In the information age you are only as valuable as your ideas. Your ability to package your ideas with emotion, context, and relevancy is the one skill that will make you more valuable in the next decade.
During a visit to the Silicon Valley headquarters of a global technology giant, a vice president stopped in a hallway, peered through a glass window, and pointed to an employee attending a meeting. “You see that guy?” he said as he gestured for me to look through the glass. “That’s Sam. Smartest guy in the room. He should be leading the company by now but he’s been stuck in the same position for years.”
Why? I asked.
“He’s not very social. He can’t deliver a clear presentation. He’s not inspiring.”
Sam’s work advances Moore’s Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. Moore’s Law is an observation that computer power doubles every two years. Moore’s prediction has been proven true for more than 50 years. But while Moore’s Law is still relevant, it’s making people like Sam irrelevant. For every advance Sam is making in computing power, he’s driving down his own value.
Computers, robots and software make our lives easier, but automation is displacing humans in nearly every function. Highly-skilled employees in the fields of engineering, manufacturing, medicine, education and law, are quickly finding they’re easily replaced. According to some estimates, 47% of jobs in the U.S. are at risk of being eliminated in the next two decades. “Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower,” notes philanthropist Bill Gates. “I don’t think people have that in their mental model.”
The Information Technology (IT) revolution has made our lives immeasurably better, but has also heralded what consulting firm Towers Watson calls a “tectonic marketing shift” in global business; a shift that demands new skills from today’s workforce. Those workers in high demand will be those who build trust, engage teams, and inspire their customers. The good news is that our ability to build emotional connections is the one skill that computers cannot replace because it’s uniquely human. Robots don’t have a heart; storytellers do.
While the tools have changed (PowerPoint has replaced cave drawings), our desire to hear captivating stories hasn’t changed at all. In fact, storytelling is hardwired in our DNA. Those who have mastered the skill of storytelling can have an outsized influence over others. They are more successful at pitching ideas, raising money, selling products, leading companies, building brands, engaging employees and triggering movements.
While employees like ‘Sam’ are becoming irrelevant, Stacy’s star is on the rise. Stacy is a mid-career professional. She’s a manager for a worldwide leader in cloud infrastructure (her company ranks in the top 50 of the Fortune 500). For two years, Stacey has made a commitment to improving her presentation and public-speaking skills. Instead of delivering a data dump of facts and statistics, Stacy’s presentations are presented in story form, complete with villains (customer problems), heroes (the company’s solution) and entertainment in the form of visually intriguing slides. Stacey’s presentation skills have not gone unnoticed. Now the company’s regional sales leaders invite Stacey to deliver presentations when big contracts are on the line. She has been named a company evangelist and is well on her way to running an entire division, a role that will be worth more than $1 million in salary and bonuses. Stacey’s storytelling skills win new business and help her stand out among 80,000 employees.
“Having facts on your side isn’t enough. You have to do storytelling,” the billionaire venture capital investor Vinod Khosla once told a conference of entrepreneurs in the healthcare space. No, having facts on your side isn’t enough just as having the ‘right experience’ in today’s increasingly automated workplace isn’t enough, either. If you can’t express your ideas, you risk being left behind in an increasingly competitive and automated world. As robots automate jobs out of existence, the winners will be those who stand out in the war of ideas. Storytelling is their secret weapon.