Putting the humanity back into technology – 10 skills to future proof your career

This article originally appeared in Ambition, AMBA’s thought leadership publication (in print and online), and has been republished on this website with the permission of AMBA.

Author: Dave Coplin

Our future success as individuals will hinge on our ability to be able to use technology to help make whatever we do better, says Dave Coplin.

For the last three decades I have been working with the world’s largest technology companies helping people to truly understand the amazing potential on offer when humans work in harmony with the machines.

I have written two books, I’ve worked with businesses and governments all over the world and recently I’ve been inspiring and engaging kids and adults alike, all with one single goal in mind, which is simply to help everyone get the absolute best from technology.

After thirty years of working at the bleeding edge, I know that the only really important thing about all of our futures, is not the technology itself nor how it will develop but instead is simply about how we as humans can evolve and adapt to make the most of the incredible potential it offers us every single day.

In an age where algorithms answer our questions and robots do much of our ‘heavy lifting’, what we really need is a way of combining the best of technological capability with the best of human ability, finding that sweet spot where humans and machines complement each other. With that in mind, here are my top ten skills that will enable humans to rise, to achieve more than ever before not just at work but across all aspects of our lives:


When it comes to creativity, I absolutely believe that technology is one of the most creative forces that we will ever get to enjoy. But creativity needs to be discovered and it needs to be nurtured. Our future will be filled with complex, challenging problems, the like of which we will never have encountered before. We’re going to need a society of creative thinkers to help navigate it.


While the machines are busy crunching numbers, it will be the humans who will be left to navigate the complicated world of emotions, motives and intentions. In a world of the dark, cold logic of algorithms, the ability for individuals to understand and share the feelings of others is going to become a crucial skill. Along with creativity, empathy will be one of the most critical attributes that defines the border between human and machine.


As well as teaching ourselves and our families to be confident with technology we also need to be accountable for how we use it.

Just because the computer gives you an answer, it doesn’t make it right. We all need to learn to take the computer’s valuable input but crucially combine that with our own human intuition in order to discover the best course of action. Our future is all about being greater than the sum of our parts…


One of creativity’s most important companions is curiosity – it is the gateway to the best way to be creative with technology. We walk around with a device in our pockets that has access to every bit of knowledge, every opinion our society has collected over the past couple of millennia and it’s right there at our fingertips. But how often do we think of it in those terms? And what do we choose to do with all that knowledge? Two words, “cat videos”. I’m being playful of course, but part of the solution is to help all of us, especially kids, be curious about the world around us and to use technology to explore it.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking will be the 21st century human’s superpower. If we can help individuals both understand and apply it, we can, over time, unleash the full potential of our connected world. With every single piece of content we consume, from whatever source and on whatever topic, we need to be asking ourselves as to whether we should believe the content to be true rather than simply assuming it is.


One of digital technology’s key purposes is to connect humans with each other. Communicating with others is as essential to our future survival as breathing and yet we’re often just not that good at it, especially when we’re communicating with others who aren’t in the same physical space.

Learning to communicate well (and that includes really effective listening) regardless of whether that is on-line or off-line is one of the basic literacies of our digital world.


Building on our communication skills, collaboration is the purpose for much of the reason behind why we need to communicate well. Technology enables large numbers of people to come together, aligned around a common cause but we can only harness the collective power of people if we can find the best way to work together to unleash our collective potential.

Lifelong learning

The future doesn’t stand still and now more than ever, that means neither can we. While we used to think about education as a single phase, early on in most people’s lives, the reality is that learning needs to be an everyday occurrence, regardless of our age or stage of life. Thanks to new technologies like artificial intelligence, skills that are new today will be automated tomorrow and this means we can never afford to stand still.


The by-product of a rapidly changing world is that we need to help people learn to embrace the ambiguity such a world presents. More traditional mindsets of single domains of skills and single careers will have to give way to the much more nebulous world of multiple skillsets for multiple careers. In order to make the transition, people are going to need to find a way to preserve and develop enough energy to be able to embrace every new change and challenge so that they can both offer value and be valued by the ever changing society they are a part of.

Digital confidence

As a technologist, and an optimist, I am convinced that our future success as individuals will hinge on our ability to be able to use technology to help make whatever we do better. Regardless of the career we choose, our and our children’s lives will be better, more successful, happier and more rewarding if we are confident in how we can use technology to help us achieve more at work, in our relationships and in how we enjoy ourselves.

None of these skills were picked by chance, or because they give us hope for a more human future irrespective of the development of technology. They were specifically picked because they are the very qualities that will complement the immensely powerful gift that technology brings us. Better still, these are the skills that, despite what Hollywood or the media may say to the contrary, will remain fundamentally human for decades to come.

But if we are to make this happen, we’re going to have to think very differently about the potential of technology in our lives and the relationship we currently share with it. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to help ensure we don’t just learn to survive in the 21st century but instead we learn how to thrive. If we can get this right for ourselves and our kids, we are going to get some amazing prizes as a result.

The rise of the humans starts with us, and it starts now…

Dave Coplin is former Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft UK, he has written two books, worked all over the world with organisations, individuals and governments – all with the goal of demystifying technology and championing it as a positive transformation in our society. 

Breakfast Booster – Unlocking your personal and organisational creative powers

Who hasn’t participated in a brainstorm session that – in the end – was quite disappointing? You wondered if the discussion yielding few new ideas was really worth all that time and energy spent? Does this sound familiar?

PhD Candidate on the Development of Human Capital, Kim van Broekhoven (School of Business and Economics) and Strategic Designer & Innovator, Damien Nunes (UMIO) have comforting news. Van Broekhoven: “You or your team are not to blame. Research has convincingly shown that traditional brainstorming is an inefficient technique. Think about it. How many times did you have to wait for your turn? How often did you feel uncomfortable because it was a crazy idea? How often did you forget about your idea because you had to listen to other people first? What happened when your boss came up with an idea…?”

Kim van Broekhoven: “Research has convincingly shown that traditional brainstorming is an inefficient technique.”

Basic brainstorming rules

Luckily there are many other creative techniques that do unlock your personal and organisational creative powers. Kim van Broekhoven and Damien Nunes enthusiastically present them during the Breakfast Booster on October 31st 2019, at Brightlands Chemelot Campus Sittard-Geleen. Van Broekhoven’s research knowledge and Nunes’ practical knowledge form the ideal combination for this workshop.

After enjoying a healthy breakfast, the workshop leaders kick off with presenting a few basic brainstorm rules: no judgement, quantity over quality, building on each other’s suggestions and combining, changing and reordering of ideas.  

How might we…?

Eight groups are randomly formed and presented with a real-life problem.
Round one consists of clarifying the problem simply by asking the problem owner lots of questions. In the second round the power of the ‘How might we…?’ question is explored. “‘How might we…?’ is about finding possibilities, discovering options and creating a mind-set of exploration”, Nunes states. The third round is a silent brainstorming session in which everybody tries to think of ideas individually. The workshop leaders advise to use personal or professional experiences for inspiration, to think of alternatives for existing ideas, and to take different conditions into account, such as for instance more or less budget.

Eight groups are randomly formed and presented with a real-life problem.

Let’s get out-of-that-box

Van Broekhoven: “Most ideas so far are probably closely linked to the problem statement. But to come up with truly innovative ideas, we have to start thinking out-of-the-box. A technique that helps do that is reverse assumptions. This works as follows. Focus on just one term in your problem statement. If the problem statement is: ‘How to lower administrative tasks for nurses’, you could focus on ‘administrative tasks’. Write down everything that comes to mind and then reverse all assumptions. This helps you to look at the problem from a completely different perspective.” The session ends with idea mapping. All participants quickly share their ideas and map them on a matrix with the axes ‘innovative’ and ‘impact’.  

Participants’ feedback

Some participants’ feedback: “The ‘How might we…?’ question is very powerful. I really love that.” “The silent brainstorming is much more effective than traditional brainstorming.” “Today I met new people that looked at my problem from different perspectives. I was totally surprised by their ideas. I leave here enriched.” “This approach shows that speed and pressure doesn’t mean losing quality, it enhances quality.”  

The Breakfast Booster is an initiative of UMIO, the executive branch of Maastricht University School of Business and Economics. The events focus on sharing content and building a network of professionals and organisations.

Photos: Jonathan Vos