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The Challenge of Teaching Humans to be More Human


The Challenge of Teaching Humans to be More Human

Human skills (problem-solving, creativity, abstract thinking, adapting to changing conditions, empathy, and so on) are not new;...

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Human skills (problem-solving, creativity, abstract thinking, adapting to changing conditions, empathy, and so on) are not new; in fact, the skill of human relations has been in demand for decades. Famous personalities like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and many others, brought about historic changes with integrity and courage due to their deep understanding of humans and their social systems. We now live in a world of more pervasive technology and the things that humans do well are even more important. To quote Steve Jobs, “Technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yield the results that make our hearts sing.”

Our earlier report, The Work AHEAD, revealed that all the human job skills we asked about—the ability to engage with others, lead, reason, and interpret—will dramatically increase in importance. There is no doubt that machines will pick up a greater number of discrete tasks—and even jobs—as time goes on, but humans will still need to apply. Fortunately for us, today’s software bots can’t dance, sing, adjudicate a trial, comfort a patient, ask insightful questions, teach a child, or lead a team. They can help do these things, but they can’t do them alone. Our work ahead will require us to double down on the activities where humans have, and will continue to have, an advantage over silicon.

Throughout the world, companies are placing a premium on job applicants who demonstrate human skills, as they know that humanness will become a competitive advantage when working with intelligent machines. Unfortunately, despite this emphasis, almost 60% of companies struggle to find candidates with the human skills they are looking for, and in many cases, the issue is not as much finding the candidates, as it is deciding how to go about recruiting for essential human skills. How can you see and measure human skills in an applicant? How do you define them? Juxtaposed against technical skills, human skills can be qualitative in nature, and even be difficult to articulate—an issue that is further complicated as companies and educational institutions struggle to help people double-down on human skills.

Most corporate learning strategies have roots in traditional learning approaches. These approaches were fine for the industrial era, but are not suited for teaching employees to become more human. For instance, it is relatively easy to teach someone how to follow a particular process, but how does one teach empathy? One way to address this problem is by focusing more on fundamental attributes and behaviors than on skills. This can be achieved through role modelling, leveraging psychologists to conduct skills assessments, mentoring people, and creating work environments in which human skills are prioritized and celebrated. Through this change in focus, people can start to see their work in the larger context of the activities of the organization as a whole instead of just performing their assigned tasks and as a result, they may become more open to seeking opportunities for expanding their role. Corporate culture plays an important role in empowering people to realize their full potential. That’s why leaders need to create the environment for recognizing and rewarding lifelong learning.

Unfortunately, while our current education system is good at providing knowledge to students, it is less effective at building human relations skills and character development. The grading system is built on a right answer system (learning content knowledge), leaving little room for creativity. Jobs of the future will require people to deeply cultivate and exploit creativity, collaboration, abstract systems of thinking, complex communication, and the ability to thrive in diverse environments. The future of education may be a mix of models. The book “Four-Dimensional Education could be the answer to this mixed-model and highlights that in addition to providing knowledge, educational institutions must focus on building human skills and character (curiosity, courage, ethics, resilience, etc.) and meta-learning (how we reflect and adapt).

Engaging students in practical ways in the social sector, as well as encouraging them to study philosophy and ethics can be helpful. In fact, one of the most popular courses on Coursera is called “Learning How to Learn.” The course is a master class in human skills—students learn everything from memory techniques, to dealing with procrastination and communicating complicated ideas. We need more learning tools such as this one.

Learning how to be more human is the biggest challenge we face today. In the past, traditional teaching and learning approaches were predicted to last indefinitely. Today, we face different challenges than those of the past, such as how to prepare the workforce for the rapid changes that are happening around us. We need to prepare students and workers for jobs that have yet to be created and business models that have yet to emerge. However, without a fundamental recasting of how we think about human learning and skills development, I am afraid many individuals, communities, and entire economies will be left behind. That said, the work of the future won’t so much be about “beating the bots” as it will be about being better humans in the digital economy—and that’s going to be a tough change to make.

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