The last remaining human skill

If you read this blog (or even if you don't, but are conscious of the jobs destruction that is happening because of technology), you'll know that if we are to stay ahead of the curve, we humans have to figure out what we can do better than machines.

And that list is being eroded daily. But there are some things which people do really well, and which machines still really suck at.

For all the social media and automated messaging filling the world, by definition, machines cannot substitute for REAL human to human relationships. I call this H2H.

This idea is not new. Dale Carnegie recognized it way back in 1936.

And this might just be the last thing that we can all rely on if we are to survive the tech tsunami. 

I broached this hypothesis with my friend and fellow blogger, Ted Bauer, and he provided his take on this. Turns out that Ted not only agrees, but can evidence how his relationships impact on his own prospects almost daily.

When we are presented with technological tools to do things, humans have a tendency to over-delegate to machines. There are examples everywhere of this. HR people who let ATS software take priority over individual personal judgements. Auto messages which fill our notifications boxes on social media. Bank loans which are assessed not by people but by systems-based algorithms.

We must come to our senses. Let technology do what it's good at. But never surrender or abdicate to it.

So this week, I have delegated my blogging work not to a machine, but a real person in Dallas called Ted Bauer.

PS If you are interested in HR, the future of work, marketing or business strategy, Ted's blog, The Context of Things is a simply brilliant place to get the grey matter working.

Neil was nice enough to do a guest post for me, and then I fell down like an idiot on doing a guest post in return for him. Better late than never, I suppose!

I had been connected with Neil on Twitter and other platforms for a while -- probably over a year at that point -- when we finally met up via Skype a few weeks ago. It struck me as an interesting time for a couple of different reasons. Let me run through a few quickly, and hopefully in a very limited self-promotional way. (I’ll try, at least.)

In that one day, I had three Skype calls -- one with Neil (in England), one with a blogger in Germany, and one with an Australian who lives in Stockholm. (Neil was, of course, the coolest.)

Now, none of these things have turned into stone cold cash yet, and the eternal capitalist (i.e. the class currently ruling America) might scoff and say, “Pfft, that’s not business.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to defining what exactly “business” is: Before I started doing freelance, I was working for this B2B travel consortium company. It was largely a tire fire, as any company over about 250 employees has the potential to be. But I got to attend a few trade shows, and I saw a lot of people from different areas of the world -- hotel managers, cruise line sales directors, etc. -- do the double cheek kiss and talk about “their friends in Calcutta” and the like. Even though I didn’t really like this job, and eventually got laid off from it, it was one of the times I most directly saw the idea of business being truly global.

Sorry, not even close.

The thing that always bothered me about those trade shows, though, was that the same “our friends in Calcutta” people would talk about how travel was “a relationship business.” I used to think to myself: isn’t everything a relationship business, especially now? I mean, working in financial management is a financial job -- but if you ain’t managing relationships therein, I doubt you’ll last super long in such a job. Right?

I may be a little bit jaded (I probably am), but the way I look at business writ large in 2017 is this: I think we’ve had years of executives pining for (i.e. demanding) growth. That growth has come, often, in the form of new revenue streams. When you create (i.e. “force”) a new revenue stream into an already-existing ecosystem, you create a lot of choice overload for the end users. This is why we seemingly have 144 different types of coffee, whereas 20-25 years ago, we maybe had 10.

As every vertical seemingly has 951 different options now, I feel like relationships are, indeed, more important than ever. People may make choices on price (that’ll never go away totally) in some price ranges and industries, but with so much noise and so many half-assed products that executives demanded to get their growth, people want something they can trust. The trust comes from the relationships you build with people at other companies, their sales principals, etc.

I’m not saying anything patently new here. I’m pretty sure that the Egyptians understood relationships drove business and transactions. And I’m pretty sure their overlords wanted some growth too.

But this is what struck me about my triple Skype day: first off, I’m a lowly blogger sitting in north Texas, in my living room with an oversized dog. And yet, I’m making connections and building relationships with people all over the world (no one in Calcutta just yet). In the weeks since we’ve Skyped, I’ve made new LinkedIn connections via Neil, and I may meet up with someone in this area who connected with him first. Now, again, are these things all paying opportunities? No. But might they be? Or might they offer the Gladwellian/Stanford University “weak ties” principle that builds something out? Of course.

So if a lowly, stained-undershirt-wearing blogger such as myself can build these relationships through social media and the tech tools of our day, I feel that could be a broader lesson here. All business is about relationships, and relationships will transcend time and space. Nurture ‘em, grow ‘em, focus on ‘em, and you may just have a predictable revenue stream on your hands without introducing the 19th new version of your hammer.

Neil and I may be a ways off on the double cheek kiss part of our relationship, although I do look forward to meeting in person eventually. But until then, two laptops, a few Twitter accounts, some LinkedIn messages, and more will continue to show me that we truly are all living in a relationship-driving, utterly-global business world.


  1. I've been successful in my current role specifically because of the relationships I've developed with my peers and partners both within and outside my own company. Life and business shouldn't be a zero sum game - we can all win if we work together. If it wasn't due to the excellent working relationships I've crafted with my partners both within and outside my own company there's no way I would have been able to succeed in my current role.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience here Mark. I agree with you. And if I had my time again, I would wish I knew this fact of life well before I hit Forty years of age;-)