Two unstoppable forces — the decline of the knowledge economy and the dehumanisation of people — are converging at this moment to usher in an emotional economy. AI has caused the considerable advantage enjoyed by knowledge workers to evaporate, and so the knowledge economy is at an end. Furthermore, advances in technology has allowed people to be considered as merely a part in an overall system. When people are treated as a part they are dehumanised, they become something, rather than someone. As intellectual work is commoditised by technology, and people become a data point in a series, human touch — which a machine can never provide — will become paramount. Therefore, the human capacity for empathy will become a key differentiator in an emotional economy where care, concern and compassion will be fundamental contributors to success.
Business has, however, been built on innovation and ideas, and so one may legitimately wonder whether care can possibly be profitable. It certainly worked for community hospitals and banks, which were built on such a foundation. Their focus was not on maximising profit, but on creating a sustainable business which maximised care.
Barry-Wehmiller, under the leadership of Bob Chapman, believes truly caring, human-centred, environments are the key to sustainable growth. They have rescued over 100 financially distressed companies with an approach which regards impact on employees as the true measure of success. Since 1987 they have built a US$3 billion company employing in excess of 12,000 people by focusing on care and concern.
The corona crisis proves how much human touch matters. Many pundits are claiming video-conferencing and work from home will be normalised as a result of the crisis, as people adapt to this new modus operandi. However, people are social beings who crave personal contact with another person. While technology enables business continuity, one can be sure that the moment travel bans are lifted, people will not continue to zoom and yammer from home, but flock to meeting spaces to touch one another, to share with one another, to be with one another.
Therefore, because the technology which supports digital interaction eliminates the value of knowledge workers, and depersonalises users, people will long for human touch and human community. This will result in an ‘emotional economy’, where care, concern and compassion will be key competencies.
In a knowledge economy ideas and intellect feed success, people are considered our greatest asset, we manage by objectives, and use words like ‘mind share’ and profit. Furthermore, personal value is directly related to how much you know, how much you can create or generate, and the quality of your judgment — in short the ability to acquire and apply knowledge.
In an emotional economy, on the other hand, success is linked to care and concern, personal relationships are our greatest asset, we manage by meaning, and will use words like ‘heart share’ and purpose. You will spend less time doing intellectual work and more time engaging with people. Therefore, the ability to deeply empathise, to apply emotional know-how, and to reach out and touch people will be the new source of wealth. Your personal value will be the size of your heart, not the size of your ideas.
The key tasks for humans in the future will be high touch relational tasks. Those businesses that learn how to maximise genuine human touch — to meet the needs of others in an emotionally engaging manner — will flourish. As transactions are automated, and people pay a premium for human interaction, the real luxury item in a 21st century emotional economy will be human touch, and artisan goods and services where people can engage with one another person to person.