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Kate Wadia

Phase 3 Consulting

Former Managing Director

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Book review: Humans are Underrated


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Title: Humans are Underrated: what High Achievers know that Brilliant Machines never will
Author: Geoff Colvin
ISBN: 978-1-59184-720-5
Reviewer: Kate Wadia, Phase 3 Consulting​
Reviewer’s rating: 4 out of 5

“Humans are Underrated” is an impressive and comprehensive take on a revolution of skills required for the future workplace as society copes with the advent of artificial intelligences that, by definition, outstrip our ability to imagine.

Geoff Colvin, long-standing senior editor at Fortune Magazine and self-styled as an award-winning “thinker, broadcaster, speaker, author”, wrote this after the success of an article in the 2014 Fortune 500 list magazine and it has proven his first best-seller meeting with international acclaim. 
This is not a speed-read, whizz-bang, easy-answers book, but nor is it an economics book nor desperately heavy to get through. For HR the ground is highly relevant and I mightily recommend a few hours sitting down properly to get stuck into. Note that chapters divide neatly into train journey size! 
What is apparent from the outset is that the author draws upon an extensive knowledge and research bank and he brings his reader examples fascinating and diverse.

For the HR professional, there is some great material for story-telling in your engagements with employees and management – communications and training initiative and the like, and it may be worth a read for that alone.

This is not a speed-read, whizz-bang, easy-answers book, but nor is it an economics book nor desperately heavy to get through.

In something of a typical challenge then counter-challenge format, early chapters start by presenting stark realities about the doubling of computer power in real life contexts in and outside of the workplace and it’s gob-smacking.

We see the attack of this rising tide of technology innovation hit both the most and the least skilled areas of the labour market.

There is a conventional view that technology will enhance rather than replace human workers, by adding to productivity, and the author gives the evidence that there is a real risk this argument no longer holds true. 
There is then of course (and this book has a happy ending!) a big but. Geoff Colvin’s conclusion is hearteningly simple and it’s that humanity is our salvation. A hard-nosed read of “Humans are Underrated” concludes that the skills that are economically valuable change throughout history and we are seeing the next iteration about to unfold; a softer reading is that humans exist for the survival of humanity and for that reason alone, tech innovation hasn’t a hope of catching up.
The author moves on to look at the precise ways in which this humanity expresses itself and translates into skills. This is great news for HR and people professions because the argument is that whereas over time our cognitive skills will prove less valuable and those of social interaction (relationship skills) become more highly prized.

The winning ticket is the person who combines being the best in their chosen analytical field, with a talent for relating to others. I find it a convincing one. 

Geoff Colvin’s conclusion is hearteningly simple and it’s that humanity is our salvation.

On empathy, there is for me a little too much on the lessons of US military but the book does balance on the whole. Next chapters are packed with real conclusions about the essential human attributes found within the collective intelligence of teams, the power of story-telling and creativity.
“Humans are Underrated” is a worthwhile read for HR, with lessons for training, engagement, leadership, tech and talent. I did note that the author leaves open one subtle and horrible possibility, but that I will not spoil, and be assured, our grandchildren are safe.

And if this puts you off then understand that likely you’ll close the final chapter and dig out your last-decade library on EI, body language and teamwork.

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Kate Wadia

Former Managing Director

Read more from Kate Wadia

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