5 Skills Creative Leaders Need In The Age of Automation

There’s a lot of angst about robots – automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning – taking jobs, changing organizations job descriptions and leaving leaders scrambling to find new talent (for jobs they can’t even predict).

Maybe the rise of robots is a two-fold opportunity. One, it’s an opportunity for us to boost how creatively we imagine and enact a whole new suite of products and services. Two, it’s an opportunity for us to re-imagine HOW we go about creating new products and services.

For those leading and building future products and teams, taking advantage of these new opportunities is a must. To do so, we need leaders and individuals to focus on a new set of skills regardless of industry or role. As machines get better at being machines, it requires humans get better at being human.

I’ve led and created product experiences for innovation initiatives at great tech companies over the years (eBay, Nike, Magento, etc.) In doing so, I’ve gained insight into how products are made and more importantly the skills needed to craft those innovations. More and more of the things we make will be co-opted with machine partners. 

To go beyond robot replacement, teams and leaders need to foster some uniquely human skills.

5 Human Skills We Need To Foster In the Age of Automation

1. Empathy (Not YOUR FEELINGS)

As I’ve called out before empathy is done by imagination and research. Empathy is a tool for understanding people. It is the ability to understand others pain, context, and experience. To solve someone else’s problem, knowing how they experience it is key – enter empathy.

2. SystemS Thinking

Skydiving from a strategic 30,000-foot view of a concept to an on the ground understanding. The ability to see a whole system in its complexity and hold it in one’s mind. And see a multitude of variables and how each interacts with one another.

3. Imagination

I hear you “sure, uh huh… sounds nice”. John Maeda says a creative leader “always questions authority.” Imagination is one of the doors to question authority. An important skill to break the status quo. The brain’s amazing ability to see things not yet made. To form new ideas. To, in a sense, forget logic and go past connections exploring things, not in our environment.

4. Coherence (and Human Intelligence)

Forming a unified whole – the ability to connect concepts that seem disconnected based on quality and attributes alone. Using humans unique ability to understand deep context and story.


“Endless Newbie is the new default for everyone, no matter your age or experience.” writes Kevin Kelly in his book “The Inevitable.”
Shiftable means you have the skill to transform. It may sound like an ability but it’s a skill that can and must be learned.

Change is actually happening faster than ever. Being able to adapt, intake new concepts, and change perspective is an essential skill for leaders and teams.

Irreplaceable Human Value

These 5 skills mean robots, machines and intelligent automation shift from being a threat to being an asset. A tool which is used, rather than competition to be feared. These skills push people to become tool makers and users, not production tools themselves.

As machines get better at being machines, humans need to get better at being human.