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In the machine age, the human’s answer must be to become even more human

(Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash)

I had the pleasure of hosting some people from the future earlier this week.

Let me explain. No, I haven’t discovered a time machine. I did not whisk in my guests from a future era by reassembling their molecules in the here and now. I was actually hosting futurists from The Center for the Future of Work, a think-tank set up Cognizant, one of the world’s leading technology services firms.

My guests may not actually live in the future, but their jobs certainly entail not being in the present. Their job description is to be five or ten years ahead of the rest of us in understanding and forecasting the many profound changes that may be coming in our careers, business models, and societies.

The fact that technological disruption looms large in all our lives is not news to regular readers of this column. But it was reassuring to listen to experts whose job it is to evaluate and research the many technologies driving profound change in business platforms and work patterns.

Many people are deeply concerned about a “jobless future” – the idea that automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will lay waste to millions of existing jobs. Many of us will simply not be able to cope with machines that are stronger, faster – and someday, more intelligent – than we are.

The folks at Cognizant are more optimistic. They recognize that many jobs currently done by humans will indeed be retired. Machines will certainly be able to drive things, carry things, process things and do dangerous things much better than we can. But they also recognize certain timeless truths; that it has always been thus (work has always changed, and many jobs always become redundant – elevator operator, anyone?); and that we should never underestimate human ingenuity. When we are freed up to do other things, we generally find better things to do – and create more work.

We should also not bemoan the loss of certain types of jobs. Who wants to be a ditch digger or road builder or construction worker, after all? People do those jobs because they have no choice. That should not be the work of humans. If we can escape this past, escape it we should. To that list we will soon add miner, soldier, fireman…

A final truth is profound: machines also need man. Humans are still needed to create the machines, market them, sell them; and machines are tools, tools that we must design to be good for us and make us better. We are substandard in so many fields of endeavour, and if we can upgrade our healthcare, our education, our money management and much more, why should we resist? This future is there for us to shape, not to be disrupted by.

So how will YOU survive (and thrive in) the new machine age, the so-called fourth industrial revolution?

I have said it often on this page, in my leadership programmes, in talks and seminars across Africa: the human’s answer to the machine has to be to become even more human. We can’t outdo the machine; we can only elevate ourselves to exist above it, on a higher plane.

What my futurist friends offered was a handy framework that allows us all to think about our futures. There are “3 Cs” for you to contemplate: Coaching, Caring and Connecting. If your job is to help people get better at things; to care about their health, wellbeing or spirit; or to act as the connector to opportunities and better ways of doing things; you’ll pretty much always have a job.

I would go further and advise that your business should also be focused on the 3 Cs of the future. Does it coach people to achieve more? Does it show genuine human empathy for its constituents? Does it act as a gateway or portal or network to better things? That business, too, has little to worry about. It will remain useful to its customers, and that is the best way to survive any business disruption.

In sum, what’s the lesson from the future? Embrace the new tech, don’t diss or resist it. Play nice. Augment and enhance yourself and your work with technology, so that we all get uplifted. If work improves, lives improve. As the waves of mind-boggling technological change swirl around us, remember the 3 ‘Cs’: are you coaching enough, caring enough, connecting enough? The work of humans lies right there.

Sunday Nation, 7 October 2018)

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