Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will

Coding is the most important language in the world right now. That was one of guiding assumptions to Getting Smart on Coding for College & Career Readiness. But the code we write will only be as impactful as the goals and objectives of the coders.

Tech will change education, but not without the positive, student-centered intentions of the people building, driving and powering the tools and solutions necessary to solve large scale global problems. In this blog that first appeared on, Daniel Rabuzzi, Executive Director of Mouse,  a national youth development nonprofit that believes in technology as a force for good. interviews Geoff Colvin about his new book Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will.

Interview with Geoff Colvin, Author of Humans are Underrated

Geoff Colvin, long-time senior editor of Fortune, has written a very important book not only for the business sector but equally for all of us engaged in education and youth development: Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will.

As our nation’s young learners head back to school, Colvin calls persuasively for a return to the liberal arts, to the humanistic studies of empathy, purpose and the social good. Colvin shares Mouse’s philosophy that technology is wonderful and necessary (after all, this is what we play with!) but will never be sufficient if humankind is to reach our shared global potential.

Colvin very kindly spoke with Mouse Executive Director Daniel Rabuzzi and Director of Communications Susan Schwartz by phone for 30 minutes on August 17th.

Here is a recap of our conversation, edited for length and clarity:

Mouse students will live in and help shape the future you describe. As we head towards a new school year, what advice might you have for these young people?

Colvin: It’s important that students realize that they should be open to whatever engages them. It may not be a particular line of (future) work, especially when they are still in middle and high school. I am a big believer in young people pursuing what engages them most.

The important point to emphasize is that as they pursue their paths, their feeling of satisfaction will depend greatly on their interactions with other people — and their ability to interact with others will be increasingly more important than it used to be. It’s also important for young people to put down their devices everyone once in a while and go back to interacting in person, face to face. This can be deeply satisfying, and people are missing out on spending more time in face-to- face interaction.

My message to educators is to let young people be in charge some of the time. The real development of team-building comes from the interaction among the members of a team.

One of your most provocative arguments is that the current emphasis on the necessity to study STEM subjects may be misplaced (pg. 49). Tell us more about that, about why “engineers will stay in demand…but tomorrow’s most valuable engineers …[will be] those who can build relationships, brainstorm, collaborate and lead.”

Colvin: Digital technology is a great thing. It has been overwhelmingly positive and makes our life better. We do, however, need to know how to manage all the technology in our lives.

STEM is important and will remain important. But, keep in mind: an excellent software engineer, who just does software engineering really well, is not by him- or herself a valuable asset. His or her skills are being commoditized by schools around the world that are turning out engineers of all kinds. What I hear from the people who manage is “I need an engineer who can empathize so that they can design a better customer experience, collaborate with team members to come up with solutions that are better than those they could have done on their own, and who can lead both formally and informally.” These will be the most valued engineers of today and tomorrow.

Choosing the problems you want to solve is the crucial first step. Collaboration is vital in doing that. The problem can change over time, and problems tend to “change upon contact,” so you will also need to address how the problem may evolve or be different than you originally thought.

You likewise raise up “the extraordinary power of story” — how do you see tone, style, poetics coming to the fore in the workplace?

Colvin: In many companies, the only way of persuading is with bullets and powerpoint slides. But, there is something about a story — when you tell a story, people will remember and retell your story, which they rarely do when only presented with data. We need to help organizations understand that storytelling is an acceptable activity, not a nice-to-have but vitally necessary.

You ask “Is It A Woman’s World?” in your chapter 10. What conclusions do you draw on this theme?

Colvin: The idea that women are better at social interaction in not surprising, but what was most striking to me was how strong the research was supporting this. Not to stereotype, since men possess social skills as well of course, but to suggest that women appear to have a comparative advantage in this arena. The skills are social interaction are the high level skills.

Everyone needs to get better at these skills. Many women are naturally strong — but the message is that everyone needs to get better. Women have an advantage in this area. I think we’ll see change at an ever increasing pace as it relates to the rise in centrality of the social strengths.

One of your overarching points is that we should return more definitively to and celebrate more explicitly “the human domain.” Yours sounds like a call to complete the Kantian project, to revel with Blake and Wordsworth in our humanity as opposed to confusing ourselves with the technology we create. Are you suggesting the road to our future lies through our shared past?

Colvin: I think you are on to something there. For instance, reading literary fiction brings us into the mind of other people. We become more empathetic through such reading. Reading 19th-century novels puts you in touch with a side of humanity that you may not have exercised in a long time. So, find a book that appeals to you, seems interesting. When you read it, start with the first page and stay with it.

Mouse thanks Geoff Colvin for his insights and encourages our readers to discover his words for yourselves. You can buy the book here and follow Geoff at @geoffcolvin.

For more check out:

Daniel Rabuzzi is the Executive Director of Mouse. Follow Daniel on Twitter, @DanielRabuzzi

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1 Comment

Hasmukh Savlani

Colvin's Great book Humans Are Underrated ... seems to be a fantastic piece of great hope in present times when amidst hi tech machines, robots ,and all electronic and communication technologies, humans may be highly recognized and appreciated. The learned author observes that human relations, empathy and emotional intelligence would be the paradigm shift in the next age after the present " knowledge age", when humans would be rated fairly and a new happy era may emerge for the mankind. We may witness the next age as a " wisdom age'.

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