Strengthening your Human Skills

How can you prepare for the AI revolution? If you are an employee, future-proof your job security by strengthening your human skills: soft skills like common sense and your ability to communicate and connect with others. This principle applies whether you wish to follow a technical or non-technical career. Below, as we also seek to provide guidance, we focus on four human skills. 

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. It requires you to use your ability to reason. It is about being an active learner, rather than a passive recipient of information. As procedural tasks become more and more automated, employers will be looking for employees who, rather than merely following well-defined procedures, can apply critical thinking to tasks and evaluate a situation using logical thought. Someone with critical thinking skills can be trusted to make decisions on their own, without constant supervision or clearly defined procedures. 

It is possible to improve your critical thinking skills through daily practice. Begin by recalling a decision that you made in the past 24 hours, then grab a pen and paper and follow the steps from the TED-Ed lesson created by Samantha Agoos. Next, recall something you were told or learned in the past 24 hours, whether that be in a conversation, from a book, or via digital media. Use a pen and paper to ask yourself these questions sourced from Skills You Need

  • Who said it? 
  • What did they say? 
  • Where did they say it? 
  • When did they say it? 
  • Why did they say it? 
  • How did they say it? 

Following these two practices teaches you how to rigorously test reasons for decisions and consider alternatives. When you feel more confident using these techniques, start applying them at work. Maybe you will discover a way to improve business decisions that proves your value as an employee! 

Creativity

Creativity is defined as “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness”; human creativity also extends to creative problem-solving. Computers, including AI systems, only know how to solve problems that are well-defined and follow known rules, but humans can apply out-of-the-box thinking to solve problems and generate new and practical ideas. Employers will increasingly seek staff who understand when the rules shouldn’t apply, when a non-standard solution is the best solution. With AIs increasingly optimising production lines and mass-producing standardised products, there will still be a market for customised individual products built by artisans. And with consumer needs changing with the AI revolution, businesses will need humans to design and invent the next generation of products and services that meet that demand. 

While brainstorming is the most well-known process for creative problem-solving, it is just a part of the broader seven-step process for creative problem solving: 

  1. Clarify and identify the problem
  2. Research the problem
  3. Formulate creative challenges
  4. Generate ideas
  5. Combine and evaluate the ideas
  6. Draw up an action plan
  7. Do it! (implement the ideas) 

Many universities and organizations offer courses in creative problem-solving. For example, Coursera offers an online course in creative problem-solving. If you prefer face-to-face teaching, check whether any of your local universities offer a suitable course, e.g. Harvard Business School offers “Developing Mindsets for Innovative Problem Solving”, and Singapore Polytechnic offers “Creative Problem-Solving and Decision-Making”. 

Emotional Intelligence and Empathy

Emotional intelligence is “the capability of individuals to recognise their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and manage or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).”

Empathy, the ability to place oneself in another’s position, to understand what they experience and how they feel, is typically linked to emotional intelligence. This is what we use when we empathise with co-workers or customers. People with high emotional intelligence are more likely to get hired, promoted, and earn better salaries, as they increase team productivity and staff retention. 

There’s nothing new about businesses using automation instead of humans for customer service. For example, in the late 20th Century, banks introduced ATMs to replace tellers in bank branches. Businesses have been learning, however, that automated customer service is not an optimal approach. When one bank introduced online banking, it found that customers increased their transactions and called the bank more, increasing costs and decreasing profitability. Moreover, one study found that when banking customers used the ATM more and the teller less, their overall level of satisfaction with the bank went down. It is the nature of humans that we are “inherently social creatures who get emotional value from seeing and interacting with one another.” Businesses will need to hire humans with high emotional quotient (EQ) for customer service because humans can be emotional whereas technology cannot. Humans prefer having people help solve our problems; less work for employees often means more work for customers. 

 

The conclusion is that organisations should use automation for transactional interactions, and to augment human customer service, freeing up humans from mundane and administrative tasks, to engage with customers. For example, who wants to hear an insurer’s computer say “I’m sorry for the loss of your loved one”? A caring human is a preferred solution for emotional communication. 

Emotional intelligence can be learned, and you can start improving your EQ with mindfulness meditation. The University of California, Berkeley offers a course called Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work. Six Seconds, a non-profit organisation specialising in emotional intelligence, offers certificate qualifications. 

Persuasion and Negotiation

Persuasion and negotiation skills are closely related to emotional intelligence skills. Organisations require managers, marketers, and sales staff who are persuasive and can negotiate win-win solutions, whether that be between internal stakeholders or with external suppliers or customers. While AIs and computers can offer a great experience for online shopping for commodity purchases, the same doesn’t apply for purchases that are more personal and less transactional. You are more likely to convince your colleagues to try out a new idea via a persuasive presentation than simply with facts. Persuasion skills help a marketing and sales professionals to win over the hearts of people who not only become their loyal customers but also customers’ recruiters. Humans have evolved ways of deciding whether they can trust another human. Human brains have “mirror neurons” that give them empathy and enable them to make first impressions of whether they trust another person. First impressions of trust happen as quickly as 39 milliseconds. This process does not apply to human/ computer interactions – there hasn’t been enough time for computers or humans to evolve such trust mechanisms. 

Persuasion and negotiation skills can be learned. The classic textbook “Influence: the psychology of persuasion” covers the science and research, explaining the ways that human biases affect the way that we influence each other, with suggestions of how to apply them. Universities offer degrees in psychology and marketing that deeply cover the tools required. Coursera offers an online version of the University of Michigan course “Influencing People”. There are also many courses in sales skills on offer. 

The AI revolution offers opportunities and productivity gains that will increase the number of human-centric jobs available to us. As employees, being aware of our core strengths and reinforcing them ourselves without help is one very fundamental point; some call it life-long learning. Nonetheless, it is also the role of organisations, in their ongoing transformation by AI systems, to consider bringing together automation and human strengths, as both combined will turn out to be more efficient. 

Colin Priest – DATAROBOT

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The foundation gathers thought leaders, researchers, decision-makers, from Asia and Europe, to lead working groups and research projects on the positive impacts of artificial intelligence on our society.

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