Can robots be brave?

robotHow do you win big at the upcoming Awards, where the final round of judging is imminent?  The judges will surely be looking for brave work.

Brave work that innovates.  That breaks the mould.  That shatters existing preconceptions.  Robots can’t deliver this, only people can.

As more and more tasks are taken over by machines who can work more efficiently and faultlessly, many are asking what is left for humans to do.  The answer is surely to be brave.

Robots cannot be brave.  They can only do what they’re asked to do, and proceed logically. Sure, this actually might mean doing things that have never been done before.  The robots work on the basis of logic and evidence rather than accepted practice and rules of thumb often prevalent in media.  Of course then this might deliver new best practice.  But you can’t call this bravery.  Since robots can’t fear they cannot overcome fear either.

In 2011 Sheryl Sandberg during a “Commencement Speech” to graduates of Barnard College famously asked her audience: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

This is not a question defined by gender.  Human beings are designed for fear.  It keeps us safe.

Back in the primeval era feeling terror at an unexpected sound in the forest, the snap of a twig or some heavy breathing, would mean the difference between surviving a predator or becoming dinner.    If you experience this fear now when you’re walking home late at night, is this appropriate dread or is it paranoid anxiety?

There are many things to fear in life (and depending on your route home that dread might be appropriate).  Fear of embarrassment in a meeting or of finding your ideas rejected are proportionately low on any real list of what those legitimate fears should be.

Anyone who has spent time in a chronic hospital ward will witness extraordinary bravery of human spirit.  The experience of becoming a parent can change your comprehension of bravery, fear and anxiety over night.

In The Glass Wall we recount the true story of a woman who faced with a promotion (her boss asked her to take over as CEO) felt real fear of failure.  She hadn’t asked for the promotion but on some level she knew she deserved it.  She told us: “I remember that the following day was the same day as my little boy was starting school.  I’d taken him to school, big school, and he was scared and looking to me for reassurance.  I had exactly the same feeling when I walked into work that day… I thought I’ve got to be brave.  I told my little boy to be brave and I have got to be brave.”

She made a great success of her CEO role.  I believe that the fact that she felt the fear, and therefore worked very hard to overcome it, helped her be great at that job.

I once judged the APG awards.  During one presentation the planner said that what he had learnt during the process was that making great ideas happen requires bravery all through the process.  It isn’t enough to come up with a clever insight. That’s not bravery.  It isn’t enough to get the idea through the first pitch.  That’s not bravery.  Bravery is required to hold onto the idea all the way through to execution, despite some inevitable robust criticism.

Media Awards reward bravery.  In the age of the robot lets replace fear of them with a celebration that overcoming fear for brave work is the bit we humans can uniquely deliver.  Stop worrying about a robot taking your job.  Ask yourself, have I been brave today?

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