Seven Tips for Staying Employable in the ‘Smart Machine Age’

Don Tennant

If you’re in denial mode, it’s time to snap out of it. You need to understand that if you’re doing a job that can be automated, it absolutely will be. Smart technologies — from smart robots and driverless cars, to 3D printing and artificial intelligence — are going to make jobs obsolete at an unprecedented rate, a pair of authors warn.

In their new book, “Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age,” Ed Hess and Katherine Ludwig argue that adapting and staying employable in what they call the “Smart Machine Age” requires a willingness to learn new skills and to embrace certain behaviors — behaviors that machines are unable to master. Hess and Ludwig have encapsulated their advice into these seven tips to help you get your bearings for the road ahead:

Become humble, because it's not really all about you. Quieting your ego requires you to embrace humility as a way of life. But humility doesn't mean submissiveness, or thinking less of yourself. Instead, it means avoiding self-absorption, self-centeredness and defensiveness. People tend to seek to confirm their own views of the world and themselves. But this tendency leads to closed-mindedness and poor listening skills. Thinking only of yourself gets in the way of having empathy and compassion for others. When you embrace humility, you can finally stop thinking, “It's all about me.”

Slow down and live fully in the moment. In our complex world of instantaneous messaging, news, interruptions, and pressure to perform faster and faster, we become reactive and reflexive. We go on autopilot, but the irony is that in the Smart Machine Age we will have to slow down in order to do the jobs that will earn us a living. It's important to be mindful of this need now. It's counterintuitive, but you need to slow down to be better. So calm your “inner motor” and be fully present in the moment. This will help you see reality more clearly, listen better, and manage your emotions.


Think like a good scientist. How do good scientists think? They approach the world with an appreciation for the magnitude of how much they do not yet know. They are open-minded, data-driven thinkers and decision-makers. They learn by testing their thoughts and ideas with experiments, and are always looking for data that disconfirms what they think. And if they find that data, they amend their ideas. In the Smart Machine Age, thinking like a scientist and being curious, rather than being so confident that you know, will serve you well by keeping your mind open and amenable to learning.

Talk less, listen more closely, and ask more questions. The ability to master continuous learning will be the No. 1 job skill in the Smart Machine Age. But mastering continuous learning is easier said than done. It requires curiosity, open-mindedness, and an acceptance of how little we really know. In short, it requires us to talk less and listen more with an open, nonjudgmental mind. Listening is a way to learn from others and allow them to help you do your best thinking. You can't listen if you are busy formulating your answer while another is speaking. Nor can you listen if you are judgmental and just waiting to tell them how much you know, and why they are wrong. Keep your focus on listening, and when it is your time to speak, ask questions to make sure you understand what the other person is saying.

Have the courage to try. We are on the cusp of a new age. Soon technology will do the easy jobs requiring efficiency and speed, and the jobs that can be translated into an algorithm. The remaining jobs for humans will be the hard ones that require us to excel at the skills that are universally human — skills that require us to develop a personal process to do new things and explore uncertainty. Having the courage to enter unknown territory and use all of your senses to learn these new skills is vital to your success.

Manage your emotions. Everyone deals with fears and insecurities, but how we handle them makes all the difference. The fear of making mistakes, not being liked, and looking stupid inhibits our best thinking and our ability to perceive the world and other people with an open mind. Too many people translate their emotions into regrettable behaviors. They become hyperreactive and emotionally defensive if someone challenges their views. But we all have a choice in how we engage with our emotions. Learning to manage them and generate positive emotions will help everyone adapt in the future.

Embrace "Otherness." Otherness is the science of how to connect, relate, and emotionally engage with other people. It hinges on showing you care about and respect each other as unique human beings with great value. In this way, Otherness builds mutual trust that neither will harm the other. In essence, we need others to help us think at our best, both critically and innovatively. Embracing Otherness allows people to give each other their best selves, without egos and fears getting in the way. It allows true listening and understanding to occur, and helps everyone better recognize their own biases. Otherness requires us to quiet our egos and manage ourselves better, and asks us to focus on other people as an end, and not a means to our success.

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.


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