Mr. Spock Won't Survive the Smart Machine Age: Why Human Emotions Fuel Collaboration and Communication

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We are on the cusp of a new era led by artificial intelligence and deep learning. This so-called Smart Machine Age will lead to technology and robots outperforming humans in many tasks, and association communication may not avoid the coming storm. Remember, it was not that long ago when computers broke into journalistic writing. Is your association ready for such a shift?

Research from the University of Oxford states there is a high probability that 47 percent of jobs in the U.S. will be automated over the next 15 years.

At first glance, you might think the solution is for you to become more robot-like to fit into this brave new high-tech work world. But Ed Hess says, “Don't start channeling your inner Mr. Spock just yet.” On the contrary, the key to staying relevant and maintaining high-quality publications and communications in the Smart Machine Age is to further excel at what makes us unique as human beings — our emotional and social intelligence.

"Mr. Spock valued logic above all else and frowned upon human beings because of their emotions," Hess says. "However, in the coming Smart Machine Age, our emotional intelligence will be the very factor that makes us unique and employable."

In his book, Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age, Hess and coauthor Katherine Ludwig explain that our emotions fuel our imaginations and enable personal connections with others in ways that machines cannot replicate. When we use our emotions to serve and collaborate with each other, there are no limits to our thinking, creativity, and performance.

"You do not want to behave like a machine," Ludwig says. "As smart machines take over more jobs, the most successful people will be those who can leverage their emotions and the best of their humanness to think better, communicate more clearly, and be more creative, innovative, and collaborative."

According to Hess and Ludwig, three steps are key to mastering human emotions to be more successful in the Smart Machine Age:

Increase positivity. Positive emotions help us think and relate at our highest levels. Leading research by cognitive, social, and positive psychologists, including Barbara Fredrickson and Alice Isen, shows that positive emotions enable and enhance cognitive processing, innovation, and creativity and even lead to better judgment and decision making. By contrast, research has shown that negative emotions like fear and anxiety have the opposite effect. These can manifest in many forms: fear of looking bad, making mistakes, losing your job, or not being liked.

The strategy is two-pronged: One, generate plenty of positive emotions; two, stop allowing negative emotions to control your behavior and thinking. You can change the ratio of good and bad feelings in your head by a shift in focus. You can take more time to notice the beauty of nature and the smiles of a young child. You can reflect upon something joyous in your life. Your increased positivity will also show in your interactions with your members and readers, which in turn will create more value in your association’s member experience and communications.

Actively manage negative emotions. Examples of negative emotions are anger, fear, anxiety, dread, and cruelty. Emotions usually last only 90 seconds unless you let them overtake you. You can let negative emotions float through your mind without engaging them. That is what meditation can teach you. You are not your ideas, and you are not your emotions. You have a choice as to whether to engage with an emotion or not. And you have a choice as to whether you allow an emotion to be translated into a behavior. Hess says: "I was never taught that I had choices about my emotions. I had to learn that emotions don't necessarily have to lead to behaviors. It is not automatic — we make the choice about whether that happens."

Embrace the power of otherness. Otherness is the ability to rise above our self-absorbed, ego-driven emotional defensiveness in order to connect to and emotionally relate to others. That's crucial because we all need others in order to flourish, say Hess and Ludwig. We can't reach our potential by ourselves. To think more critically, creatively, and innovatively, we need other people who can help us see past our cognitive biases and open our minds to new perspectives.

Otherness requires building positive, caring regard and trust with others. If we trust someone, then we feel psychologically safe with them, and we can have the vulnerable kinds of conversations that enable collaborative relationships and breakthrough thinking and learning. To build positive, caring trust requires behaviors. One must take the time to connect and relate to others in ways that demonstrate that you care about them. Building those types of relationships with co-workers and members will yield results that no machine can match.

"Mr. Spock was wrong about what we humans really need in order to flourish," concludes Hess. "Our emotions — when properly cultivated — can propel us to the highest levels of human thinking and learning and fuel our connections to others. To that end, smart technology may be smart indeed, but we should focus on being more emotionally and socially intelligent."

Ed Hess (, professor of business administration and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business, co-wrote Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age with Katherine Ludwig.

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