Be the human: A role for coaching in a progressively AI world


We’ve all seen and heard the statistics.

Within the next five years, an estimated 85 million jobs may be displaced due to the shift of labour from humans to machines. Half of the current global working force will need to be completely reskilled by that year. Almost all business leaders (94%) expect employees to learn on the job, developing new skills once employed.

Annual publications such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) Future of Jobs report (from where the above statistics are pulled), Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends report and the International Labour Organisations World Employment and Social Outlook report, all highlight the same facts – the workplace continues to evolve rapidly, with the global Covid-19 pandemic giving it a further turbo injection.

Does this mean all human capital can and will be replaced by technology?

Alison Reid, director of personal and applied learning at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs), responds with a resounding “No”.

Does it mean that artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to augment human capabilities and that we need to adapt and evolve at a breakneck pace to gain new skills required? A loud and emphatic “Yes” from Reid.


The WEF supports this argument by pointing out that while we may lose 85 million jobs in the next four years because machines can do things a lot better than the humans who built the machines, 97 million new jobs will emerge that are “more adapted to this new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms”.

The skills required for these new jobs are, importantly, uniquely human.

In the top 15 skills for 2025, highlighted in the report, a technology-related skill makes its debut only at number seven.

Top of the pops is analytical thinking and innovation, followed by active learning and learning strategies; complex problem-solving; critical thinking and analysis; creativity, originality and initiative; and leadership and social influence (see table below).

Source: Future of Jobs Survey 2020, World Economic Forum

Technology use, monitoring and control, and technology design and programming, are next.

Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility, placing ninth pre-pandemic (the report is from 2020) must surely have jumped a couple of notches since.

Knowledge does not equate to insight

With technological development advancing unabatedly at an astounding pace, are we inevitably heading for Vernor Vinge’s singularity, reiterated by Ray Kurzweil and Stephen Hawking – where machines and AI improve themselves continuously until the human race is no longer required and, subsequently, ends?

As digital life augments human capacities, there is much debate by experts as to the degree to which these networked artificial intelligences may amplify human effectiveness, but also threaten human autonomy, agency and capabilities, says Reid.

She adds that whatever may ultimately happen, these technologies will be designed by humans. “As Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, says: ‘We need to work aggressively to make sure technology matches our values.’”

Reid argues that already in our current and definitely in our future world, perhaps paradoxically, increasing humanness in a positive way is a currency that is sorely required and sought-after.

“The jobs AI cannot do better than humans involve qualities like communication, empathy, creativity, strategic thinking, questioning and imagining,” she says.

“We often refer to these collectively as ‘soft skills’ but they are going to be the hard currency in the job markets of the future.”

She quotes economist Herbert Simon who said that in an information-rich world, wealth of information can create poverty of attention.

“Knowing is no longer enough,” says Reid. “It’s the filtering, the quality of intentional focusing on what matters in one’s context, the cultivating of creative insight, and the applying of knowledge in purposeful action that is so critical.

“This is also how we build our internal capacity for ongoing change,” she says.

Catalysing the extraordinary

Reid believes that coaching can unlock the potential within human beings to be more human – she describes it as the “art and science of catalysing extraordinary potential”.

“Coaching evokes insights and shifts or expands perspectives. It is about unlocking capacities and harnessing the best possible version of an individual,” she says.

“It works in a contextually relevant, unique and empathic way, therefore it is not about giving generally applicable best practice principles like teaching would, but it looks at the person being coached as a unique individual. Thus, the capacity that sits in that individual is also unique.”

In the last couple of years the coaching industry has emerged as a serious growth sector, with the International Coaching Federation’s 2020 report estimating the market size in 2019, for the United States alone, at $15 billion. By next year, the federation expects it to have grown to $20 billion.

Reid says the growth she has seen is driven partly by a recognition of the impact of coaching in creating real change, but also an awareness of the growing importance of developing specific collective human intelligences for the future.

“We know of many executives on our own coaching programmes who have shared their transformational experiences in confidence. But there are also CEOs of large corporations who are very public about their advocacy for coaching and that they, themselves, are employing coaching – Bill Gates of Microsoft and Bob Nardelli of Home Depot, for example.”

Human-centric skills will differentiate workplaces

“An organisation is not going to be competitive in the future if it doesn’t focus on the human-centric skills now,” says Reid.

She argues that while automation achieves incredible efficiency and speed, especially in repetitive and programmable activities, it can’t replace the “hot cognition” needed in an operation.

“This is the emotional, values-based and authentic compassionate component of human beings that ultimately gives those tasks purpose, meaning and relevance,” says Reid.

She believes coaching develops thriving, productive people who drive and lead growing, sustainable and ethical businesses that contribute to a healthier, more sustainable world.

“Neither technology nor luck will solve our biggest challenges. In the end, we, as humans, will have to. It’s best we learn how,” says Reid.

“At the centre of coaching is this: optimising and leveraging the best of our extraordinary collective capacities as human beings for a better world. Done human by human, and human to human.”

Brought to you by the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs).

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