Skills That Will Remain in Demand In a Computer-Rich World

Skills such as applied math and statistics, negotiation and group dynamics, and persuasion can help you prepare yourself for careers in a fast-changing economy filled with ever-faster, ever-smarter computers, write MIT Sloan’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

For teen girls, negotiating skills like the ones practiced in earning the Girl Scouts Cadette badge "Finding Common Ground" can open up future job prospects.

Image courtesy of Girl Scouts of the USA.

How do we win the “man-vs.-machine” battle?

The key is not to compete, but to partner — to develop new ways of combining human skills with ever-more-powerful technology to create value.

Another key, on a more personal level, is to work on skills that help you couple the best of human creativity with computer power. These kinds of jobs are where many of the best future opportunities will lie.

That’s one of the messages in Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s article “Winning the Race With Ever-Smarter Machines,” in the Winter 2012 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.

“Computers are getting much better at pattern recognition, complex communication and many other skills,” they write. “That may be good for businesses — but it’s not always good for individual employees, who may not be able to adapt as quickly as technology is advancing. How can you prepare yourself — and, perhaps, your children — for careers in a fast-changing economy filled with ever-faster, ever-smarter computers?”

Go creative, they say. Computers aren’t creative — “they can’t think ‘outside the box.’ And they’re not very empathic.” (Not even Siri.)

Here are skills that Brynjolfsson and McAfee see a good future in. The text is directly from their article:

  • Applied math and statistics. Some think that the era of “big data” and powerful software means that fewer people have to master the gritty details of statistical analysis. This is deeply misguided. Knowing which analyses to conduct and how to interpret their results is more valuable than ever. We think Google chief economist Hal Varian was on to something when he said that “the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians.”
  • Negotiation and group dynamics. Management is one of the most durable professions, even as computers advance. It turns out that organizations need dedicated managers working with teams, advancing their agendas and working with their members.
  • Good writing. Computers can only generate the simplest, most formulaic prose. While few people write for a living, lots of us do at least some writing. Getting good at it is a way to stand out from the crowd — and from the machines.
  • Framing problems and solving open-ended problems. Computers don’t know what’s wrong or where the next opportunities are. Solving open-ended problems entails both perceiving the challenge and addressing it. It’s a major feature of primary and secondary educational systems like Montessori, which might explain why Montessori graduates are so common among the elite of the tech industry — the masters of racing with machines.
  • Persuasion. Does anyone seriously think that a great salesperson will be unable to find work, even in a highly digitized economy?
  • Human interaction and nurturing. We are biologically wired to react to human attention and the human touch in a way that no machine can replicate. That means that jobs that involve human nurturing and interaction, such as child care and nursing, will continue to defy automation.

2 Comments On: Skills That Will Remain in Demand In a Computer-Rich World

  • Education, Testing and the Problem with PISA | theglobalroundhouse | February 22, 2012

    […] for success in our global economy and recognize the value of humans to guide technology. In “Skills that will Remain in Demand in a Computer-Rich World” Leslie Brokaw refers to a study conducted by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee that […]

  • IT job postings ask for the wrong thing | April 5, 2012

    […] Sloan Management Review article “Skills That Will Remain in Demand In a Computer-Rich World” asks “How do we win the ‘man-vs.-machine’ battle?” The author, Leslie Brokaw believes […]

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