With 30 years of experience as a strategic marketing and management expert, Young Mi Park understands that the most important element of any business is not the product or strategy or market share: it’s people. This may seem self-evident, but Park — who lectures on organizational behavior for Columbia’s Advanced Graduate Certificate in Business program — admits that it wasn’t always obvious to her.
“I had no idea when I first went into business,” she said. “I thought it was about personal effort, being smart, working hard. But as you progress in the organization, you learn increasingly that it’s all about people. It’s easy to forget that because of the pressures that businesses are facing today. But businesses that forget about the people don’t do as well, and they certainly don’t last.”
Park explores this fundamental principle in “Managing Human Behavior in the Organization,” the course she has taught since 2019.
We spoke recently with Park about her views on the challenges of managing people and human behavior in an ever-changing business landscape. A synthesis of her key points follows.
“The main idea is that the world has changed, so what got you here isn’t going to get you there,” she said. “There are all these major factors influencing businesses, interactions and life in general today, and it’s time to rethink our thinking and behaviors in order to accommodate them better.”
The Human Side of the Technology Equation
One of the big trends is the rising importance of machines and technology. They’re much more powerful, and they’re giving us much greater capabilities. But for the most part, they don’t seem to be necessarily making us smarter. For example, we have GPS. So, we no longer have to remember routes or how to get from point A to point B, but are we using that excess capacity for different purposes? No, we’re just getting more convenience from GPS and probably losing some navigational skill as a result.
The world has changed, so what got you here isn’t going to get you there. There are all these major factors influencing businesses, interactions and life in general today, and it’s time to rethink our thinking and behaviors in order to accommodate them better.
Similarly, thanks to gains in technology, Big Data and processing capability are also becoming more accessible. But most of us have been slow to harness this enhanced access in ways that garner better solutions or better identify the problems to address. Too often, better data is not leading to better insights.
Then there’s media and communication. There’s been an exponential increase in what’s available. It’s overwhelming and hard to digest meaningfully. Complicating matters, our access to media channels has become democratized, so anyone’s idea can go viral. These new media dynamics are how a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, was able to become a global thought leader in just eighteen months and also why fake news has become a bigger threat. As information has become easier to disseminate, harder to assess and even harder to manage, we’ve struggled to rethink existing standards and practices so that that they make sense in our new context.
Soft Skills and Fluid Intelligence
Various think tanks and agencies have projected that most jobs of the near future haven’t even been conceived of today. Not too long ago, you would enter one company and stay there for your entire career. But today, people can expect to have, over the course of the average career, at least 17 jobs – many of them at the same time – in five or more different industries.
On top of that, it’s been said that about half of the work we do today will be automated very soon. It isn’t just the manual, routine tasks that are being automated. A lot of the tasks that are going away are knowledge worker tasks, things like data processing, routine accounting, routine finance, routine legal services, routine medical. Automation of such tasks was well underway as early as 2009.
The tasks that are becoming more important are the non-routine tasks, which require better soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, communication skills, teamwork, diversity and inclusion, the ability to integrate with big data and technology, multicultural skills, curiosity, grit and mindfulness. There’s been less and less time devoted to teaching soft skills as attention to hard skills has increased in response to growing competition.
The tasks that are becoming more important are the non-routine tasks, which require better soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, communication skills, teamwork, diversity and inclusion, the ability to integrate with big data and technology, multicultural skills, curiosity, grit and mindfulness.
In the 20th century, it was all about hard skills, credentials, expertise, finding answers and finding them fast. But in the 21st century, that’s not going to be enough. We need to have fluid intelligence, which is our ability to solve problems we haven’t encountered before using ingenuity. COVID-19 is a perfect example of a non-routine problem that caught us unprepared when we tried to rely too heavily on past experience.
Partnerships and Purpose
Even the nature of our organizations—how they operate, how they compete—is transforming on a fundamental level. In our fast-changing and increasingly complex and interconnected world, few businesses can operate independently. Increasingly, businesses are working and competing in collaborative relationships with networks of partner organizations.
For individuals as well, it’s becoming more and more important—unless you want to live in a cave—to be connected with other individuals through communities. And many of these communities are amorphous: they don’t have a clearly defined structure, and they grow and evolve organically.
Within these evolving types of organizations, understanding how to lead, manage a career and pursue individual interests aren’t as clear-cut or as stable as in the past.
And businesses certainly see this. The lifespan of a company on the S&P 500 was about 60 years in 1958. But today, it’s less than 20 years, and the number keeps on dropping. The world has changed, and it’s important to understand how so that we can adapt accordingly.
Today, whether you’re in a large company or you’re striking out for yourself, ready-made answers can take you only so far. We need a new kind of thinking, a new kind of understanding of what a human life is about and how we should engage in groups and organizations. More than ever, we also need to a pulse on our own values and purpose. Our institutions and our leaders are no longer providing the level of guidance that was common in the past. Increasingly, we need to find our own answers and chart our own journeys.
Learn more about the Advanced Graduate Certificate in Business at Columbia University School of Professional Studies.