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Empathy Artificial Intelligence Machine Learning

There’s a 50% chance your job will be automated. Why acting more human will protect you

By Jeff Tan, Innovation solutions officer

September 24, 2021 | 5 min read

With 50% of jobs at risk of automation, future economies will reward people that display “human services” traits. That’s why Jeff Tan, Innovation Solutions Officer at dentsu encourages us all to reflect upon how we can uplift those around us in our daily jobs.

sistine chapel with robot hand

Last weekend, I completed my usual long run along the bike paths that gently curve through the Santa Monica sand. Seeking caffeination, I hobbled into my local Starbucks. Coffee snobs, I just heard your collective “hmmph!” – but I don’t care.

There is a regular employee there named Jessica. A fifty-something, curvy woman addicted to smiling, Jessica has the ability to make customers feel as toasty as the breakfast sandwiches in the boxed-shaped ovens behind her. She’ll usually chat away while I wait on my black grande Americano and finger-burning toasted cheese. She provides food, coffee, conversation – my hierarchy of needs.

“Jeff! Great to see you, what a beautiful day it is today, right?! How was your run? Wow, you’re so athletic and handsome!”*

*Disclaimer: this conversation is recalled to the best of my memory.

As a coffee drinker and lover of small-talk, I felt at home. If your Myers Briggs indicator starts with an “I”, you will hate sitting next to me on a Los Angeles - Sydney flight.

I’ve been to hundreds of venues over my lifetime and staff are usually friendly and polite. Yet most of the time, it can feel like a sanitized hospitality, all part of the grueling job at front of house. Often, it’s a smile and a minimal-viable-conversation while taking orders or collecting the check.

On rare occasions, a venue would be fortunate to discover someone that can truly engage with customers. Someone with an inner brightness and the capability to make people feel as sparkly as the Santa Monica water.

And then there’s the other side of the equation

It’s no new insight that artificial intelligence is playing an increasing role in the workforce. Sneak in a flask to any industry conference and take a swig every time you hear, “AI is replacing workers.” You’ll be stretchered out.

If you’re not yet worried about future-proofing your skillset against automation, you should be. We often associate at-risk jobs as lower-skilled. However, any routine or process-driven task that can be optimized falls this category. In marketing services this includes media campaign optimization and management, reporting and analytics, elements of creative production, billing and budget reconciliation, elements of people management. The list goes on and on.

A study by McKinsey suggests that 50% of current job tasks have the potential to be automated based on current technologies, not considering the technological advancements still to be developed. Automation will have a far-reaching impact globally across every sector.

Worried now? Well, there’s hope.

Get your feelings in order

Kai-Fu Lee, author of “AI 2041” and prominent leader in China’s technology industry said in a recent Economist Asks podcast, “In 20 years people will be paid not just based on [their] economic contribution, but how much they make other people feel better, how much they are indispensable in the process of winning people over.”

You may associate “human services” with social work and humanitarianism. Yet, I believe that the term should be much broader and describe any type of services industry work that requires an understanding of humanity. Does this sound like your job? Mine too. Of course, almost all marketing-industry related jobs fall into this category.

I encourage you to reflect upon those that you interact, be it colleagues, clients or customers. Are you enriching their lives with your words and actions? Are they feeling energized and just a little bit more human after engaging with you? Are you helping them be the best version of themselves?

You may write this off as too idealistic, or too fluffy. Dammit Jeff, we have tasks to finish, we don’t have the time.

Yet so many aspects of our jobs involve understanding and dealing with humanity. Focusing on building up your “human-services” skills will only future proof you as a contributing member of an AI-driven economy.

If you ever want an example of human services personified, come down to my local Starbucks and meet Jessica. Just don’t burn yourself on the toasted cheese.

Jeff Tan is innovation solutions officer at Dentsu International.

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