Humans Are Underrated

What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will

Geoff Colvin

Portfolio, August 2015

Technology is becoming ever more capable of doing jobs that we once thought could only be performed by humans – driving cars, unpacking boxes, writing articles, detecting emotions, and analyzing legal documents and even bringing medicine to patients. For centuries, technological innovation complemented human labor by creating new and better jobs, facilitating higher productivity, and improving standards of living. But now, many fear that technological advancement has reached a point where it will no longer complement many forms of labor, but replace them altogether.

In his daring new book HUMANS ARE UNDERRATED (Portfolio; hardcover; August 4, 2015), Geoff Colvin makes the bold argument that despite our growing anxiety of a world where technology puts the majority of people out of work, this bleak future is not inevitable. While technology will continue to advance into areas and skills that we cannot yet imagine, the reality is that there are some things that we will always want other people to do – even if a computer can do them better, more reliably, and for less money. A computer may be able to give us our medical diagnosis, but we will want to talk to a doctor about it. A computer may be able to provide judgments in court cases, but we will want an individual to be accountable for legal decisions. There will be many categories of people-only activities that we require, simply because our human nature demands it. The reason, explains Colvin, is that the human brain evolved to connect social interaction with survival. So, to discover our value as technology advances, we must stop asking ourselves what computers will never be able to do, and instead ask ourselves what it is that we will insist is done by other humans.

When we flip our thinking in this manner, says Colvin, we begin to uncover the key to high-value work in the future economy – the skills of social interaction, including empathy, social sensitivity, storytelling, humor, forming relationships, collaboration, and creativity.

In HUMANS ARE UNDERRATED, Colvin argues that in the future economy, the most valuable people will not be knowledge workers, but “relationship workers” who create the kind of social value that people will always desire from their fellow humans. Organizations and individuals already know that these relationship skills create tremendous competitive advantage in the form of increased customer loyalty, innovation, and cultures of engagement. And by drawing on a wide range of case studies, from the U.S. Army and software firms to the Cleveland Clinic, Colvin demonstrates how these skills can be developed at the individual and organizational level.

With rigorous analysis and a refreshing perspective, Colvin’s HUMANS ARE UNDERRATED goes against the grain of both technology evangelists and doomsday predictors to offer a hopeful message: while technological advancement will continue to dazzle us, we are not destined to become irrelevant. Computers can never replace the social interaction that we humans are hardwired to desire. The best news here is that most of us already have what it takes.


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About the Author

Geoff Colvin is Fortune’s Senior Editor-at-Large and one of America’s most respected journalists. He lectures widely on significant trends in business – the infotech revolution, leadership, globalization, wealth creation – and is the regular lead moderator for the Fortune Global Forum. He also appears daily on the CBS Radio Network, reaching over seven million listeners each week.

His previous book, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, was a national bestseller and has been translated into a dozen languages.

Born and raised in Vermillion, South Dakota, Colvin is an honors graduate of Harvard University with a degree in Economics and has an M.B.A. from New York University.