A future filled with automated robots inspires both optimism and anxiety. According to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center, the vast majority of Americans are worried about the consequences of widespread artificial intelligence. Up to 85 percent of survey respondents are in favor of limiting the use of workplace robots to only hazardous duties. Another 62 percent would be willing to pay extra to interact with a human customer service representative rather than a chatbot.
This research is important for entrepreneurs striving to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution. So much of the focus surrounding the future of labor concerns the ubiquity and capability of things such as machine learning, big data, and autonomous systems. According to the consumers who will propel future economies, the human element is distinctly valuable.
That’s not really shocking when you consider that soft skills that only humans can perform have a huge impact on the bottom line. In companies with 100 employees or more, communication errors cost an average of $420,000 annually, according to Creative Communications and Training, Inc. Knowing that even the most intelligent machines struggle with semantics, it’s up to human professionals to communicate and collaborate as effectively as possible.
A study of science recruiters from Evolve revealed that the most in-demand skills are the ability to work cooperatively, flexibley and cohesively. These soft skills are things that robots in any form will never excel at. And they’ll distinguish the most successful entrepreneurs as we move further into the fourth industrial revolution.
Humans will be essential in an automated world
Soft skills have never received the professional credit they deserve. There’s an intense focus on technical skills, academic qualifications, and professional achievements. That focus has less to do with the importance of these skills and more to do with their measurability. Soft skills are just as important; they’re just harder to demonstrate.
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Skills such as coding can be taught in the classroom and evaluated empirically. That’s exactly why they’ll be less relevant in an increasingly technical future. When everyone has the same technical skill sets, it will be soft skills that differentiate you.
I’ve observed how essential it is to possess emotional intelligence — the capacity to experience, interpret and convey human emotions in productive ways. My background in starting up businesses has shown me that while rapid prototyping is great, the thing that really propels ventures forward is entirely a function of human inputs.
The most important skills — hard or soft — for any professional to have are the ability to solve problems and overcome obstacles. One of my first startup experiences was developing Waterbabies. Our first product run had a 70 percent defect rate, which is another way of saying it was a total disaster. After a lot of reflection, it was clear that the problem was not a lack of technical skills or advanced equipment. It was that we rushed to market with something we’d never done before.
I found the key to getting around the issue was creative problem-solving and resiliency — both soft skills. I pulled together a team of chemists; traveled up and down the East Coast to find a solution; and assembled a recall team to go into stores, gather untested products, replace and return defects, etc. Our persistence paid off, and now Waterbabies has become one of the longest-selling baby dolls of all time.
Developing your softer side
The tricky thing about soft skills is that as important as they are, they’re notoriously hard to teach, measure or sometimes even define. My experience with entrepreneurs has shown me that with the right approach, it’s possible to build a person’s character in a way that has a direct professional benefit. This is what I recommend
1. Take a look in the mirror.
Self-awareness is a big part of what makes us human. Neuroimaging studies have shown that “thinking about ourselves, recognizing images of ourselves and reflecting on our thoughts and feelings — that is, different forms of self-awareness — all involve the cerebral cortex.” Other animals such as dogs and cats lack this ability. That said, being biologically capable of self-awareness and actually practicing it are two different things.
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The first step in improving your self-awareness is to understand what you are honestly good and bad at. That way, you can focus your efforts on turning weaknesses into strengths.
Personally, I’m a classic Type A person. That makes me great at meeting quotas and deadlines but a lot less skilled when it comes to building productive relationships with teams. By practicing self-awareness, I learned to identify my weakness for what it is; now, I consciously make an effort to give others the time and attention they deserve, even if my natural instinct is to charge forward with my own ideas.
2. Put one foot in front of the other
Admitting our faults is easy — sometimes. Actually taking action to become better professionals is a lot harder. Just think of how much simpler it is to imagine going to the gym instead of actually getting in a workout.
I’ve found that creating an action plan that includes measurable goals and details on how to attain them is a powerful motivator. This is backed up by research from Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, who found that when people plan for specific goals, it translates to a higher performance about 90 percent of the time.
According to Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, the best way to achieve your goals is to articulate them. “You can’t realize your goal if it’s not defined,” he recently told the New York Times. “It sounds so simple, but it’s true. So the most important piece of advice I can give folks who are coming out of school, even people who’ve already begun their career, is to know what it is they ultimately want to accomplish.” When you discover your long-term vision, you can produce the short-term incentive you need to jump-start you journey to achieving it.
3. Keep your word.
Entrepreneurs act as their own boss. That makes it very easy to admit your faults, start on your journey to improve and then drop it a month later. I’m sure we have all struggled to follow through on things, considering 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside.
Related: Build a Culture of Accountability in 5 Steps
For me, making public declarations has helped me overcome this hurdle on more than one occasion. Instead of making private plans, I announce them to my peers. Knowing that they’re holding me accountable motivates me to act. Science backs this up. According to Dr. Robert Cialdini, a regents’ professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business, when you make public declarations, you’re actually more likely to follow through. As humans, Cialdini says, we want to maintain a reputation for honesty and consistency, so we tend to back up our promises with actions to avoid being seen as wishy-washy or erratic.
The fourth industrial revolution is leading to radical shifts at a breakneck pace. Entrepreneurs cannot lose sight of what really makes their input valuable. It’s not the ability to implement and optimize machines. It’s the ability to integrate and accelerate teams of real people.