Imagine you're tasked with creating a brand-new city from scratch. A broad, meandering river cuts through a level plateau of arable land, and you're responsible for whatever's to come. What do you do first? Lay out a street grid? Install emergency services? Block off land for preservation and development? Think wisely, because your next decision may determine the fate of your city's inhabitants for generations to come.
At its core, this is the same decision that local leaders of the world's emerging megacities face today. They may not be starting from scratch, but tomorrow's megacities face a similar potential for dynamic growth and expansion as yesterday's frontier boom towns. What should be their number-one priority when focusing on future development? People.
According to a recent report from Mercer titled, "People First: Driving Growth in Emerging Megacities," we must prioritize humans (not robots) for a competitive advantage. We must design technology with humans at the center. To quote Pearly Siffel, Strategy and Geographic Expansion Leader, International, at Mercer, "In the future, work will be less about 'using' technology and more about 'interacting' with technology."
1. Technology Is Fungible, People Are Not
The well-worn axiom that AI will transform the future of work is more true today than ever before, but it misrepresents how the future will be transformed. What may start as a race to adopt and leverage AI in the workplace will inevitably end in a saturation of technology: As soon as one firm unlocks the full potential of automation, it'll be a matter of time before their competitors replicate the model.
Who wins in a world where AI is in every office? The organizations with the best talent. Consumer and workforce demands will inevitably adapt to an AI-empowered future, and the real differentiator will be the human skills, such as critical thinking, emotional intelligence and creative problem solving, paired with technology.
A recent report by the World Economic Forum outlines the 10 skills humans will need to create value in an increasingly automated world, and it's a great reminder that peoplemust remain the focus if we're to build anything that works in the future of work.1
Tamara McCleary, Founder and CEO of Thulium, summarized this point well in a recent conversation we had: "If we are distracted by all that glitters with the promise of a frictionless future with AI, then we will surely miss the mark. While technology may be an economic accelerator in the future of work, people are still the core drivers of sustained productivity."