Most engineers I know have not solved a calculus integral since they left school. Today they wouldn’t know how to tackle one of those calculus problems that only took them a few minutes to do as students. What is the point of keeping up a skill, which in practice, they won’t use in their work? They have tools that can automate this task, without margins of error and in less time.
People with all kinds of higher degrees do not see a direct relationship between the academic studies they did and their careers. They think that in their academic phase they memorized large volumes of structured information that, either has become obsolete or is available in repositories to which they have 24/24 access from anywhere. We stop memorizing at the point when the system storing the information is sufficiently reliable, up-to-date and accessible.
How many of our peers who are over 40 allude to the time when they memorized frequently used telephone numbers? Today, they have no need to remember this data because it suffices to search for the person in the smartphone calendar or to simply talk into the device to call up that person. Many admit to memory loss due to a lack of practice, but they think the skill atrophy is more than compensated by the benefits they gain,
Besides, what about the laborious effort it takes us to learn several languages? Today we have virtual assistants who act as interpreters almost in real time. We already have technology that is sufficiently developed to make ear implants so that we can listen in our own language to conversations with others using different languages.
It is true that natural language and the problems expressed in an unstructured and informal way pose a considerable challenge for automated systems. Irony, double meanings and many other resources shaping our conversations have been an almost insurmountable barrier for machines. Artificial intelligence is overcoming this hurdle. It enables problems to be tackled with levels of flexibility and adaptability that are disturbingly like human ones.
Having reached this point, many people (and companies) wonder how useful the learning formats we have been using over the recent centuries are. We dedicate time and resources to acquire skills that, when we use them, they are already no longer needed: the tasks we have prepared for can be done by automated systems. Wouldn’t it make more sense to allocate these resources to develop machine learning? In theory, it would be enough for us to know what we can expect from the systems available and how to access the knowledge they generate and store.
The bewilderment spurred by these reflections have opened an interesting debate. Here I have summarized some of the reflections form different forums that may provide insights for guidelines to learning in families and companies:
The ability for calculation, memory and other sophisticated intellectual skills exercise extraordinarily complex neural structures, formed through evolutionary processes over thousands of years. Systematically neglecting these skills leads to atrophy with erratic outcomes. True, intensive use of technology sets into motion other processes that will make us evolve in a different direction, but it is not clear that these changes will favour mankind.
Different languages are not just interchangeable codes to express the same reality. Every one of nearly 7,000 languages that human beings use shapes our way of thinking, as Lera Boroditsky conveyed clearly. Quoting Charlemagne, who says, “To have a second language is to possess a second soul.”
The experience with previous industrial revolutions shows the risk of skills atrophy. When we no longer need to exercise our muscles to do activities when our survival is at stake, the problems linked with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle shoot up. However, it is also true that because of our knowledge of biomechanics and the advances in nutrition techniques, physiotherapy, and others, we find among elite athletes who are the fastest ever human beings in history or who lift the heaviest weights ever recorded.
Let’s not develop skills to compete with machines more efficient than humans for the same tasks, but to compete with ourselves, in a relentless effort to fully realize our highest potential as individuals and as a species.
Let me venture to describe some characteristics that define the talent flows in these times:
Talent is a species that reproduces poorly in captivity.
Talent seeks out open spaces.
Talent prefers to be linked to projects rather than to institutions.
Talent engages provisionally with the organization that it currently serves and, in a more sustainable way, with its own development.
There is awareness that all talent is dynamic: either it develops, or it atrophies. That’s why talent likes to flow rather than to stagnate.
Talent feels better with assumed uncertainty than with fictitious security.
This landscape may seem discouraging for those who manage talent using parameters belonging to the past. There are still some who yearn for a scenario in which talent joins an organization expecting to remain indefinitely. These people offered their outstanding capabilities as a blank check, which we have been cashing in successively in alignment with the organization’s needs. Talent investments generated reasonable guarantees of return. Now these same managers are disturbed by shorter relationship cycles that cast doubt on the profitability of their investments: “Why should I allocate resources to some collaborators, if they‘ll be leaving at any time? It doesn’t make sense to invest in an employee who leaves.” That’s until someone makes them notice that there is an even worse scenario: not investing in employees and they stay on.
Companies that are most advanced in people management do not analyse the profitability of their talent investments through the return they obtain from each individual, but instead as an aggregate. It’s about their talent policies offering a positive net balance.
We are confronted with a rather fast-paced setting, yet one that is much more adjusted to the reality of the times we live in. To the point that widely accepted concepts, such as talent retention, have become obsolete. Talent is no longer retained: they are seduced, they are enticed, they are offered attractive conditions so talent desires to develop their potential in the projects we offer them.
These reflections come from the latest book by Javier Fernández Aguado: “Jesuitas. Liderar talento libre” (Title literally translated as “Jesuits. Lead free talent.”) The most prolific author on management in the Spanish language offers a rigorous analysis of the governance style in an organization that is more than five centuries old and of remarkable ecclesiastical and civil importance. Can today’s organizations learn something from the management techniques of such an ancient organization encased in a religious confession. Fernández Aguado’s merit is to rigorously describe past events, while extricating consequences applicable today.
His work offers a portrait of the Jesuits and their well-tested organizational management. He also tries to show that the followers of Ignacio de Loyola had a talent-based form of management and that they manage their HR through recruiting and developing people capable of taking on a leadership role in different social environments. Their management style is not expressed through the oppression of people, but rather through freedom.
Compared to conventional talent models submitted to a rigorous discipline, the paradigm of free talent management offers the following advantages, among others:
Greater degree of autonomy. People boost their ability to make decisions when circumstances so require, without excessive dependence on prior instructions or continuous affirmation by a superior. This is particularly useful in organizations undertaking expansion processes that start operations in new markets where business models must be adapted to local characteristics.
Increased initiative. Freedom is not anarchy. It is the ability to take on organizational objectives, while imaginatively design alternative routes to achieve them.
Effective commitment. Free talent does not remain linked to the organization by the barriers to exiting inherent in its relationship model, but deliberately and consciously, through the value of the project itself to which talent decides to dedicate its capacities and resources at that moment.
al que decide dedicar en ese momento sus capacidades y recursos.