If we collectively want to keep our jobs we must change the way we look at hard and soft skills. We have to find a way to redefine what they are, what is intensely human and what will remain our competitive advantage over the year in the advent of AI and job-threatening-robots.
With research showing that less and less importance is placed on conventional intelligence and with studies indicating that it can actually be counterproductive at work to employ too much of one’s IQ while at the same time having organizations move away from formal education, what role does knowledge still play in this brave new world of soft skills and humanity?
Professionals who attach a lot of their self-esteem to their intelligence will get bored easily, will get frustrated repeatedly and will feel less inclined to be truly engaged with their colleagues. What’s the answer to that? Should they all aim lower to fit in? Is playing dumb a success condition?
We have enough trouble getting passion and courage into ourselves and our people – if we now decide knowledge is superfluous what are we left with?
Sounds fairly counterintuitive and can seem alarming. The research in itself is inconsequential, it isn’t as if employees everywhere will read about it and feel justified in being even less intelligent or having less formal knowledge, but if the findings are correct, then it means there is indeed a climate suggesting mediocre is the new black.
To add to it, there’s also research from the Carnegie Institute of Technology to say that only 15% of one’s financial success is linked to one’s technical knowledge. And that supposedly demonstrates it’s not necessary. In my opinion that’s disingenuous of a conclusion, to me it demonstrates how underrated and undervalued it is in today’s market -which ironically simultaneously claims they hinge every possibility of success on it- not its lack of necessity.
The key lies in the definition of “knowledge” – if we confine it to formal education and conventional IQ then yes indeed it is becoming a hindrance in today’s work environment. In a sense, with the change of volume and quality of information and with the democratization of access to it, this is normal. If we add the speed with which technology changes and grows, having formal knowledge in the sense we have referred to it throughout the centuries is no longer even possible.
As a reaction to this, companies have started veering away from the conventional path in terms of what type of diploma they require for some of their most skilled jobs and even arrived at shunning formal education in favor of much more relevant selection criteria.
In the first instance, banks who are as conservative of institutions as they come in terms of hiring practices, have started hiring fewer finance graduates and moved towards technologists, international relations graduates or psychology majors. This of course, furthers their diversity goal and at the very minimum opens them up for new perspectives, but it is, in essence, a nod to how those trained in the respective disciplines are more likely to comfortably rely on softer skills.
In more courageous examples, places like DBS who already showed they understand the importance of culture change, have built an AI capability to select people that doesn’t use their degree as a consideration and then there are the handful of places that have clearly made it a policy not to place formal education as a key hiring criteria such as famously Apple, Google, and Starbucks but now also EY and Bank of America.
This is a departure from the conventional definition of knowledge is course amazing news to all of us who have been advocating intensely human attributes as the only reliable USP for the future and allows these companies to hire and keep the best talent.
It’s not what you know but who you know and how you know it
“Knowledge” is not reduced to academic grades and experience but comprises emotional intelligence and a bevy of emotional human attributes as well.
The World Economic Forum tells us that in the age of AI there are 75M jobs going but 113M jobs coming too. The question is, what do these jobs look like and what kind of skills do they need.
There is, thankfully, more and more chatter and clarity on how “soft” skills are the hardest to get and the most valuable in the long term.
If a few years ago it was the staple of a hippie leadership retreat, the discourse around the importance of emotional intelligence, growth mindset, empathy and purpose is finally becoming mainstream and there are more and more studies cropping up to support it. This is, nonetheless only the beginning of a long arduous road for even the best-intentioned of companies as our work culture is not best equipped to search for, grow or even accommodate “soft” skills.
Technical knowledge can be acquired easily and is ultimately a cheap commodity to those who have the curiosity, the drive and the motivation to pursue it. And arguably those who possess the wisdom and focus to weed through the information inflation this era of data inflicted upon us all. Nonetheless, training that in the detriment of uniquely human attributes in an era where the most basic of chatbots can replicate it is a highly dangerous strategy.
Showing empathy, striving for growth, having purpose, true flexibility, agility of the mind and of the process, believing in the shared vision, having the flexibility to apply new lenses and change courses, always striving for better, a relentless quest to attain higher peaks, missions focus, kindness, intuition, EQ scores. That’s what we need to search for when we search for the best.
To get to all that magic we need to give our workers many things from flexible working environments to new ways of work to natural light, child care, small surprising perks, etc but most importantly, we have to give them psychological safety, we have to give them permission to feel and be human in the organization. Once we know their hearts are in the right place we must let them know we want them to show it.
It’s the skills that can’t be replicated with as much ease before the Turing test workers and their leaders should focus on, we need to see a radical change in formal education as it stands today and classrooms and boardrooms alike need to start doing Intuition Bootcamps, Passion Reactivation Seminars and Curiosity Enhancing Workshops to get ahead.
Cultivating and reinforcing what makes us human is the ticket and in the process, we must stop referring to those skills and attributes as “soft” as they are the only thing that’s -still- hard for the competition.