A skill of the Head and skill of the Heart walk into a bar

Two great reports dropped last week.

Together, those reports deliver more than enough intel to hold your own with the Sandbergs and Bezos’ of the world.

Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report and the latest instalment in Deloitte’s Lucky Country series: the path to prosperity: why the future of work is human, provide insights galore. Those insights swing wildly between ‘drinking from the data firehose’ in one report to teaching critical ‘skills of the heart’ in the other. And while we traverse the imminent coming of the super apps (you’ll never have to engage with a human again) and balance that unsettling prediction with the joy and importance of professional collaboration and human relationships in the workplace, what does emerge is a critically important reality. Yeah, coding is an important skill to have, but if you don’t understand the why or how of the people around you – you’re not going to have the rewarding career that investment in a university education dangled in front of you.

Starting with the Deloitte report, the really interesting stuff focuses on the skills needed for the future of work. In a skills sense, we know about the shift from hands to head that has been underway for some time. But it’s the big shift from head to heart that – while it shouldn’t be surprising – really kind of is.

“At the start of this decade, the typical worker lacked 1.2 of the critical skills needed by employers seeking to fill a given position. Today, the average worker is missing around 2 of the 18 critical skills that are advertised for a job. And the gap is still growing, with far-and-away the bulk of those ‘missing skills’ those of the heart.”

What does work of the heart even look like?

For starters, it involves jobs heavy on human interaction. Human skills like interpersonal, creative and customer service skills are already in demand and that need will only intensify. Work of the heart is adept at exercising emotional judgement and supports professional ethics – asking the questions that matter beyond the Day 1 ramifications of a decision (we also call that leadership). According to the report, these are the skills set to deliver the greatest benefits in the long run. Imagine there are two talented programmers (skill of the head) applying for the same job. One of them talks about that time she/he taught/mentored others (skill of the heart). Which one do you think is more valuable to an organisation?

In his brilliant long-form piece on the evils of Facebook, Quartz journalist, Nikhil Sonnad recounts a Mark Zuckerberg showcase in 2017 where he released a video launching something called ‘off Spaces’, which at the time was Facebook’s new virtual reality platform. In the video, Mark and colleague Rachel (the Head of Social Virtual Reality at Facebook) appear as cartoon avatars on the roof of the Facebook building in Puerto Rico, shortly after Hurricane Maria hit. After the intro, they ‘teleport’ into the back of a pickup truck and travel through neighbourhoods decimated by the hurricane. Oblivious to the destruction and ruin around them, they visit a few more ravaged scenes before avatar Mark talks about how cool the tech is and high-fives his digital companion. As Sonnad points out, aside from the tone-deaf nature of the segment, the video passed each and every one of Facebook’s approval processes before being shown to a rapturous (and mostly, sycophantic) audience. On the surface, the example is a relatively minor one in the collection of problems stacking up on the what’s wrong with Facebook pile, but it does demonstrate an outcome generated by skills of the head without skills of the heart in equal –or any – measure.

For us it is the next step in our digital evolution

On the topic of skills of the head, let’s look at Mary Meeker’s 12-month outlook for internet trends, starting with the rise of the super app, currently all the rage in China. Think about a single app that does everything from ordering food to managing your healthcare. That probably explains why for the first time, in 2019, we spent more time staring at our phone screen than we did the TV one. (Hoorah – more chance of colliding with someone when out walking the dog.) Takeout? That mobile device is going to take up even more of our attention than it did last year. If that’s the case, how on earth are we going to work on those high in demand interpersonal skills when in reality we’re spending less time engaging with people in an offline world? Which is a nice segue into her next sobering statistic: 26% of US adults consider themselves online “almost constantly.” That number jumps to 39% for 18 to 29-year-olds surveyed.

Meeker also showed that Google and Facebook still account for most online ad revenue, but growth from platforms like Amazon, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest is happening faster than at the two industry behemoths that ruled the decade. Good news, in that this points to plenty of work for people with skills of the head. But when we look at all that extra time we’re spending on our phones, it begs the question, what are we looking at?

On the surface, it’s seems to be primarily visual content. Meeker’s data shows that more and more of us are using images as a convenient way to communicate (insert two thumbs up emojis here). There’s also a surge in people using image and video creation tools to make and share content, which in turn, ramps up engagement. Put another way, people are increasingly telling stories via edited images and videos. (disclaimer: I work at an agency specialising in visual content creation – so I get this). BUT…heard of the latest ‘on trend’ in content creation called deepfake videos?

In a nutshell, these are manipulated videos created using algorithms developed by the University of Washington where audio clips of people speaking are turned into realistic videos of people made to look like they’re speaking those words. One of the most recent videos (where you really would be correct calling it fake news) is of Mark Zuckerberg sitting at his desk talking about how evil Facebook is – OH THE IRONY! The video was released by an ad agency, Canny. One of the agency’s founders, Omer Ben-Ami said they created the video (on the back of Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump videos), as an ‘opportunity to educate the public on the uses of AI’ saying the potential of the tech lies in the ability to create a photo realistic model of a human being. Again, high -five the tech! But wait, there’s more:

“For us it is the next step in our digital evolution where eventually each one of us could have a digital copy, a Universal Everlasting human. This will change the way we share and tell stories, remember our loved ones and create content.”

This stunning output from people with skills of the head, brings us back to the topic of people with skills of the heart – which, in this instance I’ll call Facebook moderators. A recent article in Verge on the secret life of Facebook moderators in the US proved to be one of the most horrifying pieces I’ve read for some time. Without going into detail, the moderators, known as ‘process executives’ are responsible for reviewing every piece of content reported for violating the company’s community standards. Now adding to the list of their tasks will be the ability to determine the difference between a real human and a digital copy. Big challenges lay in front of Facebook’s skills of the heart people who at $15.00 US / hour, are also their lowest paid workers.

One week. Two reports. And a thousand questions remain.

Perhaps the answer best lies somewhere in another statistic, not included in either report:

Among top US colleges including Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and Ivy League schools, Facebook’s acceptance rate for full-time positions has fallen from an average of 85% for the 2017/18 school year to between 35% and 55% as of December 2018. According to recruiters the company has seen a decline in acceptance rates among software engineer candidates that are key to product teams.

Just maybe, for all the importance we place on skills of the head, we’re slowly learning that we all want to work somewhere where skills of the heart matter.

Cath Pope
Chief Creative Officer, Curated Content


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