The Renaissance of New Humanism in the Digital Era

Sep 16, 2020
A hilarious meme recently went viral on the internet: “Can we uninstall 2020 and reinstall it again? The current version has a Virus.”

Witty and funny, it has a much deeper meaning than it seems at a first glance: we are learning to live with the Virus. Future is unpredictable even on daily basis and we are all religiously listening to information about the rise and, hopefully, fall of the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide. Countries are reacting to that daily news one way or another, but one thing is certain: the global economy cannot survive another lockdown like the one we lived through some months ago. So, we are again adapting the best we can. Darwin would be happy…

In attempts to navigate between the rock and the hard place, countries and businesses are stretching the limits of the digital era faster than in the wildest dreams of the creators of algorithms, digital assistants, robot vacuum cleaners, online shopping and banking, drones and virtual offices.

However, as the song says “it’s a thin line”… Having a virtual banking assistant who walks you through sensitive topics of managing your money can create a feeling of unease even with the most technologically savvy of customers.

One big multinational company has started a project tender process in January 2020 and one of the conditions was that the two finalists have to present their projects live. The world got turned upside down in the months that lead to finalization of the process, but the senior management decided to stay with their initial request (modified only by asking to see one representative from each instead of whole teams): in their own words, “We want to see at least one human being alive from the company before the multimillion-dollar decision is made, even though it’s all digital”.

Not denying for a moment that going digital is helping us keeping what is left of our sanity in this “new normal”, the brave new world is, along with all other paradoxes, actually starting the Renaissance of New Humanism.

AI has throngs of passionate followers equaled only with similarly passionate opponents. Advantages of AI in all its shapes and forms should not ever be a topic for discussion. However, several features that are still exclusive to humans will shape our foreseeable future: multitasking which comes naturally to people is something AI is still unable to master; decision making and inductive reasoning (ability to come to the solutions based on limited number of facts) is intrinsically human; and last, but by no means, the least, our ability to feel and express emotions — becoming immeasurably important now in times of all kinds of distancing.

New Humanism is based on trust. Steven M.R. Covey was prophetically talking about the “speed of trust” in times when it was not so easy to put these words into practice. Now is the moment where we should revisit his concepts: Basically, when trust goes up in a relationship, or in a team, in a company, in an industry, with a client, with a customer — speed goes up with it and cost comes down. Everything happens faster and everything costs less because trust has been established. Nowadays, focus should be on confidence-building through every channel. Justifiable optimism will sell well.

In times of crisis (especially global like the one we are living in now), bad things happen to good people. There are and there will be cases where, in spite of taking all precautions, people will get sick. Big companies, who managed to keep their employees in the first wave, might fall to difficult times and will have to lay off people. In these cases, another key feature of New Humanism comes to life: empathy. It is a crucial part of emotional intelligence that leaders of new reality need to deploy in times of crisis. While empathy is important at all times, in turbulent times like these — when fear runs high and uncertainty abounds — it is even more vital. Leading from the head alone is the thing of the past. In the midst of such intense uncertainty, leaders need to be deeply connected to the emotional pulse of their employees. Leaders who can not only speak to unspoken concerns and deepest fears, but who can reign them in, fuel optimism and rally their best and brightest. In short: Leaders who treat employees as real people with families just like their own, not costs on a balance sheet.

In the famous SF book by Frederik Pohl, “The Gateway” the main character’s psychiatrist is a machine (holographic projection) helping him to overcome extremely traumatic experiences. At one point, the psychiatrist/machine says: “You know that I am a machine. You also know that my function is to deal with human feelings. I cannot feel feelings. I can represent them with models, I can analyze them, I can evaluate them. I can construct a paradigm within which I can assess the value of emotions… But you cannot use it if you do not feel it…. You asked me, ’Do you call this living?’ And I answer: Yes. It is exactly what I call living. And in my best hypothetical sense, I envy it very much.”

In conclusion, with all superior technology of today, it takes a human to treat humans with dignity and respect.

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