“We know that, right now and in the foreseeable future, machines are generally poor at understanding a person’s mood, at sensing the situation around them, and at developing trusting relationships. This is why human ‘soft skills’ will become increasingly valuable — skills such as empathy, context sensing, collaboration, and creative thinking.”
Lynda Gratton, one of the global experts in the theme of work organization, has been expounding the theme of labor force reskilling for a long time, particularly the development of soft skills.
Similar statements are being heard from the World Economic Forum and from all the major think tanks on the theme of the future of work; human beings are still competitive as workers and will continue to be so if they are able to continue to develop the valuable unique heritage of our “human” skills.
However, there are three small obstacles to this development which were outlined by Gratton in a recent article in the MIT Sloane Management Review:
1) the school system does not teach these skills because it is frozen in a didactic scheme that prepared us for the challenges of the first industrial revolution (sit still, memorize and obey the rules);
2) technology does not exercise them, but rather it annihilates them by definition (Alexa never “gets offended”);
3) workplaces create conditions of stress that inhibit the possibility of developing them and using them well.
Fortunately there are training programs which in the United States alone collect investments of over 164 billion euro from companies every year. Are they useful? Not according to Gratton:
“Unlike many cognitive skills, social skills cannot be learned in a rule-based way — there is no specifiable path to social effectiveness. Building job-related social skills for a work environment requires an immersive learning experience, rehearsed in situations as close as possible to the real job, with lots of opportunities for practice. This kind of skill development is essentially a process of trial and error, where we behave in a certain way, get feedback through subtle social cues, and try again. Practice creates the muscle of habit”.
An immersive experience that can be replicated in situations as close to reality as possible, with multiple and continuous practice opportunities to “create the muscle of habit”. If it were a training program it would be very expensive because a day in the classroom, or even an entire week, would not be enough to propose and re-propose various and semi-real situations to create habits of empathy, context understanding and creative thinking. In her article, professor Gratton lists some good emerging practices which use augmented or virtual reality to create micro training grounds that are extremely similar to reality, able to give the feedback necessary to activate the process of awareness that is necessary to learn soft skills.
But an Italian father has recently published a post on LinkedIn with a decidedly more innovative proposal as compared to the simple use of augmented reality. A communications manager at Italgas, Mirko Cafaro’s post is titled How being a father made my job “lighter”. Mirko found the perfect coach in his 10 month-old daughter who, with a daily, continuous, immersive practice, rich in immediate feedback, is training him on ten essential skills.
They are so clear and beautiful they deserve to be reported in their entirety — thanks to Mirko for giving us permission to do so:
1) Operating under pressure. No boss will be able to put you under the same pressure as a little girl who cries and screams because she is hungry (while the baby bottle or the food, following Murphy’s law, always take way too long to get warm or to cook).
2) Organization. Preparing an outing or an activity away from home is a complex puzzle. There is no check-list nor supplier that can prevent you from forgetting something of vital importance (water, milk, diapers, etc.). Corporate events in comparison? A protocol to be implemented.
3) Prevention and intuition. If understanding and anticipating the needs of a boss is an undertaking that is not always easy, being prepared to face the criticalities of a child is like unravelling the riddle of the sphinx. Especially when, as they cannot speak, they require trial and error.
4) Management of the unexpected. Try to count the variables related to a work commitment, a corporate activity, an event. Done? Now exponentiate the number by transposing the calculation into a family context.
5) Proceed by priorities. This point is perhaps the only one that is different from the previous ones, because in this case it is your child who dictates the agenda (in their own way). With the substantial difference, however, that these priorities will be far greater than those of any day at the office.
6) Bargaining skills. Isn’t it easier to get a raise from your boss than a prompt response from a child who is busy watching their favorite cartoon?
7) Ability to improvise. If with experience and with the acquisition of a little expertise improvisation can become an almost fascinating practice in any profession; with a child it is always like tightrope walking, without a safety net, of course.
8) Precision. No action will ever be distantly comparable to delicately placing your child in bed — perhaps after having cradled them for a long time — avoiding any noise or muscle spasm that might awaken them.
9) Waiting for feedback. After the first aware interaction with your child, no feedback, whether positive or negative, in the professional context will have the same scale and the same impact.
10) Management of conflicts. A skill that probably gets refined in the presence of multiple children (not my case), but try to explain to a girl that she cannot forcefully claim everything that she considers rightfully hers and who tries to re-affirm this with an already considerable physical strength…
In short, his Company has at its disposal, without knowing it and without spending a euro, the best soft skills trainer there is: Mirko’s daughter. What do you think; is there a basis to propose an alternative solution to augmented or virtual reality, i.e. to start using “real” reality better?
Originally written for Alley Oop Il Sole 24 Ore