Agility, adaptiveness, flexibility, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, collaboration, cooperation, communication, teamwork, risk-taking, networking, compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, knowing how to learn…these are the abilities needed by people in the automated workplace. The operational abilities sought after in the previous economy are no longer high on the list.

According to McKinsey, “…as many as 45 percent of the activities individuals are paid to perform can be MP900438708
automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies.” This portends a future where people must take on a different role than they had in the Industrial Economy. No longer will people be needed to make things, operate things, fix things, or move things.

A McKinsey Global Institute Report says:

Recent developments in robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning have put us on the cusp of a new automation age. Robots and computers can not only perform a range of routine physical work activities better and more cheaply than humans, but they are also increasingly capable of accomplishing activities that include cognitive capabilities once considered too difficult to automate successfully, such as making tacit judgments, sensing emotion, or even driving. Automation will change the daily work activities of everyone, from miners and landscapers to commercial bankers, fashion designers, welders, and CEOs.

However, that doesn’t mean that humans are out of a job. It’s what David Grebow and I have called the shift from “hands” to “minds”. The emphasis is on being smart rather than how well you do a specific job. Workers in the digital workplace need to continuously learn, helping their organizations adjust to the dramatic changes brought on by technology, globalization, multi-generational workforce, and, according to Tom Friedman, climate change and population growth. Workers need to use their collective intelligence to design innovative solutions to the challenges of the day and the future.

The kind of work people need to do requires much more human to human interaction. Success depends on strong interpersonal relationships. Claire Cain Miller, in an article for The New York Times, writes:

The problem, at least for now, is not that there isn’t enough work — there is, but it is very different from the kind of work technology is displacing. Manufacturing and warehousing jobs are shrinking, while jobs that provide services (health care, child care, elder care, education, food) are growing. 

Being creative and innovative, which can’t be automated (so far), are essential to stave off competition. Competition can come from anywhere on the globe and at any time. Nobody is safe. From manufacturing to health care to education, every organization has competitors that can do better at speed and cost. Companies will have to compete on creativity and the customer experience. Take Tesla, for example. Although competing with historic brands, this rapidly growing auto company has found a niche among people who want an electric vehicle and high status.

Also needed is the human-robot interaction to ensure that we are doing the right things for the right reasons and in the right way. It will be easy to make everything faster, cheaper, and higher quality. But is that what we should be doing? What is the environmental and social impact of the business? Just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should. We need humans to ask these questions. We can’t rely on robots for the questions or the answers.

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