5 ways to stay ahead in a world of AI

Posted on February 13th, by Dr Rob Yeung .

The use of automation, robots and artificial intelligence (AI) continues. Unfortunately, increasing numbers of human jobs are being taken over by AI. Looking forwards, it’s likely that even more of your work will be done by AI. So how can you protect your career – and perhaps even enhance your employability and chances of promotion – in a world of AI? Here are 5 ways to stay ahead.

1. Develop the human connection

Think about the last time you had a meeting with colleagues or a client – whether virtually or in person. How long did you engage in chit-chat or small talk with the other people?

Psychological studies show that people generally enjoy human conversation. The best conversations aren’t about sharing facts or news about the world. We tend more to enjoy sharing our commentary – our thoughts and feelings – on what’s going on in the world or in our own lives.

Studies also show that most people greatly underestimate the importance of small talk. For example, one study found that interview candidates who engaged in warm, friendly small talk were significantly more likely to get job offers than candidates who did not. So don’t just focus on being a competent professional. Aim to connect as a likeable human, too.

I often say that there’s nothing small about so-called small talk. Chatting to people and having proper human interaction is something that AI won’t be able to do for a long time.

2. Get better at getting to the “So what?”

AI can process data and compute numbers. But what do you then do with all of those numbers?

I used to work as a strategic management consultant for the Boston Consulting Group, a big international consultancy. The managers and partners there constantly asked us consultants to identify the “So what?” of the data we were analysing. Rather than simply present data about a dozen or more different issues, we were encouraged to focus on the practical implications. If profit margins somewhere are declining but improving elsewhere, “So what?” What’s the lesson to be learned or the action to be taken?

To get to the “So what?”, try to work through some of these questions:

  • Why does this issue matter?
  • What are the practical implications of this result?
  • If you want people to do only one thing as a consequence of the data, what should that one thing be?
  • Given limited time and resources, what three to five lessons should people be focusing on?

So, don’t just report data. Think about the information before you and get better at pointing out the ramifications of that data.

3. Develop your storytelling skills

AI can present data. But humans are better at using analogies, metaphors, and stories to bring information to life.

The easiest way to tell stories is by sharing anecdotes and case studies. If you’re trying to make a point about some data, talk through a real-life example of how a situation is affecting an individual, a family, or an organisation. A personal trainer at my gym is great at motivating clients by sharing stories about other, similar clients and how they made progress towards losing weight or increasing their fitness.

If a situation strikes you as having similarities to a story of old, then draw the parallel to that fable or myth. For example, I recently attending a meeting in which a manager suggested that his organisation was in danger of being like Icarus flying too close to the sun.

People quickly forget data. But you can make your words much, much more memorable by attaching data to stories.

4. Get creative

AI isn’t very good at dreaming – at coming up with ideas. Sure, AI can identify problems. But AI will typically suggest standard solutions – it won’t be able to come up with truly innovative ideas for how to deal with things.

Humans are far better at asking “What if?” questions. So, don’t be afraid to use your imagination to identify better ways of doing things.

When you face a problem or issue, don’t just go for the obvious solution. Early in my career, a manager once told me to always provide clients with three options. For example, that could be low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk (but high reward) options. Or, he suggested options that could be said to be bronze, silver, or gold in terms of the cost but also quality of the final result.

So, exercise your ingenuity. Consider suggesting the occasional option that may be more of a stretch. Who knows? Your colleagues or clients might just go for it.

5. Become an entertainer

When presenting data to colleagues or customers, don’t just share facts. Aim to be engaging or even entertaining. If people want to listen to you or even enjoy listening to you, you’ll have an edge over the kinds of automatically generated reports that AI can create.

Think about the best presenters you know. They don’t just recite information in a monotonous voice. They change their intonation, volume, and pacing. They allow smiles, frowns and other expressions to show on their faces. They wave their hands around or even walk around meeting rooms or on conference platforms.

If you’re not sure what helps to make someone entertaining, look up some presentations online. See who you admire – and see which of their mannerisms and ways of speaking you might be able to adapt for yourself.

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