When you get to the end of Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will, you realize just how great a public service Geoff Colvin has rendered to us. Tremendously well-researched and crisply written, the book is a friendly, far-sighted and reassuring primer on how your work may be transformed by “infotech” and what you can start doing about it.
If you want to understand how the job market is about to change, what skills will be in high demand, and how you can stay competitive—this is a tome you can’t afford to ignore.
But being ignored it is!
In comparison to Colvin’s 2008, Talent is Overrated, his latest treatise isn’t getting the same level of buzz or recognition it deserves. Perhaps that’s because it’s not as personal as Talent and is less of an in-your-face exploration into what drives our work. Humans deals more with macroeconomic trends and abstractions, and even indulges in more than a little prophesying. In other words, it contains less material to kindle controversy. Even so, it is broader in scope, impressively well-researched and just as instructive.
It is clear Colvin has done the work of surveying a broad swath of the scientific literature, including impactful real-world case studies. All that research is mined for insights which are presented in a thoroughly cohesive and clear-eyed thesis: that just about everything can be done better and faster by a machine, except the work requiring deep human connection. That’s why “being a great performer is becoming less about what we know and more about what we’re like,” writes Colvin.
So, are you an empathetic person? Do you bring social sensitivity to your collaboration in teams? Are you a powerful story-teller? How good are you at working together with others to innovate and solve thorny human problems? These are the skills that Colvin argues will be in high demand, thus allowing people to enjoy higher standards of living, even while machines erase jobs or erode the value of previously high-value skills.
Colvin makes it clear that these are abilities that can be learned or developed by anyone but points out some interesting facts that complicate the picture.
Firstly, as Colvin explains in the chapter titled, “Is it a Woman’s World,” women excel innately at the skills of empathy, interpersonal relations and team collaboration, to name but a few of the abilities that will be high demand as the century progresses. However, this may or may not prove be an enduring advantage depending on the power structures that prevail in organizations. If hierarchical, power-based structures persist, this will tend to dampen or completely negate any feminine advantage.
Secondly, even as the skills of deep human connection become more critical and more highly-valued, technology seems to be robbing us of these most human of abilities. The hypnotic effect of ubiquitous computer and smart phone screens, and the ever present temptation to multi-task are diluting our ability to look people in the eye, listen actively and empathize with how they are feeling. Even as digital devices have connected humans in unprecedented ways, they have also deeply altered our behavior in ways that have made us a little less human and a little more machine-like.
Again, fascinating and thought-provoking.
There’s no doubt that Geoff Colvin’s work makes for essential reading and Humans Are Underrated is a book that is not to be missed by anyone under the age of 60 (i.e. anyone with at least 10 more years of work ahead of him or her). Colvin has taken a broad and complex subject and unpacked it for us in a friendly, entertaining and high actionable way. Make no mistake about it. This book is a gem. And the Audio version, narrated by Colvin himself, is superlative! What a gift!
Do yourself a favor and start reading (or listening) to it today!