Leisure Is Our Killer App, Professor

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Depending on which forecasts you believe, we should be either moderately concerned or extremely concerned about robots taking our jobs in the near future.  From truck drivers to lawyers to those designing the robots themselves, nobody is safe from being replaced by software, algorithms, and machines.  Now that we are face-to-face (or face-to-screen) with that threat, an entire cottage industry has emerged around dispensing advice on how to prepare for it.  Much of this advice centers on mastering skills that robots ostensibly cannot.

What skills are needed to avoid being automated out of a job? One article suggests the answer is all of them: “The more skills, knowledge, and experience you have, the less likely you are to be replaced or automated, so acquire whatever you can, as fast as you can.”  But this “more is more” approach isn’t sustainable, especially given the rapidly changing nature of work and the imperative to keep learning and adapting.

When recommending specific areas for development, management and technology experts tend to focus on two broad classes of skills that distinguish people from machines: sociability and variability. But homing in on those areas can still lead to burnout, leaving us even more vulnerable to obsolescence.

As the author addresses this challenge.  He observes, sociability is akin to social and emotional intelligence; it involves understanding others’ emotions and seeing situations from alternative points of view, or what social psychologists call “perspective-taking.”  It’s a skillset that enables empathic collaboration with colleagues and customers, and many organizations are making it a priority for employee development.  For example, the retail pharmacy chain Walgreens launched an initiative for its pharmacists and beauty consultants to undergo empathy training to help cancer patients find products to manage treatment side-effects such as hair loss, dry skin, and fatigue.

The push for employees to master sociability is increasingly common now that empathy has become a corporate buzzword.  And it may partly be a response to the rise of automation  In research Waytz conducted with Harvard Business School marketing...

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