Author Edward Hess discusses his new book, Humility is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age
Technology in the so-called Smart Machine Age, which includes AI, virtual reality and robotics, will bring huge changes not just in headcount, but also in how people innovate and collaborate. That will require new approaches to how people think, listen and relate, says Edward D. Hess, a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia. In the “Smart Age” now evolving, ego has no place. Instead, the focus will need to be on the quality of ideas, accuracy, emotional intelligence and mindfulness. Hess writes about these issues in the just-released book he co-authored with Katherine Ludwig, titled Humility is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age. Hess discussed his ideas on the [email protected] show on Wharton Business Radio, SiriusXM channel 111. (Listen to the podcast at the top of this page.)
Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.
[email protected]: Please explain the premise behind your book.
Edward Hess: We human beings are going to be in a frantic footrace with smart machines to stay relevant. [What] we’re going to have to do well are those things which are uniquely human, such as our ability to create, innovate and relate at the highest emotional levels with other humans. In order to do that, we have to basically overcome our humanness. That’s the counter-intuitive part of this. We can’t stay relevant by trying to outthink Watson. Watson can process, remember, and recall much more information than us.
What we’ve got to do is to play to our strengths. The problem is that we are not naturally good at high-level thinking, whether it’s critical, innovative or creative [thinking]. And because of our cultural and evolutionary biology, we’re not good at connecting and relating with others. The book is a new story about how humans can thrive in the smart machine age. It begins with [the concept of] New Smart. New Smart, if you will, is the mindset that we ask people to consider because we’re entering into a new game, and a new game needs new rules.
Old Smart won’t work. The question I’m sure you’re asking is, “Okay, what in the heck is New Smart?” Well, if you think of Old Smart, let’s think about how you and I grew up. From elementary school on, we were trained to get high grades — high grades meant you were smart. How did you get high grades? You don’t make mistakes. Smart is basically, “I knew more things than you. I got more right answers. I remembered more things.” Smart was a quantity concept. Well, that’s a losing game.
When knowledge has a short shelf life and smart machines can remember and process more than us, what is smart going to mean? Instead of getting my ego all wrapped up in how much I know, New Smart says, “Define yourself as the quality of your thinking, listening, relating and collaborating. [Those are] the key behaviors that are necessary in order for you and me to think critically, innovatively and to collaborate with others, all of which require other people.”
“When … smart machines can remember and process more than us … define yourself as the quality of your thinking, listening, relating and collaborating.”
We will not flourish along with smart machines by ourselves. It is going to be an otherness game. It is not going to be a competitive game. It’s going to be a collaboration game. New Smart is a new way of thinking, to define yourself not by what [you] know or how much [you] know, but by the quality of [your] thinking, listening, relating and collaborating.
It has four other principles. I am not my ideas; I must de-couple my beliefs, but not my values from my ego. My mental models are not reality; they’re only my generalized stories of how the world works. I must be open-minded and treat my beliefs — not my values — as hypotheses to be constantly tested and subject to modification by better data. My mistakes and failures are opportunities to learn. Those are the five new smart principles, and the new way of thinking that will help us humans complement, augment, and thrive, in the smart machine revolution.
[email protected]: That’s where the other piece to the title of the book fits in — in that people’s level of humility needs to be adjusted, correct?
Hess: Correct. We’ve got to get around the concept of extreme individualism, social Darwinism, the Big Me, self-promotion and all-knowing, in order to be more open-minded, listen better, collaborate better and be willing to stress-test our beliefs.
Humility has got a bad rap in our society, let’s be honest. You say “humility” to somebody and they look at you and say, “Are you crazy? I’m not going to be meek; I’m not going to be submissive.” We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about the psychological or philosophical construct of humility, which is not being so self-absorbed, and not being so emotionally defensive. It’s being open minded and self-accurate — being able to be open to the world. It’s tamping down that “me” lens, not thinking in just a confirmation manner and not listening to confirm, but being open to differences in others.
That’s what humility is. It opens you up to the ability to deal more realistically with the world. It’s no longer about who’s right; it’s about what is accurate.
[email protected]: You said in the introduction to the book that we’re on the leading edge of a technology tsunami. It already feels a little bit like that — maybe not at the level of a tsunami, but we’re certainly in an unbelievable storm now with all the technology that’s been thrust upon us. In your opinion, we’re just at the tipping point of this.
Hess: Yes, we’re on the leading edge. As artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, virtual reality and smart robotics continue to advance and they are going to be very inter-related, it’s going to be huge. The best research trying to predict what’s coming over the next five to 15 years says that tens of millions of U.S. jobs are going to be automated, including of service jobs and many professional jobs.
The loss of jobs to China and Mexico in the last few decades pales in comparison to what’s coming. We as a society and as individuals are not ready for this. Our book focuses on the individual aspect, but it is just as important from a societal viewpoint. This is going to be as transformative for us as the Industrial Revolution was for our ancestors.
[email protected]: You mentioned that part of this is an economic issue that will have to be dealt with. But a lot of it involves scientific disciplines.
Hess: Success in business has generally thought to be the in areas of economics, finance and strategy, and new players coming to the table. It’s going to have probably more chips or as many chips as those three together and that’s