Goodbye and hello: 3 skills B2B marketers no longer need and 3 skills to work on
Jada Balster reflects on the skills that have been made redundant by digitisation and the skills B2B marketers now need more than ever
Have you ever felt a twinge of nostalgia at the sight of a dormant phone box – sitting there lonely and unwanted – used maybe once a month, if at all? Those vibrant red icons that have dotted British footways since 1926, now rendered obsolete by the mobile phone revolution.
As the pace of change in modern life continues to accelerate, more and more casualties like these are left by the wayside. Innovations that were once essential are being replaced by newer, more convenient technologies. Outmoded tools, devices, and even work skills are marching toward extinction as digitisation and automation proliferate in both our private and work lives.
So, what can we do as B2B marketers to make sure that we don’t become victims of the drive toward automation, left lonely and unwanted, forgotten but not yet gone?
For starters, let’s take a look at a few work skills that once seemed essential, but are fading in importance in the age of digital transformation. Things like multitasking, technical savvy, and a reliance on memory and recall.
Rather than mourning their loss or stubbornly clinging to the past, we should spend our time reclaiming the following fully human skills instead – skills that will not only make us indispensable to our teams today but will also be difficult (if not impossible) for automation to ever replace.
It turns out there’s no such thing as multitasking. Neuroscientists have discovered that it was always a myth, now preferring the term ‘switch-tasking’. Whether you’re talking on the phone while driving or checking Slack during a staff meeting, your brain can only really focus on one thing at a time.
Writing in Psychology Today, Dr. Nancy K. Napier says: “Each time we move from hearing music to writing a text or talking to someone, there is a stop/start process that goes on in the brain. That start/stop/start process is rough on us: rather than saving time, it costs time (even very small micro seconds), it’s less efficient, we make more mistakes, and over time it can be energy sapping.”
Even if multi-tasking were possible, we’re still running out of the kinds of low-level work tasks that can be done simultaneously. Automation is taking over things like data entry, customer service chats, A/B testing, the allocation of tasks in a work management platform, and more. These days, if a task doesn’t require significant human thought, creativity, and attention, a bot is probably doing it – or soon will be.
To stay relevant in a post-multitasking world, realise that your value isn’t measured in the number of individual tasks you can check off over the course of a day. It’s the amount of yourself you can put into your work that matters.
“From what I’m seeing, the repeatable, simple tasks are tending to become automated,” says my colleague Chris O’Neal, Workfront product evangelist, speaking from our US headquarters. “If that’s removed from a knowledge worker’s position, then what remains is the creative problem solving, the creative solutioning, and the whole creative thought process, which means that jobs are shifting in a more fulfilling direction.”
According to our latest stats, just 44% of the average white-collar worker’s day is spent performing the primary duties of their job, leaving plenty of room for improvement. If we can let go of even more mindless tasks, we’ve got at least four hours a day we can reclaim for more creative, engaging, and ultimately fulfilling work.
It’s going to be an adjustment, though. McKinsey reports that while “capabilities such as creativity and sensing emotions are core to the human experience,” which is why they’re difficult to automate, “the amount of time that workers spend on activities requiring these capabilities appears to be surprisingly low.”
How low? The study shows that just 4% of work activities require creativity “at a medium human level of performance,” a figure that’s almost certainly higher for marketers. Still, the more we exercise our creative abilities now, the more prepared we’ll be to use them in an automated future.
Can you still recall the capitals of all of the countries in the world, the English monarchs in order back to Henry VII, or other facts you learned in primary school? Guess what, it doesn’t matter. The ability to remember stats, dates, and figures is all but obsolete in the digital age. All we have to do is consult the little supercomputers in our back pockets, which enable us to pull up any information we need at a moment’s notice. It’s the same at work. No one has to remember the theme for last year’s New Year’s campaign. The information can be instantly located within a digital asset management (DAM) solution or work management application.
“We’re moving from a point where we actually take away recall, but we spend more time on decision making,” said Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research, in an interview with Workfront. “So, what we actually have to do, in the future, is get better at asking questions, not necessarily get better at answering.”
If the same information is available to everyone, then what you know will no longer set you apart. So what are you curious about? What connections can you make? How can you look at the same old facts and figures, but from a new angle?
“The questions that you ask will dictate how well you know a topic and how well you understand a field, because we’re going to start judging people by the questions they ask and not by the answers they give,” Wang said.
Angela Duckworth, founder and CEO of Character Lab, agrees. “I think the questions that you’re asking are going to be more important than your ability to access answers in the next millennium,” she said.
Goodbye tech crutch
There tends to be a fear among older workers, and a sense of pride among some younger workers, that youth alone provides a built-in advantage in the digital workplace. They grew up with technology, so they just understand it better, right?
Not necessarily, says Patrick Lencioni, an expert on leadership and organisational health.
“I think that the nature of technology is becoming easier and more fluid,” Lencioni said in a recent interview. “I think we’re actually going to see less of a differentiation there, as long as [older workers are] open-minded.”
As UI experts continue to cater to the lowest common denominator, technology is becoming ever more ubiquitous and user friendly – even for the more seasoned among us. Younger marketers can no longer rely on their ‘tech crutch’, assuming their natural technical savvy will give them an edge in the marketplace. With a level playing field, technology wise, the higher premium will be on complex, creative problem solving – a skill that’s open to anyone of any age.
Hello decision-making skills
“I think the younger workers who seem to be much more technology-oriented are going to find that it’s becoming easier to use and it’s not so much what you know about it, but how you use it,” Lencioni says.
Digitisation and automation have put more data than ever before at our fingertips, which, ironically, has only made it harder to make good decisions. A relatively simple thing like deciding how to measure the success of a content marketing campaign can take endless discussion and debate.
According to content intelligence expert Andrew Davies, writing in CMI.org: “What [marketing automation] actually does is automate the execution of content marketing, while decision-making remains an impractically manual effort. It offers marketers a strong workflow and even insights, but fails to provide an automated way to act on those insights at scale.”
Again, with a whole world of marketers being overwhelmed by more metrics than they know what to do with, the future advantage goes to those who know how to translate the data into actionable decisions. Better start practising.
Reclaim your humanity
Perhaps you’ve noticed a recent reclamation project happening throughout London. Those old crimson phone boxes are now housing mini libraries, micro shops, charging stations, vertical gardens, art installations, and tiny office spaces. They make me smile every time I see them, and they’re a good reminder that everything has its use – and some things never really go out of style.
Perhaps the ability to multi-task, the importance of youthful tech superiority, and recall and memorisation are going out of fashion for a time. But as they recede, they leave room for us to reclaim and revitalise our most irreplaceable human skills: creativity, curiosity, and decision-making. These soft skills have always been important, of course, but they’re going to be absolutely essential when the future comes calling. And it already is.