Worried About Being Displaced by Technology? Stop Being So Darn Human

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    Dispelling the Myths of Software Robots

    You don’t have to be an IT professional to know that automation has a downside—when the work that a human performs is automated, that person is out of a job. And you don’t have to be a genius to recognize that being displaced by artificial intelligence and other forms of technology can only become more commonplace in the years ahead. So what’s an IT pro to do?

    In order to stay competitive in the face of the relentless onslaught of technology, you’re going to have to overcome your failings as a human. That’s the message of Edward Hess, a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and the author of “Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization.” According to Hess, being human helps us and hurts us. “We possess extraordinary abilities that machines can’t replicate, including the ability to ideate, create, emotionally engage, and empathize,” Hess says. “But—and here’s the irony—to tap into these abilities when the tech tsunami hits, we’ll have to overcome our human nature.”

    Easier said than done, right? Fortunately, Hess has come up with a list of eight tips to help you “dehumanize.” Check these out:

    Put less stock in being right. When we’re right, our egos (i.e., the views we have of ourselves) are reinforced and validated—and that feels good. So we instinctively seek out situations that validate our views of the world and of ourselves—and we selectively filter out information that contradicts what we “know” to be “right.” Problem is, none of this supports the cultivation of better thinking and learning.

    Overcome lazy thinking. Believe it or not, it takes a disproportionate amount of energy to learn. Although the brain comprises only about 2.5 percent of our body weight, it generally uses 20 percent of the body’s energy. As a result, the human learning machine prefers to operate in a low gear—on autopilot—as much as possible to conserve energy. Nobel laureate and behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman puts it this way: “Laziness is built deep into our nature.”

    Stop being so judgmental. Our human drive to be right, combined with our predisposition toward lazy thinking causes us to be judgmental of other people and situations. We do it in work and in life all the time: “That’s a terrible idea.” “He’s an idiot.” “She didn’t try hard enough.” “I know better.” And so on. The problem is, judgments like these set the stage for division, resentment and roadblocks, not collaboration, dialogue and progress.

    Get less rigid. Throughout history, rigid processes and procedures were (usually) a good thing for humanity. Do Action X and Action Y, and get Result Z, which provides comfort, shelter, sustenance, or some other desirable outcome. But in today’s rapidly changing world, doing things the way they’ve always been done is a recipe for obsolescence. We humans will have to start fixing things before they’re broken in order to stay relevant.

    Rein in your emotions. Emotions are one of the defining qualities of being human, and they can certainly make life wonderful, worthwhile and interesting. But when it comes to doing your best thinking and learning, emotions tend to hold us back. Even if you consider yourself to be a very rational person, your emotions impact your attitudes, communications and behaviors, as well as your approaches to problems, new situations and decisions.


    Stop letting fear drive your decisions. From an evolutionary standpoint, fear is a good thing. It alerted our ancestors to danger and held them back from making decisions that might threaten the species’ survival. But in the business world, playing it safe because you’re afraid of the consequences is likely to have the opposite effect: A bolder colleague (or computer) will step up to take your place. Abraham Maslow aptly stated that an individual would engage in learning only “to the extent he is not crippled by fear, [and] to the extent he feels safe enough to dare.”

    Make it (whatever “it” is) less about you. Looking out for number one is engrained in human nature. We instinctively think about how situations and events will impact us and how we can use them to our advantage. It’s not that you should stop looking out for your own interests, but you should make more of an effort to empathetically consider how others are being impacted, and how you can all work together to achieve desirable outcomes.

    Stop the time traveling. The human mind has a tireless ability to dissect past events and project what might happen in the future. This power can be very beneficial when used for good—but too often, we find bad uses for it. We obsess over past mistakes and beat ourselves up, instead of learning what we can and moving on. We stress about future “what ifs” over which we have little to no control—or we plan our responses to other people instead of actually listening to them talk. And in the meantime, we fail to use the present moment productively.

    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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