When you imagine the workplaces of tomorrow, do you picture robots instead of human beings? If the “future of work” conjures visions of empty offices populated only by shiny machinery, you’re not reading too much science fiction. The World Economic Forum predicts that the division of labor will continue to shift dramatically from people toward machines, while the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that 14 percent of current jobs will soon be eliminated and 32 percent disrupted by new technologies.
Those statistics might sound a bit dystopian, and they should be taken with a grain of salt. The World Economic Forum also predicts that for the 1 million jobs likely to become obsolete, 1.7 million new jobs will be created. In fact, a recent report from Deloitte paints a more recognizable picture of the future, suggesting that new technologies are likely to enhance the efforts of a human workforce, rather than replace them. While repetitive and menial work will likely become automated, distinctly “human” skills could become more valuable than ever.
The Right Skills for Tomorrow’s Workforce
What exactly are distinctly “human” skills? In the last post in our The Future of Work series, we explored the kinds of jobs that will likely never become obsolete in light of their unique human value. A computer might be better at reading a brain scan, but it can never replace the compassion and attention of a doctor sitting across from you and explaining your diagnosis. With automation taking over tasks that are data-driven and routine, people will be valued for what computers can’t provide: their creativity, ingenuity and agility. Empathy, listening, interpretation and problem-solving will be the go-to skills of the future and will come to redefine the workforce.
This line of thinking undermines the notion that everyone needs to give up on their true calling and retrain in program coding and software engineering. Rather than profound shifts in education and vocation, this analysis suggests that the future workforce will require a range of softer skills that apply across professional industries alike. In other words, how we work will become just as important as what we do, and workers will need to build capabilities that allow them to exist—and thrive—in productive harmony with emerging technologies.
Enter Human-Centered Design (HCD)
It’s in this genre of soft-skill training that human-centered design (HCD) becomes so important. By teaching people to uncover unmet needs, generate new ideas and create solutions through experimenting, they’ll build capabilities that will position them to anticipate and navigate all the challenges of a quickly evolving world.
In the workplaces of tomorrow, HCD capabilities can replace legacy attitudes in a number of ways. As swiftness and flexibility become prized over siloed research and development, organizational problems will be solved differently, turning from waterfall projects toward agile iterations. Ongoing interdisciplinary learning and upskilling will take the place of obstinate expertise. Redundant analysis will give way to rigorous testing, and deep customer understanding will replace secondary research. Action, speed and empirical evidence will become the foundation for new initiatives, avoiding the lengthy protocols of hierarchical approval, red tape and debate.
HCD has already been adopted by some of the most successful and innovative companies in the world. Many of these organizations are building the method into their operational structures as a way to maintain agility and foster creativity in a constantly shifting business landscape. This bold and disruptive approach has been proven to help organizations solve complex business problems and drive company-wide innovation in an era of constant change.
But cultures of innovation aren’t established overnight. They require employee capability-building and organization-wide adoption and commitment; the principles of HCD need to be woven into a company’s DNA. When business leaders are ready to instill HCD into every function and corner of their company, they will begin to see some of its phenomenal impact.
Want to learn more about human-centered design? Read our eBook: The Business Case for Design Thinking.