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Leadership in the Age of Robots – Part 1

It is hard to pinpoint the serious, life-altering, point-of-no-return moment where a new technology comes into the market and changes everything forever. Can you remember a time when you didn’t check your email or social media first thing in the morning? Or when you looked up a word in a paper dictionary, or used call-waiting? Or booked a flight through a travel agent?

Before long, we will probably add ‘drive a car’ to that list, and this is a big deal for several reasons (beyond the obvious one that it is incredibly weird to even think about). Driverless cars are really the first instance of Artificial Intelligence threatening to render an entire workforce obsolete. That means no truck drivers, cab drivers, deliverymen: phased out within twenty years because we taught machines to do it better. And if you believe even the most conservative of predictions, this is just the beginning. The machine-age is upon us, or will be very soon.

So what does this mean for you, your employees, your clients and customers? How will you thrive in the age of AI? Is your professional existence at risk?

How any individual, or individual company will be affected by these huge, sweeping cultural changes is hard to compass this early on. What does seem likely, however, is that creativity will be at the heart of how successful organizations manage this vast and unknowable transition. Creativity will become not just good for business, but essential to it.

The most obvious reason for this is that being creative, like being empathetic, is not something that computers are capable of. To think about it another way, being creative is what makes us human. We have the ability to make cognitive leaps and to use our imaginations and instincts in ways which machines will never, in principle, be able to replicate. But the point is not just to become more creative to save our own skins. The point is that, more than ever before, leaders will thrive when they can make the most of the creative potential of both themselves and their employees. Where they can create professional environments which value creative thinking.

This does not mean, however, that you start piping Mozart around the building and encouraging people to start painting water-colours in their lunch hours. If creativity holds the key to the future performance of your company, it does not do so in the form of individual artistic expression. Creativity in this context is much more about openness, flexibility, optimism and purposefulness. It is about creating a culture in which things are possible, and barriers are removed.

In our next post, we will look in a little more detail about what this could mean in practise for your company.

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