Management And Accounting Web

Colvin, G. 2015. Humans are underrated. Fortune (August): 100-113; and Colvin, G. 2015. Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will. Portfolio/Penguin.

Summary by James R. Martin, Ph.D., CMA
Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida

Behavioral Issues Main | How to Manage Yourself Main | Teams and Teamwork Main

Geoff Colvin provides a summary of this book in the August 2015 issue of Fortune as indicated above. What he describes should be of interest to everyone, and it is particularly relevant to young people who aspire to become the leaders of the future.

The article subtitle: As technology keeps wiping out jobs, here are the skills you need to thrive in the workplace. They're probably not what you think.

Colvin includes a self-test to determine what you are worth in the coming economy and argues that as technology advances, the economy increasingly values the most deeply human interpersonal abilities including empathy, social sensitivity, collaboration, storytelling, leading, and relationship building. Ten of the 13 questions include:

1. When someone else is feeling excited, I tend to get excited too.

1. Never, 2. Seldom, 3. Sometimes, 4. Often, 5. Always.

2. I have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.

1. Never, 2. Seldom, 3. Sometimes, 4. Often, 5. Always.

Questions 3, 4 and 5 show photos of someone's eyes and ask what the person in the picture is thinking or feeling. These are interesting but I cannot reproduce them here.

6. On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Reason and 5 is Emotion, what influences people most effectively?

a. 1,  b. 2,  c. 3,  d. 4,  e. 5

7. On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Highly Protective and 5 is Entirely Open, How comfortable are you in talking publicly about yourself and your experiences?

a. 1,  b. 2,  c. 3,  d. 4,  e. 5

8. On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is None and 5 is Tons, How much time do you spend exploring and learning in fields entirely unrelated to your work?

a. 1,  b. 2,  c. 3,  d. 4,  e. 5

9. On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is None and 5 is Tons, How much time do you spend engaging with the members of your work team?

a. 1,  b. 2,  c. 3,  d. 4,  e. 5

10. On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Pathetic and 5 is Terrific, How would you rate your ability to converse for 10 minutes with a stranger?

a. 1,  b. 2,  c. 3,  d. 4,  e. 5

11. On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is No Chance and 5 is Got it Nailed, How likely are you to remember someone's first name at the end of an initial meeting?

     a. 1,  b. 2,  c. 3,  d. 4,  e. 5

12. How often have you given money to a stranger who needed it (or asked you for it)?

a. Never, 2. Once, 3. More than once, 4. Often, 5 Very often.

13. How often have you helped a co-worker whom you did not know especially well with an assignment when your knowledge was greater than his?

a. Never, 2. Once, 3. More than once, 4. Often, 5 Very often.

Scoring: Add the numbers associated with each of your responses. Adjusting for the 3 questions with pictures that I cannot include: If you scored 35+ you show an extraordinary level of interpersonal abilities and propensities. Don't hide them in the workplace. Seek opportunities to exercise and apply them. If you scored 20 to 35 you are in the average range, but without improvement you will find it difficult to be regarded as a high-value performer. Below 20, begin building interpersonal skills right away.

Every year computer algorithms allow computers to handle more complex tasks. So we might ask what will computers never be able to do? Perhaps a better question is what activities will we insist be performed by other humans even if computers can do them? An even more important category of people-only work involves tasks that we must do with other humans. Evidence indicates that the most effective groups are those where members possess the most essential deeply human abilities. These include empathy above all, social sensitivity, storytelling, collaborating, problem solving together, and building relationships.

On average women are better at many of these increasingly valuable skills than men are. Women score higher on test of empathy and social sensitivity than men. Some research shows that groups consisting entirely of women are more effective than groups that include even one man. Employees who are uninterested in human interaction are in trouble.

The movement to a knowledge-based economy took most of the 20th century. But now as technology rapidly moves ahead, the newly valuable skills of empathizing, collaborating, creating, leading, and building relationships is moving faster than most human psyches, governments, corporations, and education systems can keep up with.

This change will be difficult for some, but it is good news because we are being asked to become more human, rather than what we have been asked to do in the past, i.e., learn to do machine work better than machines could do it. What we need has been there all along.

The contents of the book are as follows.

Chapter 1: Computers are improving faster than you are. As technology becomes more awesomely able, what will be the high-value human skills of tomorrow?

Chapter 2: Gauging the challenge. A growing army of experts wonder if just maybe the Luddites aren't wrong anymore.

Chapter 3: The surprising value in our deepest nature. Why being a great performer is becoming less about what we know and more about what we're like.

Chapter 4: Why the skills we need are withering. Technology is changing more than just work. It's also changing us, mostly in the wrong ways.

Chapter 5: The "Critical 21st-century skill". Empathy is the key to humans' most crucial abilities. It's even more powerful than we realize.

Chapter 6: Empathy lessons from combat. How the U.S. military learned to build human skills that trump technology, and what it means for all of us.

Chapter 7: What really makes teams work. It isn't what team members (or leaders) usually think. Instead, it's deeply human process that most teams ignore.

Chapter 8: The extraordinary power of story. Why the right kind of narrative, told by a person, is mightier than logic.

Chapter 9: The human essence of innovation and creativity. Computers can create, but people skillfully interacting solve the most important human problems.

Chapter 10: Is it a woman's world? In terms of the most valuable skills of the coming economy, women hold strong advantages over men.

Chapter 11: Winning in the human domain. Some will love a world that values deep human interaction. Others won't. But everyone will need to get better - and can.


Colvin's discussion relates to many of MAAW's topics such as Accounting Education, Behavioral Issues and Culture, Gender Theory, Human Resource Management, Leadership and Corporate Governance, Managing Yourself, Organization Structure and Restructure, Teams and Teamwork, and Technology and Accounting. A few summaries from those topics are listed below.

Related summaries:

Beard, A. 2017. The theory: "If you understand how the brain works, you can reach anyone. A conversation with biological anthropologist Helen Fisher. Harvard Business Review (March/April): 60-62. (Summary).

Dolk, D. R. and K. J. Euske. 1994. Model integration: Overcoming the stovepipe organization. Advances in Management Accounting (3): 197-212. (Summary).

Gladwell, M. 2002. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Back Bay Books. (Summary).

Johnson, D. W., G. Maruyama, R. Johnson, D. Nelson and L. Skon. 1981. Effects of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic goal structures on achievement: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin (89): 47-62. (Summary).

Johnson, H. T. 2006. Sustainability and "Lean Operations". Cost Management (March/April): 40-45. (Summary).

McNair, C. J. and L. P. Carr. 1994. Responsibility redefined. Advances in Management Accounting (3): 85-117. (Summary).

Reiter, S. A. 1994. Beyond economic man: Lessons for behavioral research in accounting. Behavioral Research in Accounting (6) Supplement: 163-185. (Summary).

Schoemaker, P. J. H., S. Krupp and S. Howland. 2013. Strategic leadership: The essential skills. Harvard Business Review (January/February): 131-134. (Self Test on Strategic Leadership).

Wisner, P. S. and H. A. Feist. 2001. Does teaming pay off? Strategic Finance (February): 58-64. (Summary).