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What will be the most important business skill of the next decade? Being a Better Human

Hardly a week goes by without news of automation displacing humans from the workforce. Automation is a disruptive force that is transforming every industry, raising questions about the work that people do and the future relationship between man and machine.

The recent study, ‘The Future of Businesses and Jobs in Asia Pacific’s Digital Economy’, highlights that regional executives are highly concerned about the future of jobs due to the impact of digital; 98% of the executives surveyed feel that many jobs will be lost to robots, making them reluctant to augment job effectiveness with machines. In fact, when it comes to leveraging machines for their own benefit, regional executives lag their counterparts elsewhere by 50%. Strikingly, only 21% believe digital will give them a personal career advantage and improve their job satisfaction.

How to beat the bots?

The downside to automation, of course, is that some tasks — and full jobs — will be assumed by machines. All of us will need to enhance our current skill sets but probably not in the way many expect. It may sound counter-intuitive, but in a world of more pervasive technology, activities that humans do well will be even more important in 2020 than today. Analytical, communication and learning skills, as well as the ability to relate to other people, are all vital for business success. But in the coming years, these very human traits — things we do naturally, but computers struggle with — will become even more essential in our personal and work lives and for our businesses.

On average, 80% of Asia Pacific executives feel that analytical (ability to add value to other information, conduct knowledge work, and use models and other analytical tools) and global operating skills (ability to work across countries and business cultures) will be more important in 2020. As Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt rightly notes, “The biggest issue is simply the development of analytical skills. Most of the routine things people do will be done by computer, but people will manage the computers around them, and the analytical skills will never go out of style.”

Machines may help improve productivity, but they aren’t producing the ideas that move businesses forward. For instance, software bots today can’t dance, sing, adjudicate a trial, comfort a patient, ask insightful questions, teach a child or lead a team. They can help, but they can’t do it. Being able to apply judgment, creativity and the human touch are all far outside the purview of current and near-future technologies, and this will remain the case for some years to come, even as the new machines become more capable. The work ahead will require us to double down on the activities where humans have — and will continue to have — an advantage over silicon (for example, collaborative problem-solving, creativity, abstract thinking, adapting to change, balancing a work life with a personal life, and so on). The work ahead won’t so much be about “beating the bots” as about being better humans in the digital economy.

Unlearning the past will be the biggest challenge

Despite the analytical, global operating and innovation skills showing the continuing value of human work in the digital age, Asia Pacific executives are slow in unlearning the past to learn new things. Only 35% of regional leaders surveyed — compared with the global average of 60% — feel they need to be more focused on learning skills to access and apply new information from different data sources. In fact, they are almost 20 percentage points behind in honing their strategic thinking and leadership skills. This shows that many employees and businesses in Asia Pacific have not yet fully thought through how to take advantage of the opportunities — and mitigate the risks — produced by new waves of technologies.

Roll over risks before they roll over you!

The future of your career will not be determined by your last job title, but will be based on the new skills you can develop for the work ahead. Changing business models often translate to skill set imbalances. Robots and machine learning are likely to replace specific human tasks over the next five to 10 years, challenging workers to focus on new skills and adjust to rapid changes in core job skillsets. This trend requires organisations to acquire and nurture the skills that are required today but also fit tomorrow’s needs.

Regional executives must execute their digital vision with bold precision to meet the greater ambitions of what it means to be truly digital because the ultimate success will require an open mind, perseverance and courage. You have the power to choose whether digital transformation works for or against you and your business.

About the author

Manish Bahl is a Cognizant Senior Director who leads the company’s Center for the Future of Work in Asia Pacific. A respected speaker and thinker, Manish has guided many Fortune 500 companies into the future of their business with his thought-provoking research and advisory skills. Within Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, he helps ensure that the unit’s original research and analysis jibes with emerging business-technology trends and dynamics in Asia Pacific, and collaborates with a wide range of leading thinkers to understand how the future of work will take shape.

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Manish Bahl

Manish Bahl

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