Soft Power Skills and the Coming Revolution

The robot revolution has begun! Are all the hard skills and knowledge that we learned in school still going to be able to earn us a livelihood? Fortunately, we still can develop an advantage–our soft power skills. Read on to find out what skills will see you through the revolution.

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Imagining a world of driverless cars, pilotless planes, robotic repairmen, and self-maintaining machines is not very difficult these days. Self-learning Artificial Intelligence (AI) is growing smarter every day, as machines teach themselves to continuously and independently improve. For example, Google’s translation software has made dramatic improvements over the last year, as they’ve changed the algorithm so that the software continues to learn languages like French, Japanese, and Chinese on its own.  In music, the “Deep Artificial Composer” creates original melodies by first being taught to listen to tunes, learning the rules of good compositions, and then is unleashed to compose on its own. The hardware of robots is becoming ever smaller, ever more flexible, making their functions more elegant and practical. Jobs that many thought were safe are quickly being taken over by machines powered with AI. Dow Jones’ Market Watch recently published a story “10 Jobs Robots Already Do Better Than You,” including stockroom worker, bartender, soldier, pharmacist, farmer, journalist, housekeeper, paralegals, and tellers. A McKinsey report ominously states, “After years of promise and hype, machine learning has at last hit the vertical part of the exponential curve. Computers are replacing skilled practitioners in fields such as architecture, aviation, the law, medicine, and petroleum geology—and changing the nature of work in a broad range of other jobs and professions. Deep Knowledge Ventures, a Hong Kong venture-capital firm, has gone so far as to appoint a decision-making algorithm to its board of directors.”




How should we respond to this coming revolution of the way our world works? From our youngest school days, we have been learning “hard skills” of technical knowledge and talents that we hoped would be the things that made our livelihood in our adult years… learning to repair cars, fly airplanes, design buildings, run a restaurant, write news reports, cure patients, etc. Many of those hard skills are now being learned and performed by AI robots, and this trend is bound to increase in the future.

Perhaps it’s not yet time to panic—after all, many of those hard skills are still useful and better done by humans, or perhaps they’ll be transformed into a collaborative human-machine partnership. The famous defeat of chess champion Kasparov by IBM’s Deep Blue supposedly demonstrated the supremacy of machine over man; and yet, subsequent experience has shown that a team of humans paired with a machine beats the best single chess program.

Kasparov playing IBM’s Deep Blue in 1997…a match he lost. Source

Fortunately, the hard occupational skills we learn are not the only advantages we have as humans. The areas that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for AI machines to replace are what I call “Soft Power Skills.” These are skills that transfer from one occupation or technical skill to another, and are usually only indirectly taught in our formal education. The concept is an adaptation of a political science term “soft power,” and the idea of “soft skills.”

The term “soft power” was developed by political scientist Joseph S. Nye Jr. in describing a type of national power. For Nye, power in general “is the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes one wants….in behavioral terms soft power is attractive power.”[1]  He describes individual soft power as resting on the skills of “emotional intelligence, vision, and communication….”

The simple term “soft skills” likely originated in the information technology sector (who thought in terms of hardware and software), and has become a buzzword in recent decades, used in business, economic, social science and psychology circles, and subsequently has many definitions. In general, however, soft skills can be divided into skills about knowing and controlling oneself, and interacting with others for mutually positive outcomes.

I define “soft power skills” as the tools of self-regulation, positive virtues and values, and creativity that can be used to positively communicate with and attract fellow humans to create meaningful and positive outcomes. This definition can expand and change with our continued exploration of the idea—the following list of what I consider soft power skills will clarify better than a single definition:

Soft Power Skills List

  • Emotional intelligence – ability to understand and control one’s feelings
  • Social intelligence – ability to understand other’s feelings
  • Resourcefulness— ability to take available resources, innovate, and solve problems
  • Internalization of positive, attractive values and principles
  • Expression of virtuous, ethical behavior
  • Situational Awareness – Ability to match what you perceive to be happening with what is actually happening
  • Mindfulness – Ability to step into the gap between stimulus and an automatic response by focusing attention and fully applying one’s mental resources
  • Ability to see multiple potential desirable realities
  • Ability to make connections between things or events that don’t seem related at first
  • Ability to see patterns and changes to patterns
  • Ability to make disruptive innovation and change
  • Ability to analyze data, determine truth, prioritize importance, filter noise, and produce a succinct, clear, credible, actionable product of information
  • Ability to make smart decisions
  • Ability to attract people to your ideas and vision
  • Ability to tell an engaging story and persuade—to communicate with empathy and persuasive power
  • Ability to motivate oneself and others to positive action
  • Ability to assess strengths in others and align the right people with the right task
  • Ability to provide constructive criticism
  • Polite
  • Diplomatic
  • Humorous
  • Collaborative
  • Able to Negotiate

The combination of all these skills is really what leadership is all about…but it’s also more than just leadership. Learning soft power skills improves our own lives, and changes the environment around us for the better. These skills can all be learned, as social, economic, biological, and psychological sciences continue to make advances in our understanding of how to acquire and use the skills. Andaman Inspirations focuses on helping the reader develop soft power skills, sifting through the noise and information overload to produce material with succinct, actionable knowledge. I hope to stimulate and sustain a conversation that helps us meet and win the revolution ahead.

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Copyright © 2017 by Robert Cummings All rights reserved.

[1] Nye, Joseph S., Jr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. New York: PublicAffairs, 2004, p. 2.

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