Business

How Can Humans Stay Ahead of AI in the Workplace of the Future?

It's no secret robots are a growing threat to the human workforce. The World Bank estimates 57 percent of all jobs could be automated within the next 20 years. So how can humans stay one step ahead of the computers? By emphasizing something AI can never replicate: good old-fashioned human curiosity.

According to new research by SurveyMonkey, most employers don't put a high value on curiosity now, but those that do stand a greater chance of surviving in the future.

The Great Divide

SurveyMonkey's results show that many company leaders believe curiosity is key to their own success. Nearly half (49 percent) of American business leaders say curiosity is directly tied to the ability to make more money. But people lower on the ladder don't necessarily feel the same way - only 22 percent of people believe in the financial rewards of a curious mind.

What's interesting is that for all the talk of boundary-pushing among the higher-ups, few bosses are actually inspired by one another. Just 17 percent of business leaders are inspired by their peers, while 31 percent of more junior workers are inspired by people at their level.

So what's going on here? How can junior workers see the possible financial benefits of curiosity and how can managers find the inspiration that their subordinates have?

It all depends on how your workplace treats questions.

Riddle Me This

SurveyMonkey CEO Zander Lurie says company culture determines the openness to new ideas. "Speaking up in a meeting with a question that challenges authority or the status quo might be intimidating if curiosity isn't encouraged," Lurie said. "If your organization skews towards a Culture of Genius, then you're not going to generate the collaborative and curious questions from more junior teammates. When some minds are recognized or rewarded as inherently more brilliant than others, the 'have-nots' will be reluctant to share opinions and ask questions as a result. To foster a Culture of Curiosity where these fears don't exist, leadership needs to make asking questions part of an organization's culture. Celebrate the curious insights the questions beget."

As for those robots coming to sweep humanity aside, Lurie says leaning on our natural curiosity will give us the edge in the marketplace. "I could imagine that in the near future it becomes a standard practice for companies to use some type of a Curiosity Quotient score and make it part of hiring requirements, annual performance reviews, promotions, and financial rewards, all of which can help businesses stay more competitive in the market and gain unique advantages," Lurie said. "We aren't going to beat the robots at work ethic or attention to detail — so we better stay curious!"

Zander Lurie, CEO, SurveyMonkey

Make Your Office Extraordinary

So how can your company make sure everyone is empowered to add their two cents? SurveyMonkey offers these tips:

  • Make questions and curiosity central to your daily work and the company culture. Create an environment of transparency where people can get genuine answers and all kinds of questions are valued — this is especially important for the next generation of leaders.
  • Establish a safe space where people can ask with no fear.
  • Hire a diverse team where different points of view and questions can inspire more learning. It should be blindingly obvious by now that your business is in trouble if you don't have diversity on your senior leadership team and board of directors.
  • Practice the art of questioning. It's not only one of the best ways to stay informed, but asking 'why' helps you identify and understand the motivations driving employees, customers, and partners. There is so much information available to businesses these days, but we don't have the information to get to the 'why' — this only comes from staying curious and asking questions.
  • And reward these great questions! It's equally important to reward questions that drove innovation both through peer recognition programs and the leadership team's announcements, and to highlight when curiosity led to failure. "Hey, we thought we had a good idea, we tested our hypothesis, it failed, we learned!" Celebrating when you swung and missed gives teams the confidence to keep trying.
Written By Ben Bowman November 7, 2017