The Rise of the Robot – how to supercharge your skills to outsmart AI

By Carol Gaskell, Managing Director of  Full Potential Group

According to recent global reports[i]the financial sector is one of the top ‘at risk’ professions threatened by advances in big data and machine learning. Accountants are being replaced by algorithms capable of analysing financial data and completing tax returns, computers are being used to make stock trades faster and even predict how the market will react, and even automated systems are under development to potentially replace high level bankers.

Carol Gaskell
Carol Gaskell

But research[ii] by the McKinsey Global Institute has found that humans still have the edge over AI in many areas including skills prevalent in the finance sector such as pattern recognition and matching, logical reasoning, creativity and innovation, complex problem solving, emotional intelligence and negotiation skills. The key is knowing how to build and leverage that super human brain power that AI can’t replicate. This is where neuroscience can help by using certain techniques to improve your brain fitness. The healthier your brain, the more agile it becomes, making it easier to adapt to change and to learn new skills, creating future leaders that can out-think, out-create and out-perform the competition – in this case, AI.

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Human brain v robots

The human brain is very different from AI. Both have unique strengths and completely different functions and so should not be compared.

Human Brain Artificial Intelligence
Pattern recognition & matching Linear and sequential processing
Creative Linear & repetitive
Process information slowly Process information fast
Good at coaching Good at instruction
Finds meaning from information Provides information/content
Good at innovation Good at improvisation
Experiential learning Rote learning
Focusses on the why & how Focuses on the what & how
Thinker Expert
Solve complex problems Identifies problems
Limited memory Unlimited memory
Emotion Reason
People industries Machine industries
Dynamic content Set content
Human Brain Vs AI
Human Brain Vs AI

Instead, employers should focus on developing the strengths of humans and leave AI to focus on the tasks that they’re naturally better at so human and robot can work side by side. The fear of humans losing their jobs to AI in the future is only valid if humans are trying to do what AI is best at.

Focusing on the tasks that require a more emotional, logical and creative approach such as financial strategy, anticipating clients’ future investment needs, creating forward thinking, innovative financial products, and pulling together agile teams, the areas where financial professionals can excel beyond AI, leaving AI with the more repetitive, process driven jobs. Robots then becomes an accelerator of what man wants to achieve – to work smarter and faster than ever before.

As Paul Daugherty, chief information and innovation officer of Accenture said on a panel at the Dreamforce learning event in San Francisco, in the future there is “going to be a fusion of both: in essence giving people super powers to do more. Yes, there’ll be jobs that are eliminated, but there’ll be tremendous opportunity for humans to do new things in new creative ways – work that’s more creative, fulfilling and meaningful.”

Learning gives humans the advantage 

Drivers that optimise brain performance
Drivers that optimise brain performance

Learning is the DNA of the mind but also the DNA of any progressive and competitive organisation, and it’s what gives humans an advantage over AI. Robots can’t compete against man’s natural ability to recognize complex problems and patterns and engage various modes of thinking to create innovative solutions for that problem. Being learning agile means being able to learn and re-learn quickly from experience so you can continuously adapt and adjust to new systems, strategies, structures and technology, fast and easy – a skill that will not only help finance professionals survive, but also thrive in a financial world of continuous disruptive change. Individuals that can learn from experience is also ever more important as organisations become more complex and dynamic.

Humans can also continuously develop their own learning agility by continuously being curious, experimenting with ideas, approaching problems from new angles and getting results under tougher conditions.

The six drivers to boost brain agility 

However, humans aren’t born with brain agility. It’s something we have to learn and develop.

There are six drivers that boost brain agility, which are brain fitness; pro-active stress coping skills; sleep; movement; mindset/attitude and nutrition. These drivers significantly affect our brain health, memory, focus, cognition and energy, thereby impacting our ability to perform at work including reducing stress and accidents and increasing engagement and wellbeing.

Brain fitness– average brain fitness is only 48%, the ideal is 80% or more, and it’s the degree to which we fully integrate and flex between all areas of our brain.Our brains are divided into two halves. The right side for big picture thinking and the left for logic, facts and detail. We all have a dominant hemisphere. Typically, we use each hemisphere alternately. Using your whole brain underpins its ability to be brain fit.It means our brains are in-flow, learning fast and effectively, committing as little human error as possible and being able to concentrate while engaging the whole brain effortlessly during cognitive processes like learning and thinking.

To boost brain performance, encourage greater flexibility between the hemispheres through mental activities like chess, crosswords, playing a musical instrument or exercises that require crossing of the body’s midline such as martial arts, swimming and dancing.

Movement and exercise– the more we move, the more we secrete positive neurotransmitters, increasing concentration and reducing stress.  Exercise also increases dendritic growth, so our brain cells receive more information from other neurons. Try stretching at your desk, have meetings standing up, and go for a walk at lunchtime.

 Stress – stress is the brain’s worst enemy. The inhibitor chemicals it produces immediately compromise brain performance. Our less-dominant brain hemisphere ‘switches off’ immediately under stress, so we only have access to half of our normal brain functionality. To overcome the negative impact of stress, develop stress coping skills such as exercise and breathing. Recognise your stress triggers and take action before they take hold of your mental wellbeing including breaking things down into bitesize pieces so they’re more manageable.

 Sleep – just one night of sleep deprivation affects our ability to retain new information. Our brainwaves slow to alpha frequency as we rest, theta frequency when we feel drowsy, then delta waves in dreaming and deep sleep so ensure to get at least five hours of deep sleep a night to keep your brain fit and agile. 

Nutrition– our eating habits impact our brain health, as essential brain chemicals – neurotransmitters – need a protein rich diet along with good hydration to thrive. Fruit and vegetables, seeds, nuts, natural oils, fish, chicken and lots of water all help.

 Attitude – maintaining a positive outlook at work is also crucial for brain health because positive thoughts stimulate the secretion of neuro-transmitters which boost quality thinking and creativity. But if we respond to stress with negative thoughts, we’ll secrete inhibitor chemicals which block or limit the flow of electro-chemical impulses and reduce brain performance.

So, consider the environment in which you work. What changes could be made to improve your brain fitness and performance and are there also some lifestyle choices you could make to help improve your health and wellbeing?

By creating a workplace that encourages neuro-agility, finance organisations will develop and future proof their talent, improve performance and reduce risk for human error, significantly increasing a company’s return on its human workforce investment.

By Carol Gaskell, Managing Director at Full Potential Group, a top leadership and talent development firm and specialist in neuro-agility.