Humans are Underrated: What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will by Geoff Colvin (Penguin, $32.95, 248 pages)
There is a growing concern about the future of man. Can mere human beings compete with technology in the job market? Geoff Colvin, author of Talent is Overrated, has written a stunning defense of flesh and blood human beings in Humans are Underrated, a business book.
It is true that robots and software are replacing human beings in many workplaces, doing jobs once considered safe from the encroachment of machines (reading documents for the discovery phase of litigation or reporting news events). But there are still skills and traits people have that machines do not, and those attributes will be highly valued in the economy of the future. Chief among them are empathy, interpersonal skills, and creativity.
Examining both best business practices and scientific and psychological studies, Colvin says that man is essentially social and that teamwork and human interaction adds value to products and services. In many areas of human endeavour, human interaction, both among ourselves and with intelligent machines, provide optimal results – but it requires the human element.
The key elements in successful creative enterprise, for example, the research suggests, is “exploring and engaging” but Colvin notes that despite the internet and social networks, “the value of physical proximity is striking.” In other words, traditional, face-to-face relationships, devalued in the age of iPhones and Twitter, are still important. And, it must be remembered, this is based on business practices and science: endorphins released in group activities, may play a “role in bonding human social groups.” Fundamentally, Colvin says, people are “hard-wired” to be social creatures: we need each other.
Some people may find Colvin’s reducing human beings to economic actors and ascribing them value because they are assets to their employers and customers off-putting. Human beings have value in and of themselves. That is what he is saying, just dressed up in business speak, and it’s a welcome voice among the cacophony of excited technophilia and transhumanism that typically inspire books on this topic.