A new McKinsey study of 800 occupations finds that automation and artificial intelligence will transform the workplace over the next decade. In order to compete, our skills have to change. The study finds that communication skills will be valued above all others. "The need for finely tuned social and emotional skills will grow rapidly," according to the report.
The McKinsey report supports the conclusion I've reached several years of interviews with billionaires and business leaders, NASA astronauts and Navy SEALS, neuroscientists and historians. As the forces of globalization, automation and artificial intelligence disrupt every career and every industry, mastering the art of persuasion isn't an option anymore; it's the key driver of success.
Persuasion--the ability to combine words and ideas to change hearts and minds--is the one tool we have to outsmart smart machines.
You see, in today's world your value is locked up in your ideas. Your value doesn't come from how fast you can ploough a field as in the Agrarian Age or from how fast you can assemble widgets on a factory floor as in the Industrial Age. In the knowledge economy, you are only as valuable as your ideas.
Here's the key. Ideas don't sell themselves. An idea needs an advocate, someone to champion it and convince others to buy in. This is the first time in history that anyone who is a little better at expressing their idea can see a sudden, massive increase in wealth that is unprecedented in human history.
For example, famed venture capitalist Michael Moritz, one of Google's first investors, told me that Sergey Brin and Larry Page captivated investors from the time they first stepped into the office of Sequoia Capital. The ability to convince others that your idea has merit--good old fashioned persuasion--is the single greatest skill that will give you a competitive edge. Great communicators are irresistible and irreplaceable.
Here are three ways to build your persuasive skills.
1. Watch great persuaders
Great persuaders are a click away. Since 2006, TED Talks have streamed presentations from some of the best public-speakers of our time. You can watch human rights attorney Bryan Stevenson argue for criminal justice reform or Bill Gates argue for more emphasis on healthcare initiatives in developing countries.
On YouTube, you can watch videos of Steve Jobs--one of the great corporate persuaders of our time. Watch Jobs make the case for the original Macintosh in 1984 or the iPhone in 2007. Pay attention to the power of the message and simplicity of the slides. Valuable lessons are at your finger-tips.
2. See yourself as a Chief Storytelling Officer
Richard Branson once told me that a person cannot be a successful entrepreneur or leader today without the ability to tell a compelling a story. The science of persuasion supports Branson's observation. Stories inform, educate and inspire. According to neuroscientist and Princeton professor Uri Hasson, stories synchronize people's brains, making the speaker and the listener mentally connected with one another. It's no coincidence that storytelling is a prized asset at Virgin, Google, SAP, Nike, Microsoft and other admired companies. Machines don't have a heart; storytellers do.
3. Reframe and rehearse
You cannot persuade another person to buy-in to your original idea if you're afraid to speak up. Cognitive psychologists say "reappraisal" or reframing your mental picture can boost your confidence. Reframing your fear doesn't mean you can eliminate it completely from your mind. It simply means that you recognize your fear, accept that it exists, and overwhelm it with empowering self-talk and mental images of success. The second step to overcoming your fear is to rehearse--over and over and over. Practice reduces anxiety.
Early in my research for a new book on persuasion, I spoke to Anthony Goldbloom, the founder and CEO of Kaggle, a company that uses predictive modeling to solve big problems. "By construction, machines are very good at learning things that have been done before and repeating them again and again and again," Goldbloom told me. "But in order to touch somebody emotionally, you have to surprise people. Machines have made very little progress in tackling novel situations. They can't handle things they haven't seen many times before."
Your novel ideas are your most valuable asset. Your ideas matter. Learn to speak up for them, inspire the rest of us to believe in you, and you'll be unstoppable, irresistible and irreplaceable in the age of AI.