Last month I attended a conference called The Business Romantic.
There was a buzz of anticipation as a couple of hundred people filed into the darkened cavernous space of the old Meat Market in Melbourne – space hung with fairy lights, with chairs and beanbags arranged in haphazard groupings facing the stage set up for a band and dominated by a grand piano. The focus of the event on the radical humanisation of the workplace.
Now let’s shift back two hundred years, to the Romantic movement of the 19th century, an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement which emphasised emotion and individualism in response to the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature.
While the Age of Enlightenment has passed, and with it the Romantic movement, the world is confronted by the reality that many aspects of life and business are being increasingly driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and it is into this space that the Business Romantics of the 21st century find themselves looking at new ways of focusing on what is human in the workplace.
AI is slipping, almost unseen, into many areas of life – from Siri and Cortana to characters in video games, from smart cars to fraud detection and purchase prediction, from security surveillance to smart home devices and drones delivering pizza – and with it comes the likelihood of significant reductions in many workplace sectors as machines do more and more of the work that was once the realm of humanity.
In the face of this change, business is looking at what human beings bring to the workplace which AI cannot. Although AI can be taught many things it cannot be taught how to feel, and it is this capacity to feel, to experience emotions, that makes human beings what they are.
We often think that it’s our ability to make choices, to be rational, that sets us apart from inanimate objects, but really it is the ability to feel, to be connected – not only with other human beings but with ourselves.
As I reflected on that in terms of the work that I do with people and their backstories I realised that as we move into a time in which AI is increasingly prevalent in the workplace, it will be our ability to stay connected to each other, to be connected with ourselves, that will ensure people do not become redundant to life and business.
I’m not referring to some sort of fluffy, in-touch-with-our-emotions kind of thing, but rather to the ability to draw on emotions and use them to bring insight and clarity to situations and decision making. This ensures that we are not driven by unconscious factors in our lives but are aware of these drivers and can use them as power to move forward.
Business Romantics understand that especially in a time in which it may appear that we are losing our place as human beings it will be those things that make us distinctly human that set us apart and give us an edge.