3 Skills That Will Make You Automation Proof

by Ben Richardson

Automation is set to begin replacing many jobs in the near future. Here are three skills you should begin honing now to automation proof your career or business.


Image source: Photospin.com

Large areas of today’s economy will be impacted by advances in robotics and AI over the coming decades. Forecasts show 47% of current jobs in the US being automated over the next two decades. They will be very tough areas to try to build a career.

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However, there are also areas that technology will impact far less and skills that nobody believes will be replicated by computers in our lifetimes. Far better to build a career there.

1. Leadership

Groups of people need leaders, and people will always want to be led by other people.

If you’ve ever been at a kid's birthday party before the entertainer arrives you’ll know what happens when you have lots of people and no leader.

A computer won’t struggle to have the courage to say "Follow me, we need to go this way." The problem is that it also won’t have the emotional intelligence to know when and how to say "Follow me" so that people will actually listen and buy into that vision for the future.

In leadership it is the how that is so crucial. Each group of people is different and unique. Yes, there are some underlying basics of human psychology and organizational design that apply to all of us but those are the basics.

High level leadership requires a clear understanding of culture, emotion, history, group dynamics and also the physical environment. Understanding, weighing and combining all of these items is something that humans do naturally but it's incredibly complicated (currently impossible) to encode.

It is the tailoring of your leadership approach so that it works for each group’s specific dynamics that is vital.

Communication is only a small (but vital!) piece of leadership, however it illustrates the point vividly.

Only 7% of communication is verbal. The other 93% is body language which includes tone of voice, body position, eye contact, the position of your head … The list goes on and on of things that humans do and interpret naturally when communicating which computers find impossible currently.

The other component parts of leadership we mentioned above, like culture and group dynamics, are equally vital and undecipherable for computers. The day may come when computers can do all of these things as well as humans, but it’s an awful long way off.

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Certainly no one is currently even hazarding a guess as to when computers can put all of this together. Some researchers believe that computers will outperform humans in all activities in 120 years time. My guess is that leadership skills will be one of the last, whenever that day finally comes.

Build your leadership skills. Leaders will be valuable and needed while groups of people come together to achieve a goal.

2. Problem-solving

There will always be problems. The unexpected will always happen. Things will always go wrong. Sadly this is an immutable law of the universe.

The ability to look at a new problem, come up with a solution and then implement that solution is always going to be in demand.

It is precisely because problems are unexpected that computers struggle with them. If it was expected it would have been programmed into the computer upfront.

Problem solving requires the ability to look at the time and resources that are available and then come up with a new way forward. It is a creative skill that requires you to see connections where they haven’t previously been seen. 

Who would have thought that removing road markings from roads would actually make roads safer not more dangerous. Someone who thinks carefully about the problem and realises that actually road markings mean that drivers ‘switch off’ and so are less engaged when they are driving. A connection that a computer would never make.

There are actually a large number of types of problems that we humans have proved that computers will never be able to solve. For example did you know that it is impossible for a computer to determine with 100% accuracy if a piece of computer code is a computer virus. There goes our dream of perfect anti-virus software!

No matter what industry and what area you work in there will always be demand for people who are creative and who are good problem solvers. By focusing on activities that are not repetitive and not straightforward you will make yourself incredibly difficult to automate.

3. Adaptability

Change is coming and it’s only going to accelerate.It is going to be part of your career whether you like it or not. Even if AI and robotics can’t replicate your job you can bet that how you carry out your job will probably change markedly.

If you are someone that struggles with learning new things and adapting to changes then you are putting a big issue in the way of your career.

As the business environment changes you will need to change with it, learning how to use new technologies and ways of interacting.

In the distant past I had a boss who refused to use email. His secretary would print his emails and he would dictate his responses to her. It was a waste of both their time and painful to see, however it worked and he continued to be a top performer for a number of years. He thought he’d been clever to find a way not to adapt to email.

Then the day came when the firm decided that email meant senior people could share secretaries. His workaround no longer worked. His shared secretary didn’t have time to write his dictated emails. Overnight his productivity halved and he missed his sales targets for two quarters.

He got some training and ultimately turned things around but not before he’d been labelled as a dinosaur and damaged his reputation. When a round of redundancies came two years later guess whose name was on the list?

Being someone who takes every opportunity to learn whether formally or informally will allow you to move with changes in your company and industry. 

Ben Richardson is a director of Acuity Training, a business offering personal development and IT training in the UK. He has recently published a guide to assertiveness for freelancers.

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