Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
10 Oct 2016

Keynote speaker Alain de Botton introduces Changeboard Future Talent Conference 2017

10 Oct 2016 • by Changeboard Team

Our emotional evolution

I’m delighted to be involved once again with the Changeboard Future Talent Conference 2017 this year, and especially looking forward to speaking where Darwin gave his lecture on the 'Origin of the Species'. Like Darwin, at this event we’ll also be considering the development of the species, but from a rather different perspective: our personal and professional growth. Our challenge today is to discover how we can evolve as individuals and organisations to meet the challenges of the future workplace.

This is a deceptively difficult task. It requires us to think about not what people need to know at this moment, but what they will need to know in five, ten, or even twenty-five years’ time. All too often organisations prepare their employees for what the world looks like now--or even what it looked like in the past. As a result, employees sometimes learn skills that are--like a whale’s vestigial leg bones--something that once was crucial, but is now merely a remnant from an earlier time.

In order to meet the challenges and opportunities of the years ahead, there are a few key ways we might all more wisely ‘evolve’.

Of course, in order to prepare for the future we will need to keep pace with the blindingly-fast pace of technological development - from artificial intelligence to automation. Self-driving cars, customer service robots, and AI data analysts are now reality, not science fiction.

What these technological developments have in common is that they signal that we are, as a species, moving away from certain types of work altogether. What once might have seemed like a core part of a job--perhaps encyclopaedic knowledge of a particular financial index or a knack for catching errors in computer code--is now useful, but no longer what makes an employee exceptional. Instead, it is their capacity for critical thought and their social and emotional skills that will make the difference--and we need to adjust our paradigms of education and employment accordingly.

Instead of focusing only on the hard skills that are useful right now, employees will increasingly need to develop emotional skills, such as empathy, resilience, and persuasion. Equipping people with these skills is a particular passion of mine and core to our mission at The School of Life. It is also why our continued partnership with Changeboard – who share our perspective - is so meaningful.

As a species, we are now finally able to focus on some rather different, but even more important tasks. That’s because what technological development really does is free us to focus on what we do best as humans. We are now better placed than ever before to devote our best efforts and energies to the greatest tasks there are: things like building trust with others, choosing the right moral priorities and identifying meaningful goals, and convincing others to join our work and take up our cause. It is these psychological and emotional tasks--and the skills that they entail--that will remain relevant in twenty-five years’ time, even if benevolent robots (let’s hope they are benevolent!) take over the rest of our jobs.

I hope you’ll find this conference useful to you in both your own personal and organisational evolution. It’s a deeply exciting time to be thinking about professional development and the future of work.