Humility is not weakness. The opposite of humility is arrogance. And arrogance is a trait nurtured in traditional leadership. However, in the more networked and artificial intelligence societies that we are on the verge of, arrogance will be much less useful.
In 1999, I published my first book called The Caring Economy. Its hypothesis was that in an age of smart machines the best skills we could develop were emotional rather than logical because we can never compete with machine logic.
It was thus interesting to read the 2017 book by Ed Hess and Katherine Ludwig called Humility Is the New Smart. According to Hess, it’s hypothesis is that we must excel at doing well what “technology won’t be able to do well at least for the near future … Our answer lies within what makes us unique as humans – our ability to think differently than machines and our ability to engage emotionally with other humans.”
The greatest emotional skills today are the ability to empathize and collaborate beyond our own comfort zones and core networks. Humility is a key strength here because it doesn’t presume that you know everything. Humility is the opposite of pretending you are confident and have answers to everything. Humility is about listening, observing, being open to new ideas, taming the gut instinct, learning how to know.
Within every revolution there is a counter-revolution. The Renaissance period in Europe is regarded as one of great creativity. However, the Renaissance flowered within a cesspool of intense corruption. Humility will be fiercely resisted by those who have thrived on arrogance.
It is simply impossible to have all the answers today. And those who pretend they do are much more likely to be exposed by the unrelenting march of data. Daily, evidence is replacing opinion. Humility requires and ability to listen and learn from all the sources that can contribute to making a better experience. When it comes to customer / user experience, the very best source is the actual customer / user.
Digital teams often struggle to have continuous and deep interactions with their customers. We need to involve customers far more in our daily work. We need to get into their daily lives far more.
We are rigidly trained to be experts in our professions. That means that a writer must know what the best content is, a designer must know what the best design is, a developer must know what the best code is. It is, however, in the mixing of disciplines that the very best solutions occur.
If, for example, you want to make a digital experience fast, it is much better that the developer and the designer work together from the very beginning of the process. It is also better that the writer is involved because often what slows customers down most is confusing menus, links and content. Thus, delivering a really fast experience for customers requires a cohesive, multidisciplinary team, with each member adapting to the expertise of the others.
Humility is about embracing evidence of use, evidence of what customers are actually doing. It is not about what you think or feel or want. Humility is an hypothesis. Something that needs to be tested, verified, refined based on usage.
Humility requires a mind that is open. Open to criticism, open to insights from outside your discipline, open to learn, open to change.