households work. We’re social beasts, and social systems often work best when all parties can contribute and be valued for their contributions.
If you’re a know-it-all Watson nobody’s gonna love you. Even if you’re a Vikander-bot, you’re gonna have trouble maintaining the mojo. That’s because, if you don’t have a visible need for others, others will naturally gravitate away from you and toward those who do have a need for (and who value) them.
Want to be a success? Smile, laugh, joke, connect, emote, sensitize and imagine. Because if you don’t, you’ll be a machine. And robots are way better at being machines than people. And nobody’s better at being you than you.
A good way to get started is right here.
(Note: I used affiliate links to get images for Blue Ocean Strategy and Ex Machina. If you click those and buy crap from Amazon, that’s tantamount to giving me money. I don’t need any more money, so don’t do that unless you are just absolutely hellbent on padding my brokerage account.)
Agree, Luchadores? Is humanness the critical success factor of the future? Any other human capabilities that are crucial for getting ahead?