By now, we all accept that the future of the business is digital. It is robotic. It is voice activated. It is driven by Artificial Intelligence.
And the future needs you to be very Human.
These thoughts hit me a few days ago when attending a talk by a sociologist who was painting a rather depressing picture of the future of business with Artificial Intelligence.
He started by sharing that Walmart is beginning to quietly replace its workforce with robotic functions similar to those found in Amazon warehouses. Walmart’s shelves are getting stocked by robots - a move that may very well lead to a 15% reduction in their workforce. Meaning a potential reduction of 500 000 jobs!
He went on with Deloitte Management Consulting which is now tinkering with using voice intelligence to answer questions for their clients on value added taxes. They may be looking at a 25% reduction in their audit department; which is full of bright young consultants soon to become just irrelevant.
You get my point? If not yet, just have a quick look at Yuval Noah Harari or Peter Hinssen.
So, where does this leave my business Leaders? Are Senior Managers soon to be replaced by deep learning algorithms?
To me, the answer is no… as long as you focus on your irreplaceable skill, we too often undervalue; your Humanity, your ability to have compassion, kindness, be creative, and not be a robot.
In the face of an accelerating pace of change in the workplace, we succeed because at its core, business is a human enterprise, isn't it? People need and want people. Deals are still made after a handshake…or in Belgium where I live, there is no way around a good shared meal for closing a deal! We celebrate our successes and shrug off our losses with the people on our team.
Did you notice that the rise of Artificial Intelligence goes in parallel with the increasing popularity of mindfulness practice amongst top managers? Maybe we are looking for new ways to have impact, now that knowledge and speed of mental processing are becoming less relevant, at the hands of A.I. Using mindfulness is a way for managers to be more present for their friends, family, and yes - their business associates too.
A quiet and focused mind can be quite useful in the boardroom.
And now, go out and beat A.I.!
I collected some simple advice that I have collected from my friends in leadership who are calm and hopeful about the rapidly shifting way of doing digital business.
1. Insight often comes when you let your brain go on holiday - Big decisions require reflection. The parts of your brain that are autonomic, self governing, go to work when you let the conscious analytical brain take a break. Don’t neglect your exercise, the glass of wine with your friends, and read that book that has nothing to do with your job. In short, do not neglect your leisure time.
2. Consider starting a meditation practice - If ten days in the lotus position on minimal food rations is not your thing, then try ten minutes of sitting each day to quiet your monkey brain. Science has finally caught up with the ancient monks. Meditation makes your head and your heart healthier. If you need an app to help you get started, I recommend Headspace, Calm or Petit Bambou in French.
3. Take your soft skills development seriously - If psychology and emotional intelligence have never been your areas of strength, change that. In the A.I. world your technical expertise will matter less and your understanding of your people will become more apparent.
As a side note now, on Executive Search. I have been hearing for a decade now that my industry is dead. Smashed by Monster, Linkedin, Facebook. It did not happen and it will not happen with A.I. either. On the contrary…
The same consideration goes for most value adding service providers.
An algorithm can find you one hundred candidates, but it will not find you the two best ones that match your company culture, ambition, drive and passion.
Deep learning might predict which company is producing the most effective Business Unit Director in a specific vertical, but it will not help convince the one BU Leader you actually need that a strategic move will be good for them. I will do that, face to face, proudly representing my client. And there is no A.I. that can share a pint at the pub with me and my team when a new executive placement brings hope and rejuvenation to a team or even an entire company!
Pierre Collowald is a Senior Partner at Robertson Associates, a European Executive Search and Leadership Solutions boutique. Pierre is working out of Brussels, Stuttgart and Zurich. firstname.lastname@example.org