Soft Skills for Survival

Soft Skills for Survival

Everyone is anticipating that machines would take over; but staying human might still be the in thing!  

Machine Learning, algorithms, data-based models, Artificial Intelligence……no doubt the world is inexorably moving towards a scenario where automation would govern and run almost all areas of functional operations. Businesses thrive in a predictable and anticipated environment because that makes decision-making quick and precise. As machines are the best bet to eliminate uncertainty, they are sure to take the centre-stage – more so due to the fact that decisions are based on data, and we have an overabundance of data in modern times. The algorithms just need to analyse them and come up with coherence to deduce logic that could drive any business decision. The process is definitely faster, more accurate and can play with an unimaginable quantum of data – the volume of which no human mind is able to cope.

So are humans no longer required at the driver’s seat? Is it now time for us to lean back and reap the benefits of automation – and let the control slip? To put it more bluntly, are machines pushing humans out of job?

No, say the experts. Machines can do only this much, and no further. They are excellent at repetitive       routine operations and mammoth data-crunching, which even allows them some decision-making capability as well – but they are yet to take charge of governance. There are areas where the human brain rules supreme and there will be soft skills for which organisations will keep looking for human employees – at least in the foreseeable future.

So what are these skills that will keep humans relevant in the fast-changing AI-dominated world? Let us explore.

  1. Change Mentality: Adaptability to change should obviously be the first skills needed to survive in a world that is ever changing. Charles Darwin had credited our entire existence to that one skill! However, at the workplace this takes on a different dimension if we consider the fact that machines are built to execute tasks at a fixed setting. Although frontier research in machine-learning is trying all out to equip AI-based tools with the flexibility of human-like fuzzy logic, it is still nowhere near the real thing. Only a human worker can anticipate ground situations real-time, decide, adapt and react. And one who is most amenable to changed scenarios, will learn the fastest and thrive.
  2. Learning Skill: This brings us to the second soft skill necessary to survive the new-age workspace – an ability to cope with the steepest of learning curves, and repeatedly too! Only humans can correlate learning to self-development and personal growth. As the waves of innovation keep hitting us relentlessly and technologies get outdated the moment they are released, the worker who can learn, unlearn and relearn will be an asset to any organisation. Humans can actually learn fast with proper motivation – often through individually varied ways, all of which cannot really be laid down in training manuals. That is not possible for machines, where each upgrade requires substantial, time, research and investment.
  3. Critical Analysis: That variation in styles of learning mentioned in the previous point is, in fact, a result of critical analysis that only a human mind can employ. For an algorithm, critical analysis would be identifying common patterns within a given dataset and making inferences based on pre-programmed input parameters for each type of pattern. Compared to the critical abilities of a human brain, this is still an infantile mimicry. Humans mostly do not analyse based on piecemeal data, or set parameters, but in light of the big picture in view. And the bigger someone can conjure up a picture in mind, a better critical analyst that person is. For us, critical thinking involves innovative ideas and solving complex problems using logic, as well as gut instinct or emotion – as demanded by the reality of a situation, often considering both sides of an argument. That is not going to change anytime soon and will remain in demand.
  4. Decision-making: This is the crux of all critical thinking and analysis. It has, and will remain, the key skill that sets good workers apart from the bad. While algorithm-based decision-making is taking over many business processes, ultimately, it’s humans who are responsible for making the business-critical decisions in an organization. Of course, machine-made decisions based on datasets and defined parameters is of immense help in routine automated processes. It is best that we leave that part to them and focus more on higher and complex decisions that form the pillars of strategy blueprints. Freeing up our brain-space of operational micro-decisions would allow us to take on macro challenges that steers organisational visions and goals – still a human prerogative!
  5. New-age Leadership: As automation takes care of routine operations, leaders at all levels will need to reorient their styles of leadership. Add to this the new-normal of remote working, and leadership takes on a different dimension altogether. Hierarchies are no longer important, and micro-management is passé, but workers would still look forward to a leader who can inspire, guide, care, arbitrate and set the bar high – both for the team and for the organisation as a whole. Even in a totally machine-controlled world, leaders who can lead both with brain and heart shall… well, lead!
  6. Emotion and Creativity: Speaking of brain and heart brings us to this undefined zone that no machine can emulate. Emotional Quotient is being considered to be the new substitute for the traditional IQ. While intelligence can be recreated through machines, emotion cannot. And working in diverse teams, with other people, and different cultures and geographies, require understanding subtle nuances. More and more organisations are now looking for people who might not possess the best CVs but have excellent interpersonal skills and high emotional tolerance levels. In a new world, with previously unforeseen challenges – only the emotionally stable would make a mark. Creativity is another human domain that cannot be empirically demonstrated, but people knows when they encounter it. It has always been a human asset, and anyone who posses a fair amount of it stands apart from any pre-programmed algorithm.
  7. Effective Communication: This is the final skill that binds together all the others – because no one works in a silo. However individual the contribution may be, it has to be coordinated with and delivered to the end receiver – either internally, like a co-worker or reviewer; or externally, like a client, stakeholder, collaborator. Right from the first brief to the final delivery – the lifecycle of any project or product is connected through a string of communication. This means, apart from executing the work itself, we all need to express our thoughts and actions. And those who can do that effectively gets the work done with minimum fuss, friction and rework. Whether a leader or a assembly-line worker, the best communicators would easily assume a position at the forefront –regardless of technological advances.
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