Working in the future: collaborating rather than competing with AI
When thinking about the future of work and, frankly, the future of life, the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) can’t be emphasized enough. From changing how we interact with the government and how we interact with each other to how we perform our work duties, AI is taking on a transformative role that will reshape what it means to live a fulfilling life and have a meaningful impact through the work that we do. It goes without saying that with the amount of time we spend at work (80,000 hours over our entire career) adding up to a significant chunk of our lives, we better understand how the landscape is going to change and how we can do our best to prepare for it while meeting the needs of a competitive job market.
The ability to work with AI (instead of worrying about robots taking over our jobs) will become a key differentiator for those entering the job market soon or looking to make a change. In particular, here are the skills that will be critical to distinguishing yourself in the future of work:
- Complex problem-solving
- Critical thinking
- Creativity and cognitive flexibility
- People management
- Co-ordinating with others
- Emotional intelligence
- Judgement and decision-making
- Service orientation and negotiation
How do we think about them in an AI-driven future, rather than just a digital one? Possessing a fundamental understanding of AI systems, their capabilities and limitations, and perhaps most importantly, how to design, develop, deploy, and use them in an ethical, safe and inclusive manner will be critical to standing out to future employers who are increasingly coveting these skills.
The world is becoming increasingly complex, requiring a broader and deeper exploration of the problem and solution space to address challenges like climate change and poverty, but also ones at an organizational level, like finding optimal products and services to roll out and appropriate resource allocation (financial and human) to meet delivery deadlines. AI systems can serve as thought partners, for example, by assisting in the rapid completion of more extensive research and surfacing ideas and solutions developed by others. Understanding how AI systems work can help you better utilize the tool by being cognizant of aspects where it excels and those where it doesn’t.
While there is no direct replacement for human critical thinking, understanding AI systems can help you better structure your analysis by finding logical flaws and underexplored areas in your approach, leading to more thorough and impactful proposals. Such a skill can put you ahead of the competition in a workplace with limited resources, competition for budget allocations and increasing pressure to deliver on increasingly aggressive timelines.
Creativity and cognitive flexibility
Do you ever find yourself struggling to get a jumpstart on an internal memo or a thought leadership piece for work? The power of systems like ChatGPT is demonstrated by how you can use them with prompts to generate several candidate ideas quickly, then select and refine the ones that best align with your goals. This helps you break out of a rut and overcome "writer’s block." The same goes for using systems like Stable Diffusion and Midjourney as creative assistants to mock up and explore a wide range of ideas before honing in on ones that appeal to you and helping you climb out of valleys when you get stuck or feel uninspired.
Even in an AI-driven future, humans will continue to play a pivotal role in the workplace, and as managers, we can sometimes use a helping hand to better understand our colleagues, especially when a team is growing rapidly and placing larger demands on your time. AI systems can help scale management approaches by gathering signals (implicit and explicit) and serving as a decision-support system to guide a manager in making better decisions about how to nurture the growth of their staff, taking a personalized approach even as the size of a team grows.
Co-ordinating with others
When we collaborate well with our colleagues, we formulate some of our best ideas and breakthrough innovations. This is a critical aspect of any workplace that isn’t going anywhere in the future. Being able to co-ordinate effectively with others is critical to success, and utilizing AI systems to aid with that, for example, through surfacing latent expertise in your workplace network, finding bodies of work and knowledge that are locked away in silos, and doing all this in a context-rich fashion, can help bolster the quality of your work while bringing in others who can make valuable contributions to elevate your outputs.
We are not machines; that is, we have emotions and our own cognitive quirks (for better or worse), which is something that we must always take into account when interacting with each other in the workplace. In a world where remote working and digital communications have become norms to a certain extent, we can end up missing out on contextual cues and emotional signals that can help us adapt our ways of working to better interact with our colleagues. Harnessing AI capabilities through techniques like sentiment analysis can help you ameliorate your interaction style and tone to better achieve productive outcomes.
Judgement and decision-making
We’ve all been dazzled by the capabilities of AI systems, such as generating convincing text examples that can make you believe these systems are sentient (spoiler alert: they are not!). When using AI systems within our workflows, we need to exercise human judgement and domain expertise to harness their true capabilities. For example, when The Guardian used GPT-3 to help author an article, there was selection and splicing done by veteran editors to arrive at the final version of the article. Our ability to manage macro goals and pull disparate ideas together through judgement and decision-making can be aided by AI systems that can support us, and learning how to lean on their support in the right way will help you differentiate yourself from others who relegate those aspects to the machine in hopes of achieving similar results.
Service orientation and negotiation
We all crave human connection, and being able to offer more personalized service that is supported through intelligence gathering and rich in-context cues via AI systems can help you deliver a better service experience that can give you an edge in the workplace. Soft skills can be hard to scale (for example, offering personalized service to a large clientele), and AI systems can assist in better understanding the service recipient’s intent and unarticulated needs so that you can elevate the quality of your offer to them.
If you’re preparing for the future of work, instead of seeing AI as a competitor to your skills, think of it as a close collaborator and tool that can help you achieve your goals and improve the core skills identified above that are essential to most jobs and workplace success. Work with AI rather than fearing that it will replace you!
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