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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:

Creativity

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.

Empathy

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.

Accountability

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…

Curiosity

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.

Communication

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.

Collaboration

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.

Resilience

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. 

How to prepare for changes that are yet to come

Society is changing at an ever-increasing pace. Globalisation, technological developments and an ageing population mean that different skills are needed in both our professional and personal lives. Employment growth areas increasingly show that leadership, teamwork and problem-solving skills are more in demand now than ever in the face of an automative and digital society. So, what does this mean for us in our day-to-day lives, and how can we best prepare ourselves for changes we don’t even know about yet?

These questions and themes were discussed at the UMIO Insights event on Tuesday 2 July, where more than 60 business professionals, entrepreneurs, academics and researchers came together to engage in these conversations and participate in a shared pursuit for knowledge and learning.

It is the second edition of this successful annual UMIO Insights event. As refreshments were served, participants had the opportunity to meet and catch up with old and new colleagues, who between them represented a broad reach of organisations from the corporate to government sectors, SME’s to non-profit and education sectors. The introduction from Marielle Heijltjes, UMIO’s Executive Director and Trudie Schils’ plenary session, set the tone for the breakout workshops which followed. Participants could choose from one of three engaging and interactive teaser sessions including; Coaching Leadership, Sustainable Employability and Digitalisation. Academic research underpinned each one led by, Lukas Figge, Martin Lammers, Gordon Miesen, Damien Nunes and Dominik Mahr.

Unlocking potential

For any company that wants to develop a sustainable competitive advantage, unlocking the full creative and human potential of its employees is key. To achieve this, it is important that people feel connected, competent and autonomous in their job and in their relations at work. Research has shown that managers and leaders play a crucial role in providing the right conditions to exhibit leadership behaviour, such as support, mentoring and coaching to promote growth and development of the people in the organisation.

Coaching Leadership is a particular leadership style that contains a specific and learnable set of competences, including establishing trust & intimacy, coaching presence, active listening and asking powerful questions. Learning these skills enhances the learning ability and flexibility of the team and organisation. By supporting colleagues to find their own solutions, this reduces the dependence of others and by spending less time solving other people’s problems, more time is available for impactful and engaging work.

Changing the perception

The concept of Sustainable Employability is a complex one. People are getting older and have to work longer. Retirement age is rising.  We are also living in a shrinking labour market. Navigating these challenges successfully requires a certain approach and mind-set. Self-development, being agile and looking at the building blocks required to influence the situation can help to create a positive and sustainable outcome. After all, what we all want out of our working lives is to be happy, motivated and inspired now and in the future.

Digitalisation and technological developments are society’s ever-increasing pacemakers. For business, it is important to keep a distinctive competitive position. Reflecting on how we might improve our productivity by applying digital technologies can help us create our own future realities. Understanding how these technologies impact us and how we can, in turn, harness this power, is an important part of the journey towards equipping ourselves with the right skills needed for the future.

Striving for continuous self-development and learning was a shared feeling amongst the participants of the UMIO Insights event. Betty Adjadi, a Researcher at Data Human Interaction Lab, was encouraged to hear how the University was involved in researching this area and asserted that taking part in this UMIO Insights event was definitely helpful for her work.

“I am very interested in education and learning. Based on my own experience, lifelong learning is always my passion and I think it’s true of everyone here. I realise that when I have the right balance, I am happier and more creative.”

Lifelong learning has always had its place in forward-thinking organisations, and investing in learning and development is shown to pay off. The Research Centre for Education and Labour Market (ROA) at Maastricht University affirms that a well-trained workforce is related to good business outcomes. Employers can better profile themselves with a positive learning culture. So, the pursuit of knowledge, constructing our own future realities, engaging in active and ongoing learning, both formally and informally, are bold and empowering objectives of the globalised society we inhabit in the 21st century. If you want to change your way of thinking, change the way you see.

So what’s next?

If you would like to find out more about how you can better equip yourself or your organisation for a successful future incorporating any of these themes; Coaching Leadership, Sustainable Employability or Digitalisation, then please take a look at these opportunities.

Coaching Leadership

Coaching Leadership management course

Digitalisation:

Sustainable Employability:
• UMIO is co-creating a unique learning journey around the topic of ‘Sustainable Employability’ together with a consortium of industry leaders. If your organisation is interested in joining our consortium, please contact Gordon Miesen at g.miesen@maastrichtuniversity.nl.