Automation Won’t Replace People as Your Competitive Advantage

Thomas H. Davenport & Julia Kirby

Geoff Colvin’s new book insists that humans are underrated. It’s a fun follow-up declaration to his earlier book, which taught us that talent is overrated.

The two are not as incompatible as it might seem. Colvin’s point in the earlier book was that talented people always succeed in the context of a system, and it’s hard to rate talent independent of its context. As a result, stars usually get more credit for their successes than they’re due. (Boris Groysberg’s research backs this up by showing how the high performance of stars in various fields turns out not to be portable when they are recruited away by other employers.) Indeed, it’s often a well-designed system that makes someone valuable; the best systems are able to get “A” results out of “B” players. If you can build that kind of system as an enterprise, there is no reason to break the bank recruiting superstars or otherwise allow the top percentiles of your talent to walk away with “winner takes all” rewards.