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Home » The Human Skills We Need In An Unpredictable World: Margaret Heffernan (Transcript)

The Human Skills We Need In An Unpredictable World: Margaret Heffernan (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Margaret Heffernan’s talk titled “The Human Skills We Need In An Unpredictable World” at TED conference.

In this TED talk, writer and entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan delves into the limitations of efficiency in the face of modern challenges and the increasing unpredictability of our world. She argues that while digital transformations and algorithmic solutions offer apparent efficiency, they fall short when unexpected events occur, highlighting the importance of adaptability and resilience.

Heffernan emphasizes the shift from a complicated world to a complex one, where patterns do not repeat regularly, making forecasting extremely difficult. She advocates for a “just in case” rather than a “just in time” approach, preparing for uncertain futures with robust, flexible strategies. Through examples like the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and innovative nursing practices in the Netherlands, she illustrates the power of preparation, experimentation, and human connection.

Heffernan warns against over-reliance on technology, which can diminish our capacity for critical thinking, empathy, and understanding. Ultimately, she calls for a greater appreciation and cultivation of human skills like creativity, courage, and collaboration to navigate the unpredictable landscape of the future.

Listen to the audio version here:


Embracing Efficiency in Digital Transformation

Recently, the leadership team of an American supermarket chain decided that their business needed to get a lot more efficient. So, they embraced their digital transformation with zeal. Out went the teams supervising meat, veg, bakery, and in came an algorithmic task allocator.

Now, instead of people working together, each employee went, clocked in, got assigned a task, did it, came back for more. This was scientific management on steroids, standardizing and allocating work. It was super efficient. Well, not quite, because the task allocator didn’t know when a customer was going to drop a box of eggs, couldn’t predict when some crazy kid was going to knock over a display, or when the local high school decided that everybody needed to bring in coconuts the next day.

Efficiency works really well when you can predict exactly what you’re going to need. But when the anomalous or unexpected comes along — kids, customers, coconuts — well, then efficiency is no longer your friend.

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