Automation can deliver significant value to organisations. It frees up people to work on more interesting work, can reduce errors, work tirelessly and doesn’t need a break. But automation can’t do everything. There are some things that even the smartest algorithms and automation will never, at least in our lifetimes, be able to do.
Automation is great at taking a known and repeatable process that doesn’t change, and running it over and over again. And while that makes it a great companion that complements someone’s work, it can never replace the essential need for human beings. Here are five reasons people will remain essential in the future of work.
1. People are great innovators
Innovation comes from people looking at what they are doing and finding new or better ways to achieve outcomes. Innovation is about inspiration and finding new solutions. While automation can repeat a task over and over again, it has no way of objectively assessing what it is doing and determining if it’s the right thing, or even the best thing to do. Once a person discovers a new way to do something, they can use automation to repeat that process flawlessly and tirelessly.
Automation is great at doing what it is told to do and can perform some learning, but discovering new and better ways to do things takes human insight and intelligence. Automation can then replicate that success.
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2. Creativity needs the human touch
It takes ingenuity and creativity to design a car or write a computer program. While automation can help with those tasks, creating new things takes a degree of creativity that automation is simply not capable of. Creativity comes from experience and the ability to think outside of the parameters of a specific situation. It takes imagination and the ability to extrapolate in non-linear ways and make leaps. It comes from experimentation and intuition. Automation can reproduce almost anything if you’re prepared to put the time and effort, and have the resources, to create a machine or write software. In the automotive industry we see physical robots assemble cars. In business, we see software automation take information from one system and transpose it into another.
3. People can leverage automation to solve problems
People are amazing problem solvers. They use insight and experience and approach situations from different perspectives. Once we solve a problem, and know the solution can be applied repetitively to solve the same problem, we can leverage automation. When automation encounters something unexpected and fails, a person needs to look at what happened, analyse the situation and come up with a new solution or handle the exception. Automation can’t analyse the situation, form a solution and overcome the obstacle — automation is a solution to common and relative tasks. People have struggled with boredom at work and spend significant portions of their days doing monotonous tasks that are the same day in, day out. The response to solving the problem of boring and repetitive work is automation.
4. Collaboration is uniquely human
Value at work comes from much more than simply executing tasks. When people work together they bounce ideas off each other and team up to create things that, individually, they couldn’t achieve.
Collaboration is one of the key skills that people need in order to succeed in working together. While automation can complement the work people do, it just repeats the same task over and over. Almost every survey looking at the most important workplace skills places collaboration near the top — not the ability to execute specific or repetitive tasks. Automation can assist with collaboration. When people don’t have to focus on boring tasks that sap their energy, they can give their attention to how they work with other people or spend more time delighting customers.
5. Empathy is critical
One of the most important human skills we can bring to our work is empathy — the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Automation is bereft of empathy, all it can do is follow rules. We have seen the effects of automation without empathy issue penalties to people without considering their individual circumstances. Processes that do not directly impact people are good candidates for automation, but those that directly impact people require the human touch. Automation can reduce the workload of people so they are less tired and able to show more empathy themselves.
Automation is a powerful tool but people will always be an important and much-needed part of our workplaces. As automation takes over more repetitive tasks, people will have more time and energy to focus on skills such as collaboration, empathy, creativity, and the ability to innovate and solve complex problems.