In 2015, Geoff Colvin, Senior Editor at Large with Fortune Magazine, published Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will. The book describes a new economy and the displacement of human jobs by computer software. The most interesting parts of the book were about what skills will be highly valued in the future economy. Colvin emphasizes the human-to-human interactions of empathy, story-telling, and team-building as examples of skills not likely to be automated. Why are schools so focused on teaching kids STEM, science technology engineering and math, not empathy, story-telling, and team-building? The transition from the knowledge-based economy to the human-connections economy will allow workers to focus on human interactions and relationship building. The book is an interesting read, but the sweeping conclusions are a bit idealistic and utopian. When I first read it, I wanted to run out and become a therapist. I can empathize, I thought. But future jobs will likely require both knowledge in STEM and skills in human interaction. It's not one or the other, but rather a need for both. Colvin makes it sounds like empathy, story-telling, and team-building will get you the next fortune 500 CEO job. It's a combination of knowledge-skills and soft-skills. The engineer who can empathize and the lawyer who is a story-teller. Of course, we all want a doctor with a good bedside manner, that's not a new idea. Colvin concludes healing and diagnostic skills will be automated, and the only thing the doctor will be left to do is feel for you, but I think this is an over-simplification. He touches upon team-building and the value of colocation, and highlights the fact that women typically score higher in the soft-skills area. Colvin brings all these human qualities together to underscore the importance of human connections. The broad conclusion on how the economy will function in the future is a bit of a stretch in my opinion. But his argument is completely compelling. Are empathy, story-telling and team-building important? Yes, for sure, but is social worker pay going to jump above software engineer pay anytime soon? I doubt it. It's a thought-provoking, well-written book and worth a read.
You can read a review by Tyler Cowen at the Washington Post here. A short adaptation of the novel is printed here.
Michael Grove, CFA