It’s clear from the research, and from what we see happening in workplaces across the world, that automation and ‘robotisation’ are having a huge impact on how people work, shop and learn. What’s less clear, but rather worrying, is the aftermath of this increasing reality, and what work will be left to be done by us humble humans.
In his book, The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of Mass Unemployment, Martin Ford paints a grim, yet — one senses – not unrealistic picture of what the workplace of the next 10 to 50 years will look like. And it’s not kind or gentle towards many traditional skilled professions, never mind manual labour. From finance to farming, from retail to writing, technology looks set to have a devastating impact on job availability as organisations gain increasing output from an ever-shrinking workforce due to the power of technology.
And this isn’t mere speculation. In recent years, since the rise of information technology and the computerisation of many functions, the once near-perfect correlation between economic output and average pay has been severed – in essence, organisations are producing more than ever from less workers for and for less pay.
So, where does coaching come into this, and why do I believe it represents a hope for the future?
Well, let’s widen the picture a bit. Let’s think about what technology simply won’t be able to master. Or at least, not for a very, very long time – if ever: emotions and the act of emotional relationship.
Technology is becoming stunningly good at doing anything that can be processed, learned and programmed. It has become a self-learning machine that constantly improves itself. It seems that anything that can be turned into a process will eventually be done by some kind of machine.
But coaching is part of a field of work that cannot be replaced by machines. Therapy, counselling, soft-skills training, coaching – they are all about being human, and being with a human. No set of questions could be programmed in a computer that would make you feel any more connected to it. You know that, despite the most perfect questions, it wouldn’t ever actually care.
What’s missing is the human relationship.
That’s why I believe the skills that we, and similar schools, teach are going to become some of the most important skills anyone can develop, and they will be vital to career success. They are simply not reproducible by a machine.
It used to be that work was largely about getting stuff done – task-orientation – but with most things becoming achievable through technology, the days of behavioural management and time-and-motion studies to find how to squeeze the most from people in terms of task-effectiveness will be far behind us for good. Indeed, they largely are already. The future is in emotional intelligence and the many strands of relational work through which this can be realised.
I don’t pretend to know the future for certain, but my best guess is that a defining quality of those who succeed in the workplace will be their ability to bring a human dimension that will be lacking in the task side of organisations, managed so ably by computers and robots. If this all sounds a bit sci-fi, read the book I quote above. It’s real and it’s already happening.
Our job is to be ready for the changes that are sure to come. To become ever more human.
Outside of the geniuses, the visionaries and the technicians who will drive much of this change, the real future lies in the hands of those who have emotional intelligence, an ability to hear beyond the words, a skill to draw out people’s needs, wants and fears, a passion to support critical thinking and to connect people, and a love of supporting people to be the best version of themselves in a rapidly changing world.
In short, the ability to be truly human.