Are you ready to excel at CHESS?

by | Sep 16, 2015 | Blog | 1 comment

Painted woman's faceAre you ready to excel at CHESS?

This is not your father’s traditional board game in which two players challenge each other to capture their opponent’s king.

Instead, these are 21st century social interactions that you can take to future-proof yourself, especially against the encroaching clout of computers.

CHESS stands for creative, humorous, empathetic, socially sensitive and storytelling—five key qualities in which humans excel.

Not surprisingly, the acronym CHESS was coined by a human—my brilliant, multi-talented colleague Jennie Wong who continually proves that she can outdo, outmaneuver and outshine any robot or other machine. (And she created CHESS in minutes without consulting

And I also appreciated her creation because she voluntarily did it for me, connecting with me as a fellow human being.

We humans crave connections with each other.

Yet, we tend to forget that we’re social animals. (The term is important to keep in mind, even though some find “social” and “animal” both insulting words.)

We also underrate our very human characteristics, according to Geoff Colvin, author of the thought-provoking new book, Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will.

Colvin proposes that we humans should stop obsessing about adding value, which technology often can do better than we can.

For instance, consider the outcomes often associated with high-performing organizations, such as speed, quality and reliability. Technology often delivers these results more consistently than humans.

Computers also are making strides in constructing stories from scratch using algorithms and natural language generators that humans program.

But computers can’t hold a candle to humans when it comes to telling stories. Can you imagine sitting by a campfire—or even sitting in a conference room—listening to a computer tell a tale with its voice rising and lowering dramatically and its eyes twinkling?

No, we want to share experiences like this with our fellow human beings.

In his book, Colvin encourages us to embrace our humanness and focus on the richness of our personal experiences with each other—which technology can’t come close to replicating or replacing.

For instance, Jennie and I enjoyed a few chuckles about the irony of her acronym CHESS. After all, in 1997—18 years ago—Deep Blue, IBM’s supercomputer, defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov. And chess continues to be a game that appeals to men and computers more than women.

Yet of the five human characteristics of CHESS, two are second nature to most women—empathy and social sensitivity. Research has shown that women typically outscore men on the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” (RME) test.

It is possible to develop these skills as well as the other three—creativity, humor and storytelling. Frequent use, regular practice and a supportive environment all help us improve.

Keep in mind, just as we need to use our muscles to keep them strong, we need to use all five of our special human skills regularly to avoid atrophy.

Frequent use is especially important if we find ourselves in situations that can diminish the strength of our humanness. For example, those in powerful positions and those who spend more time on digital devices can become less empathetic than others.

Here are three other actions that we can take to enrich our unique human qualities and future-proof ourselves:

  1. Spend time with people in real life. Face-to-face exchanges are more engaging, enriching and memorable than virtual interactions.
  2. Include a LEAF on your STEM team. A LEAF is someone who is good at listening, engaging, articulating and facilitating. (See 3 ways to increase your team’s smarts for more information.)
  3. Switch your question. Stop asking: “Am I adding value?” and start asking “Am I connecting with other people in a meaningful way and making a difference in their lives and their work?”

We also should stop beating ourselves up by thinking we’re becoming obsolete and computers will replace us.

As long as we embrace our uniquely human characteristics, commit to excel at them, and connect with other humans, we’ll be fine. We’ll do more than survive; we should even thrive!

1 Comment

  1. Laura

    There is much to think about in this short article. You are causing me to question my obsession with “adding value”. I will now “switch my question” to “Am I connecting with others in a meaningful way and making a difference in their work and lives?

    Thank you!!


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