Evolving from Technology to Feelings

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Emotionally aware individuals will play a leading role in the near future, as increasing complexity and technology contributes to the emergence of an ‘emotional economy’ to replace the knowledge economy. Four key forces are underway that are contributing to this shift: depersonalisation, saturation, acceleration, and fragmentation.

Depersonalisation occurs when we feel that we have been treated like a number, or a machine, rather than a person. This happens when, for example, we are forced to navigate a maze of complex interactive voice response systems, and just long to talk to a real person. Sophisticated technology often creates frustration as it treats us like another piece of technology, not a person with intellect and emotions.

The sheer volume of information can overwhelm us and create a feeling of saturation. While the volume of useful information is growing, the ‘signal to noise ratio’ is getting worse, requiring intense effort to find information that matters. We know more and more about less and less. Paradoxically, this fosters an addiction to technology as we slavishly seek the next piece of often useless information.

Despite having an abundance of time saving devices we have become an ‘always on’ society and have less time than ever. Complex global linkages and interconnections accelerate our daily exposure and compound the saturation. ‘Time saving’ tools like the Blackberry or iPhone allow us to regularly check email and the internet, extending work deeply into personal time, making everything happen so much faster than it did for previous generations.

While technology collapses geography we find ourselves less personally connected than ever. We can feel closer to someone in another part of the world, with whom we engage online, while completely disconnected from our immediate neighbors. This gives rise to a sense of fragmentation – of belonging in different places at the same time, of belonging to everywhere but nowhere, of feeling pulled in competing directions.

With increasing technological capability fewer people will be required to produce what we require to run our lives, and we will be able to spend more time doing human interaction type tasks and less time doing intellectual tasks which can be automated. Much functional work will be done by artificial intelligence, and the remaining core staff in a business will be focused on caring for customers, tailoring services to each specific individual and their needs. These employees will be highly skilled and trained in emotional intelligence.

The outcome of this will be an emotional economy, which will place far greater premium on care – the ability to meet the needs of others in a way that is emotionally engaging and fulfilling. Leadership will be a core competency for every employee, and will be vital in every successful role. People who cannot lead themselves before leading others will find it hard to obtain meaningful work.

The call centre industry, for example, could completely reinvent itself to take advantage of this shift. Operators in the near future will recruit and train emotionally intelligent people for crucial personal touch situations. Workers who focus on caring, supported by very powerful artificial intelligence to provide ready answers to the customer, will enjoy a much better quality of life than call centre operators who focus on high-volume transactional work. Artificial intelligence will be able to guide the operator through the resolution of complex problems, enabling them to concentrate on full engagement with the customer. Short-sighted call centre operators will reduce headcount and shift to greater technology. Wiser operators will retrain staff to provide a higher level of emotionally engaging service, leading to increased staff and customer retention, and consequent profitability.

The emotional economy will encourage a distinction between the transaction and the transpersonal. Real value-add will occur person to person as basic transactions are automated. This will enable a range of choices about the level of interaction a customer wants and how much they will pay, with some choosing to pay a premium for human interaction. This is a market opportunity that few have yet recognised, given the current tendency to downsize organisations, automate interactions, and use logical rather than emotional measures.

In a knowledge economy we say people are our greatest asset, endeavour to manage by objectives, and use words like ‘mind share’, and value. In an emotional economy we will recognise that relationships are our greatest asset, will manage by meaning, and use words like ‘heart share’ and purpose. Leadership will be more about character than vision, and organisations will focus more on contribution than profit.

In a knowledge economy personal value is directly related to how much you know, how much you can create or generate, and the quality of your judgment – in short the ability to acquire and apply knowledge. Significant attempts are already underway to systemise anything that can be automated. Computers will do most of the work currently done by knowledge workers. We will spend less time doing intellectual work and more time engaging with people. Therefore, the ability to deeply empathise, to apply emotional know-how, and to reach out and touch people will be the new source of wealth. Your personal value will be the size of your heart, not the size of your ideas.

Anthony Howard

Anthony Howard is CEO of The Confidere Group, helping leaders do the right thing at the right time. He has supervised mentoring engagements for CEOs in many of Australia’s largest public companies and personally mentored the most senior leaders in 5 of Australia’s top 20. This follows an eclectic career spanning the merchant navy, business, international trade, and professional services. Anthony maintains an ongoing global dialogue with a range of business, academic and political leaders, writers and thinkers, to gain a perspective on the future and help people make sense of their world and see beyond their horizons. He contributes to academic journals and thinks and writes on topics that foster better leadership.

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