Top 10 Social Media Trends Of 2016

Michael Brenner

At the end of the year, one of the most exciting (and challenging) things for marketers to do is to predict what’s to come and strategize their game plan for next year. What technologies and social media platforms will consumers embrace? How will these changes affect brands and marketers?

The marketing landscape is dynamic and constantly changing as new technologies and social media platforms are introduced. So what can you and your company do to stay relevant? Here are 10 social media trends you should watch and build into your 2016 strategy if you want to stay ahead of the game:

1. Channel building

Instead of cross-promoting the same content on all social channels, effective marketers will need to think out of the box to deliver different branded content that speaks to specific audiences on those channels. Each social media channel works differently and has different audience, so great marketers need to leverage the strengths of each channel to create content that is most relevant to consumers who use that platform. Relevancy is how you will get consumer attention and eyeballs.

2. Shop buttons

With the introduction of “buy” buttons on Facebook and Twitter, consumers will be able to make online purchases on social channels without leaving these platforms. Brands who leverage these features can greatly reduce the steps involved in the purchase of their products or services, and losing potential consumers to competitors as a result of comparison shopping.

3. Live streaming

With the rising popularity of Periscope, Snapchat and Facebook’s “Live” broadcasting, marketers will have an incredible opportunity to connect with consumers on a new level. Live streaming platforms allow marketers to engage consumers through authentic, interesting visual content, as well as providing an insider look into their brands and what they’re doing, making consumers more likely to talk, share, listen, and buy from them.

4. Influencer marketing

Did you know that on average a quarter of the content about your brand is not produced by your company? That’s a lot of user-generated content that can make or break your brand!

Influencers have substantial global reach, and their large following is built on trust and credibility. By building relationships with influencers who are talking about your brand now, your efforts will most certainly pay off in the future. Brands see more than $6 in profits for every dollar spent on influencer marketing.

5. Facebook & Instagram advertising

Brands can now run photo, video and carousel ads on Instagram, with call-to-action links directing consumers to various pages of your site. These features make Instagram a powerful mobile platform for marketers who are looking to increase brand awareness and drive traffic to their sites.

Similarly, Facebook has launched several new features, taking its advertising and marketing capabilities to the next level. Brands can now link multiple photo ads to different webpages via carousel ads. Consumers can also call businesses directly through “call now” buttons on their mobile devices. The last feature, Bluetooth beacons, is an innovative engagement tool for marketers as it allows consumers to check in, like, and receive notifications from brands on Facebook while visiting their place of business.

6. Privacy

Demand for anonymity has skyrocketed in the last few years. Concerns over how personal information is collected and used are driving social media platforms like Facebook to offer more privacy options, such as its new chat app rooms. In 2016 and beyond, we will see consumers leaving platforms for ones that offer more anonymity and security protection.

7. Snackable content

To reach consumers, particularly digital natives, whose attention and time are split between multiple devices and platforms, smart marketers have to make their content more snackable and to-the-point. The more snackable a piece of content is, the more social and shareable it is, which translates to better results.

8. Visual social listening

With almost two billions images shared on social media every day, social listening will need to go beyond written text. To better engage and serve consumers, successful marketers should start monitoring and engaging with visual content and conversations where their brands are mentioned – through image recognition tools like Ditto.

9. Social videos

Popularity of social media videos shows no signs of stopping in 2016. Snapchat, Periscope, and Meerkat have millions of monthly users who visit these platforms every day to consume video content. Successful marketers will require an agile and responsive strategy to deliver compelling content more quickly and efficiently to achieve real-time marketing success.

10. Integration

As the number of wearable tech continues to increase in 2016, brands can expect to have the ability to target consumers based on their day-to-day browsing habits communicated by their devices. This will also present marketers with an exciting opportunity to find new and more innovative ways to engage with consumers through wearable devices.

What are other trends you should be watching in 2016? Here are 16 digital marketing trends you should know.

What about you? Which trends have you adopted already? Are they working? What will you trying out next year? Please share your thoughts below.

Are you interested in engaging and converting new customer for your business? Contact me here and let’s talk about how we can help.

The post Top 10 Social Media Trends of 2016 appeared first on Marketing Insider Group.

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About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of  The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider GroupHe has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and   a top  CMO influencer by Forbes.

Five Goals For Small Business Owners For 2018

Aaron Solomon

Once you’ve wrapped up 2017, you should be hitting the ground running in 2018 for continued success. Here are five goals every small business owner should set for themselves in 2018.

Analyze 2017

While 2017 is over, don’t let it be forgotten. Review how your business performed and what drove revenue. Also pay attention to what didn’t work as well as you’d have liked and allocate your budgets and efforts accordingly. Learn from your successes and failures and use this information to set yourself up for success in 2018!

Increase your customer loyalty

In 2018, all of your competitors will (or should be) trying to take your customers. You should ensure that you have a plan in place for keeping them. Retailers may want to consider a loyalty points program or special promotions targeted at your existing customer base. Even if your business is not retail oriented, take the time to make sure your customers know that they are valued and that there is a benefit to staying with you.

Focus on your employees

A healthy business needs a competent, well-performing workforce. Take steps to not only retain your top performers, but attract top new talent. If you have staff that are not meeting expectations, coach them to improve performance or, if necessary, considering managing them out of your organization. Don’t let staffing hold you back!

Improve your social media marketing

Each passing year, social media marketing is more and more important for driving sales and ensuring success. If you don’t have a social media presence and marketing strategy, make it part of your goals for 2018 to get one started. If you already have one, make sure you’re taking the proper steps to improve it based on your 2017 performance.

Plan for expansion

A good mindset to have is that if you’re not growing, you’re falling behind. Your most threatening competitors will be working hard to grow their businesses, so don’t let them outpace you. Big or small, prioritize developing and executing a growth plan for 2018 to improve your market position!

For more tips on running your small business, visit the SAP Anywhere Customer Success Blog.

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About Aaron Solomon

Aaron Solomon is the head of Training and Content Development for SAP Anywhere. With a dedicated history in knowledge management and consulting, he is driven to provide quality information to customers and help them understand how best to grow their businesses. His areas of expertise include e-commerce management, data analysis, and leveraging technology to improve efficiency.

Adapting To The Digital Sales Revolution

Arif Johari

Is social selling at a tipping point?

“That magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, spreads like wildfire.” – Malcolm Gladwell

Social selling is impacting how sales and marketing teams collaborate, accelerate business, and engage customers. With the technology that supports social selling constantly changing, do the behaviours that make a great social seller need to change too?

The modern buyer requires a modern seller

Charlene Li, principal analyst at Altimeter, wrote in the report, The Transformation of Selling: How Digital Enables Seamless Selling: “Selling must transform because the ways customers buy have changed.”

Forrester’s Mary Shea put it this way in B2B Buyers Make The Case For Better Marketing And Sales Alignment: “Your buyers want contextual interactions with both human and digital assets across a holistic but non-linear journey. They want their experiences with salespeople to be high value or frictionless.”

Sales and marketing reps will be obsolete in two years if they do not adapt

Changing times begets a need for a change in behavior. Look at what email did for communications, the computer took away from the typewriter, CRM did for the world of customer service and sales force automation (SFA) for sales.

Sales and marketing professionals must be aligned with a common understanding of the current buyer’s needs. We must meet the buyer in their digitally connected, socially engaged, mobile-attached, and video-hungry preferences. Today’s buyer wants to talk only with professionals who can add demonstrable value.

Myth: Digital selling is the same as social selling

Incorrect. Social is a component of digital.

Digital selling is understanding how to align the mindset, skillset, and toolset to engage, connect, and grow a relationship through any digital platform—social, video, email, messaging, etc.

“Social does not take the place of a handshake, but it turns a handshake into a hug.” – Brian Fanzo

How to adapt to the digital sales revolution through a social approach

1. Update your LinkedIn profile from a resume to a resource

The more value you can bring to your audience, the more likely that they will become fans, referral partners, and clients.

The litmus test: Does your profile get your buyers excited to take your call? If the answer is yes, then your profile is working for you and your customers!

2. Recognize that Twitter and LinkedIn are like peanut butter and jelly: perfect together

If LinkedIn is your primary social media platform, don’t ignore the power of Twitter.

Add your LinkedIn URL to your Twitter profile. When you have a new targeted follower, start a conversation and invite them to connect with you on LinkedIn.

If your profile is positioned correctly, they will learn much more about you as a thought leader and you can begin to move them forward in the buyer’s journey.

3. Schedule time every single day to work on LinkedIn prospecting.

Treat that time as if you were with a client.

Don’t let your prospecting time get interrupted – it’s the number-one thing you can do to get in front of new clients.

Social selling has become such a hot topic that Coffee-Break with Game Changers is dedicating an entire series to exploring its various facets and promoting best practices for salespeople. To listen to other shows in this series, visit the SAP Radio area of the SAP News Center.

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Arif Johari

About Arif Johari

He is a Communications lead, Digital Marketing generalist, and Social Selling advocate. He trains marketing and sales employees to become experts in Social Selling so that they’d leverage social media as a leads-generation tool. He is responsible for executing innovative marketing strategies to increase engagement in social media, customer community, and landing pages through content, events, and A/B testing. He is passionate in making the work processes of the marketing and sales team more efficient, so that they can generate more revenue in a shorter time.

Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures

By Dan Wellers, Kai Goerlich, and Stephanie Overby , Kai Goerlich and Stephanie Overby

When members of Lowe’s Innovation Labs first began talking with the home improvement retailer’s senior executives about how disruptive technologies would affect the future, the presentations were well received but nothing stuck.

“We’d give a really great presentation and everyone would say, ‘Great job,’ but nothing would really happen,” says Amanda Manna, head of narratives and partnerships for the lab.

The team realized that it needed to ditch the PowerPoints and try something radical. The team’s leader, Kyle Nel, is a behavioral scientist by training. He knows people are wired to receive new information best through stories. Sharing far-future concepts through narrative, he surmised, could unlock hidden potential to drive meaningful change.

So Nel hired science fiction writers to pen the future in comic book format, with characters and a narrative arc revealed pane by pane.

The first storyline, written several years before Oculus Rift became a household name, told the tale of a couple envisioning their kitchen renovation using virtual reality headsets. The comic might have been fun and fanciful, but its intent was deadly serious. It was a vision of a future in which Lowe’s might solve one of its long-standing struggles: the approximately US$70 billion left on the table when people are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like.

When the lab presented leaders with the first comic, “it was like a light bulb went on,” says Manna. “Not only did they immediately understand the value of the concept, they were convinced that if we didn’t build it, someone else would.”

Today, Lowe’s customers in select stores can use the HoloRoom How To virtual reality tool to learn basic DIY skills in an interactive and immersive environment.

Other comics followed and were greeted with similar enthusiasm—and investment, where possible. One tells the story of robots that help customers navigate stores. That comic spawned the LoweBot, which roamed the aisles of several Lowe’s stores during a pilot program in California and is being evaluated to determine next steps.

And the comic about tools that can be 3D-printed in space? Last year, Lowe’s partnered with Made in Space, which specializes in making 3D printers that can operate in zero gravity, to install the first commercial 3D printer in the International Space Station, where it was used to make tools and parts for astronauts.

The comics are the result of sending writers out on an open-ended assignment, armed with trends, market research, and other input, to envision what home improvement planning might look like in the future or what the experience of shopping will be in 10 years. The writers come back with several potential story ideas in a given area and work collaboratively with lab team members to refine it over time.

The process of working with writers and business partners to develop the comics helps the future strategy team at Lowe’s, working under chief development officer Richard D. Maltsbarger, to inhabit that future. They can imagine how it might play out, what obstacles might surface, and what steps the company would need to take to bring that future to life.

Once the final vision hits the page, the lab team can clearly envision how to work backward to enable the innovation. Importantly, the narrative is shared not only within the company but also out in the world. It serves as a kind of “bat signal” to potential technology partners with capabilities that might be required to make it happen, says Manna. “It’s all part of our strategy for staking a claim in the future.”

Planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future.

Companies like Lowe’s are realizing that standard ways of planning for the future won’t get them where they need to go. The problem with traditional strategic planning is that the approach, which dates back to the 1950s and has remained largely unchanged since then, is based on the company’s existing mission, resources, core competencies, and competitors.

Yet the future rarely looks like the past. What’s more, digital technology is now driving change at exponential rates. Companies must be able to analyze and assess the potential impacts of the many variables at play, determine the possible futures they want to pursue, and develop the agility to pivot as conditions change along the way.

This is why planning must become completely oriented toward—and sourced from—the future, rather than from the past or the present. “Every winning strategy is based on a compelling insight, but most strategic planning originates in today’s marketplace, which means the resulting plans are constrained to incremental innovation,” says Bob Johansen, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. “Most corporate strategists and CEOs are just inching their way to the future.” (Read more from Bob Johansen in the Thinkers story, “Fear Factor.”)

Inching forward won’t cut it anymore. Half of the S&P 500 organizations will be replaced over the next decade, according to research company Innosight. The reason? They can’t see the portfolio of possible futures, they can’t act on them, or both. Indeed, when SAP conducts future planning workshops with clients, we find that they usually struggle to look beyond current models and assumptions and lack clear ideas about how to work toward radically different futures.

Companies that want to increase their chances of long-term survival are incorporating three steps: envisioning, planning for, and executing on possible futures. And doing so all while the actual future is unfolding in expected and unexpected ways.

Those that pull it off are rewarded. A 2017 benchmarking report from the Strategic Foresight Research Network (SFRN) revealed that vigilant companies (those with the most mature processes for identifying, interpreting, and responding to factors that induce change) achieved 200% greater market capitalization growth and 33% higher profitability than the average, while the least mature companies experienced negative market-cap growth and had 44% lower profitability.

Looking Outside the Margins

“Most organizations lack sufficient capacity to detect, interpret, and act on the critically important but weak and ambiguous signals of fresh threats or new opportunities that emerge on the periphery of their usual business environment,” write George S. Day and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Peripheral Vision.

But that’s exactly where effective future planning begins: examining what is happening outside the margins of day-to-day business as usual in order to peer into the future.

Business leaders who take this approach understand that despite the uncertainties of the future there are drivers of change that can be identified and studied and actions that can be taken to better prepare for—and influence—how events unfold.

That starts with developing foresight, typically a decade out. Ten years, most future planners agree, is the sweet spot. “It is far enough out that it gives you a bit more latitude to come up with a broader way to the future, allowing for disruption and innovation,” says Brian David Johnson, former chief futurist for Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “But you can still see the light from it.”

The process involves gathering information about the factors and forces—technological, business, sociological, and industry or ecosystem trends—that are effecting change to envision a range of potential impacts.

Seeing New Worlds

Intel, for example, looks beyond its own industry boundaries to envision possible future developments in adjacent businesses in the larger ecosystem it operates in. In 2008, the Intel Labs team, led by anthropologist Genevieve Bell, determined that the introduction of flexible glass displays would open up a whole new category of foldable consumer electronic devices.

To take advantage of that advance, Intel would need to be able to make silicon small enough to fit into some imagined device of the future. By the time glass manufacturer Corning unveiled its ultra-slim, flexible glass surface for mobile devices, laptops, televisions, and other displays of the future in 2012, Intel had already created design prototypes and kicked its development into higher gear. “Because we had done the future casting, we were already imagining how people might use flexible glass to create consumer devices,” says Johnson.

Because future planning relies so heavily on the quality of the input it receives, bringing in experts can elevate the practice. They can come from inside an organization, but the most influential insight may come from the outside and span a wide range of disciplines, says Steve Brown, a futurist, consultant, and CEO of BaldFuturist.com who worked for Intel Labs from 2007 to 2016.

Companies may look to sociologists or behaviorists who have insight into the needs and wants of people and how that influences their actions. Some organizations bring in an applied futurist, skilled at scanning many different forces and factors likely to coalesce in important ways (see Do You Need a Futurist?).

Do You Need a Futurist?

Most organizations need an outsider to help envision their future. Futurists are good at looking beyond the big picture to the biggest picture.

Business leaders who want to be better prepared for an uncertain and disruptive future will build future planning as a strategic capability into their organizations and create an organizational culture that embraces the approach. But working with credible futurists, at least in the beginning, can jump-start the process.

“The present can be so noisy and business leaders are so close to it that it’s helpful to provide a fresh outside-in point of view,” says veteran futurist Bob Johansen.

To put it simply, futurists like Johansen are good at connecting dots—lots of them. They look beyond the boundaries of a single company or even an industry, incorporating into their work social science, technical research, cultural movements, economic data, trends, and the input of other experts.

They can also factor in the cultural history of the specific company with whom they’re working, says Brian David Johnson, futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. “These large corporations have processes and procedures in place—typically for good reasons,” Johnson explains. “But all of those reasons have everything to do with the past and nothing to do with the future. Looking at that is important so you can understand the inertia that you need to overcome.”

One thing the best futurists will say they can’t do: predict the future. That’s not the point. “The future punishes certainty,” Johansen says, “but it rewards clarity.” The methods futurists employ are designed to trigger discussions and considerations of possibilities corporate leaders might not otherwise consider.

You don’t even necessarily have to buy into all the foresight that results, says Johansen. Many leaders don’t. “Every forecast is debatable,” Johansen says. “Foresight is a way to provoke insight, even if you don’t believe it. The value is in letting yourself be provoked.”

External expert input serves several purposes. It brings everyone up to a common level of knowledge. It can stimulate and shift the thinking of participants by introducing them to new information or ideas. And it can challenge the status quo by illustrating how people and organizations in different sectors are harnessing emerging trends.

The goal is not to come up with one definitive future but multiple possibilities—positive and negative—along with a list of the likely obstacles or accelerants that could surface on the road ahead. The result: increased clarity—rather than certainty—in the face of the unknown that enables business decision makers to execute and refine business plans and strategy over time.

Plotting the Steps Along the Way

Coming up with potential trends is an important first step in futuring, but even more critical is figuring out what steps need to be taken along the way: eight years from now, four years from now, two years from now, and now. Considerations include technologies to develop, infrastructure to deploy, talent to hire, partnerships to forge, and acquisitions to make. Without this vital step, says Brown, everybody goes back to their day jobs and the new thinking generated by future planning is wasted. To work, the future steps must be tangible, concrete, and actionable.

Organizations must build a roadmap for the desired future state that anticipates both developments and detours, complete with signals that will let them know if they’re headed in the right direction. Brown works with corporate leaders to set indicator flags to look out for on the way to the anticipated future. “If we see these flagged events occurring in the ecosystem, they help to confirm the strength of our hypothesis that a particular imagined future is likely to occur,” he explains.

For example, one of Brown’s clients envisioned two potential futures: one in which gestural interfaces took hold and another in which voice control dominated. The team set a flag to look out for early examples of the interfaces that emerged in areas such as home appliances and automobiles. “Once you saw not just Amazon Echo but also Google Home and other copycat speakers, it would increase your confidence that you were moving more towards a voice-first era rather than a gesture-first era,” Brown says. “It doesn’t mean that gesture won’t happen, but it’s less likely to be the predominant modality for communication.”

How to Keep Experiments from Being Stifled

Once organizations have a vision for the future, making it a reality requires testing ideas in the marketplace and then scaling them across the enterprise. “There’s a huge change piece involved,”
says Frank Diana, futurist and global consultant with Tata Consultancy Services, “and that’s the place where most
businesses will fall down.”

Many large firms have forgotten what it’s like to experiment in several new markets on a small scale to determine what will stick and what won’t, says René Rohrbeck, professor of strategy at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences. Companies must be able to fail quickly, bring the lessons learned back in, adapt, and try again.

Lowe’s increases its chances of success by creating master narratives across a number of different areas at once, such as robotics, mixed-reality tools, on-demand manufacturing, sustainability, and startup acceleration. The lab maps components of each by expected timelines: short, medium, and long term. “From there, we’ll try to build as many of them as quickly as we can,” says Manna. “And we’re always looking for that next suite of things that we should be working on.” Along the way certain innovations, like the HoloRoom How-To, become developed enough to integrate into the larger business as part of the core strategy.

One way Lowe’s accelerates the process of deciding what is ready to scale is by being open about its nascent plans with the world. “In the past, Lowe’s would never talk about projects that weren’t at scale,” says Manna. Now the company is sharing its future plans with the media and, as a result, attracting partners that can jump-start their realization.

Seeing a Lowe’s comic about employee exoskeletons, for example, led Virginia Tech engineering professor Alan Asbeck to the retailer. He helped develop a prototype for a three-month pilot with stock employees at a Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

The high-tech suit makes it easier to move heavy objects. Employees trying out the suits are also fitted with an EEG headset that the lab incorporates into all its pilots to gauge unstated, subconscious reactions. That direct feedback on the user experience helps the company refine its innovations over time.

Make the Future Part of the Culture

Regardless of whether all the elements of its master narratives come to pass, Lowe’s has already accomplished something important: It has embedded future thinking into the culture of the company.

Companies like Lowe’s constantly scan the environment for meaningful economic, technology, and cultural changes that could impact its future assessments and plans. “They can regularly draw on future planning to answer challenges,” says Rohrbeck. “This intensive, ongoing, agile strategizing is only possible because they’ve done their homework up front and they keep it updated.”

It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future, but companies can help to shape it, says Manna of Lowe’s. “It’s really about painting a picture of a preferred future state that we can try to achieve while being flexible and capable of change as we learn things along the way.” D!


About the Authors

Dan Wellers is Global Lead, Digital Futures, at SAP.

Kai Goerlich is Chief Futurist at SAP’s Innovation Center Network.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based business and technology journalist.


Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.

Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

About Stephanie Overby

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The Human Factor In An AI Future

Dan Wellers and Kai Goerlich

As artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated and its ability to perform human tasks accelerates exponentially, we’re finally seeing some attempts to wrestle with what that means, not just for business, but for humanity as a whole.

From the first stone ax to the printing press to the latest ERP solution, technology that reduces or even eliminates physical and mental effort is as old as the human race itself. However, that doesn’t make each step forward any less uncomfortable for the people whose work is directly affected – and the rise of AI is qualitatively different from past developments.

Until now, we developed technology to handle specific routine tasks. A human needed to break down complex processes into their component tasks, determine how to automate each of those tasks, and finally create and refine the automation process. AI is different. Because AI can evaluate, select, act, and learn from its actions, it can be independent and self-sustaining.

Some people, like investor/inventor Elon Musk and Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma, are focusing intently on how AI will impact the labor market. It’s going to do far more than eliminate repetitive manual jobs like warehouse picking. Any job that involves routine problem-solving within existing structures, processes, and knowledge is ripe for handing over to a machine. Indeed, jobs like customer service, travel planning, medical diagnostics, stock trading, real estate, and even clothing design are already increasingly automated.

As for more complex problem-solving, we used to think it would take computers decades or even centuries to catch up to the nimble human mind, but we underestimated the exponential explosion of deep learning. IBM’s Watson trounced past Jeopardy champions in 2011 – and just last year, Google’s DeepMind AI beat the reigning European champion at Go, a game once thought too complex for even the most sophisticated computer.

Where does AI leave human?

This raises an urgent question for the future: How do human beings maintain our economic value in a world in which AI will keep getting better than us at more and more things?

The concept of the technological singularity – the point at which machines attain superhuman intelligence and permanently outpace the human mind – is based on the idea that human thinking can’t evolve fast enough to keep up with technology. However, the limits of human performance have yet to be found. It’s possible that people are only at risk of lagging behind machines because nothing has forced us to test ourselves at scale.

Other than a handful of notable individual thinkers, scientists, and artists, most of humanity has met survival-level needs through mostly repetitive tasks. Most people don’t have the time or energy for higher-level activities. But as the human race faces the unique challenge of imminent obsolescence, we need to think of those activities not as luxuries, but as necessities. As technology replaces our traditional economic value, the economic system may stop attaching value to us entirely unless we determine the unique value humanity offers – and what we can and must do to cultivate the uniquely human skills that deliver that value.

Honing the human advantage

As a species, humans are driven to push past boundaries, to try new things, to build something worthwhile, and to make a difference. We have strong instincts to explore and enjoy novelty and risk – but according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, these instincts crumble if we don’t cultivate them.

AI is brilliant at automating routine knowledge work and generating new insights from existing data. What it can’t do is deduce the existence, or even the possibility, of information it isn’t already aware of. It can’t imagine radical new products and business models. Or ask previously unconceptualized questions. Or envision unimagined opportunities and achievements. AI doesn’t even have common sense! As theoretical physicist Michio Kaku says, a robot doesn’t know that water is wet or that strings can pull but not push. Nor can robots engage in what Kaku calls “intellectual capitalism” – activities that involve creativity, imagination, leadership, analysis, humor, and original thought.

At the moment, though, we don’t generally value these so-called “soft skills” enough to prioritize them. We expect people to develop their competency in emotional intelligence, cross-cultural awareness, curiosity, critical thinking, and persistence organically, as if these skills simply emerge on their own given enough time. But there’s nothing soft about these skills, and we can’t afford to leave them to chance.

Lessons in being human

To stay ahead of AI in an increasingly automated world, we need to start cultivating our most human abilities on a societal level – and to do so not just as soon as possible, but as early as possible.

Singularity University chairman Peter Diamandis, for example, advocates revamping the elementary school curriculum to nurture the critical skills of passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking, and persistence. He envisions a curriculum that, among other things, teaches kids to communicate, ask questions, solve problems with creativity, empathy, and ethics, and accept failure as an opportunity to try again. These concepts aren’t necessarily new – Waldorf and Montessori schools have been encouraging similar approaches for decades – but increasing automation and digitization make them newly relevant and urgent.

The Mastery Transcript Consortium is approaching the same problem from the opposite side, by starting with outcomes. This organization is pushing to redesign the secondary school transcript to better reflect whether and how high school students are acquiring the necessary combination of creative, critical, and analytical abilities. By measuring student achievement in a more nuanced way than through letter grades and test scores, the consortium’s approach would inherently require schools to reverse-engineer their curricula to emphasize those abilities.

Most critically, this isn’t simply a concern of high-tuition private schools and “good school districts” intended to create tomorrow’s executives and high-level knowledge workers. One critical aspect of the challenge we face is the assumption that the vast majority of people are inevitably destined for lives that don’t require creativity or critical thinking – that either they will somehow be able to thrive anyway or their inability to thrive isn’t a cause for concern. In the era of AI, no one will be able to thrive without these abilities, which means that everyone will need help acquiring them. For humanitarian, political, and economic reasons, we cannot just write off a large percentage of the population as disposable.

In the end, anything an AI does has to fit into a human-centered value system that takes our unique human abilities into account. Why would we want to give up our humanity in favor of letting machines determine whether or not an action or idea is valuable? Instead, while we let artificial intelligence get better at being what it is, we need to get better at being human. That’s how we’ll keep coming up with groundbreaking new ideas like jazz music, graphic novels, self-driving cars, blockchain, machine learning – and AI itself.

Read the executive brief Human Skills for the Digital Future.

Build an intelligent enterprise with AI and machine learning to unite human expertise and computer insights. Run live with SAP Leonardo.


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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation.

Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu