Talent Will Matter Even More

By Restoring the Soul of Business Archives
Cover image for  article: Talent Will Matter Even More

Technology is a lever that places a premium on superior talent.

Decades ago, to get people to sign up, the Book of the Month Club would offer several free options which were marketed as an extraordinary value (hundreds of dollars or value for free). This is the way the 11 volumes of The Story of Civilization by Ariel and Will Durant ended up in my father’s library in Bombay, India. (Since renamed to Mumbai). Thousands of pages which before computers, before television in India, and before the Internet one could finish over several years. Books were then the best technology, since even radio programming was very limited in India at that time.

One key concept resonates decades later from The Lessons of Civilization: Every advance in technology places a premium on superior ability.

During those years I was also doing a deep dive in mathematics which was willed upon me by my parents who suggested that my passion to be a writer could wait till I had something worthwhile to say. Till then I needed to learn how to think, and math might help in that direction.

The final year at college at the University of Bombay I had eight courses. Each one in math. The regular ones such as calculus and statistics, plus truly exotic ones like mechanics.

I do not recall much if anything of those subjects -- all of which I ended up excelling in. But one concept stood out in mechanics.


Leverage matters. Archimedes famously said, "Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I'll move the world." This expresses the power of leverage, which, at least figuratively, moves the world. Archimedes realized that to accomplish the same amount or work, one could make a trade-off between force and distance using a lever.

Technology is leverage. As technology is widely distributed it helps individuals as much as it does institutions. A sling shot is technology that helped David bring down Goliath. A bow and arrow are leverage versus those who do not have arms. But sooner or later everyone will have the armaments. The great archer will use the bow and arrow to create great distance between her and the less talented.

Every advance in technology places a premium on superior ability. Today there are marvelous breakthroughs in AI technology in the currently trending ChatGPT and Lensa AI. Experiment and sample them both and while you are it check out Stable Diffusion and Runway ML among so many other breakthroughs.

But remember the typewriter did not write A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway did.

If I have a word processer and ChatGPT and Hemingway has a pen he would write better. If Hemingway also had ChatGPT the distance between us would be even wider. Hemingway with a Substack would have scaled amazingly better than most ... just as talented individuals do with TikTok.

It is not the technology. It is the talent.

Today streaming and the Internet makes one of the most popular courses at Harvard on Justice or Happiness at Yale available to everybody for free. It is not the marvels of the Internet, streaming and more that make these courses great. It is Laurie Santos and Michael Sandel.

Talent has scaled globally using technology like a lever. So, we should not worry about how AI will replace us, but how we will leverage AI to scale ourselves, our teams and companies.

Here are six things we may all want to consider as we move into a new AI age (which is just one of four factors including 5G, Voice/AR/VR and Block Chain) that is going to revolutionize the future to ensure individuals, teams and companies (which in the end are just one thing) that talent continues to thrive.

  1. Embrace technology. Those who embraced the fire and the wheel out lived and were more successful than those who did not. Learn, invest and experiment with technology. If one is world class and does not embrace technology a good company or talent with technology will likely end up doing better.
  1. Complement Technology. Machines cannot yet feel. Machines do not look ahead but are amazing at seeing patterns of the past. Machines are bad at nuance. Machines do not get cancer. Machines do not cry. How do we work with machines? How do we complement machines? Last week Stanford’s Yoav Shoham one of the leading Ai researchers in the world spoke on What Next? (the podcast I host) on the topic of People Plus Machine: The Future of Work and described how a young child is often more sophisticated at certain tasks than the best AI.
  1. Invest in learning.The problem with technology is that it has a shorter and shorter half-life and a faster and faster pace of advancement. Moore’s law saw chip technology double in capacity every 18 months but today AI progresses twice as fast.  Be wary of people constantly speaking about the “good old days”. The best days are ahead but require constant learning.
  1. The future is carbon and digital.We are going to be increasingly in a digital, data driven, silicon-based future but the differentiating edge when everyone has tech will be analog, feeling carbon-based people -- whether it is talent or consumers or clients. Combining the two will be key. Art plus science. Math plus meaning. The story and the spreadsheet.
  1. Fixate on talent.Talent is job one, two and three for all companies. Companies that win will be better at attracting, retaining and upgrading talent that can collaborate, co-exist and combine skills with AI. Finance will matter. Technology will matter. Logistics will matter. But people are everything. The best companies from Microsoft after Satya Nadella to Southwest and Delta versus United and American recognize that people are the differentiator and as technology scales talent will be the key. Because technology not only can replace talent that do machine-like jobs, but machines also greatly magnify the impact of talent who do jobs that are synergistic with computers. And these will be most of the jobs.
  2. Hone your talent.Every human is talented. The key is to discover what we excel at and find ways to hone our craft and skill in ways that can be enhanced with technology. This requires continues practice, re-learning and re-imagining our work and how we will work.

Author Update.

My parents were right, as parents often are. The math mattered and decades of time unearthed something worthwhile to say.

My first book, Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data continues to sell well and will have another very strong year as companies realize that it has predicted all we have gone through in the past three years -- but more importantly laid out actionable ways on how to thrive as we move ahead. HarperCollins just ordered another reprint.

What Next?

Half of our waking lives are spent working. Work has and will continue to change more in this decade than in many decades prior. Work is central not just for income but to identity, community, purpose, meaning and more. But the how, why, where, what and more of work will be re-invented.

As a result, society, industry and life will shift.

McGraw-Hill has just purchased the global rights and provided an advance for my next book, tentatively titled Re-Thinking Work: The Future Does Not Fit in the Containers of the Past,which I have begun writing and will be published in 2024.

Thank you for supporting the first book which helped sell the second book. And for reading and sharing this thought letter.

After Note. In 2010 the Durant books travelled from Bombay to Chicago after we closed our parents' home. They sit by a new Quest Pro.

Image at top courtesy of Rishad Tobaccowala.

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