Review of “Humility is the new Smart”

Review of Humility is the new Smart

The authors (Edward Hess and Katherine Ludwig)  initially present the impact of Technology on our lives. This is not anything particularly new and there are seemingly countless references to this era being the next evolutionary stage of humankind.  Another good overview is here (  This evolution is not simply “technology” of course but more how technology can effectively replace what was the monopoly of the human race and being replaced by robots, machine learning, artificial intelligence, neural networks etc etc.(the list goes on)   The enormity of this change, can only be predicted in judgemental terms and of course there are some very wide ranging numbers. Tour authors  suggests technology will replace 47% of American jobs (there is nothing very substantive to back this up) .  The percentage of course doesn’t matter exactly, its more the point that it will be significant and critically (and the reason for the book) is how do we adapt to this – and be succesful

On the one hand, the new technology and its requirements, will create new jobs in their own right (this is very much a repeating pattern from the Industrial Revolution) and of course it will create new jobs that the technology can’t do but are now possible because of it.  Both new jobs though will be different – they will require high level thinking, creativity and emotional intelligence.

The key challenge, according to Hess is that whilst these skills are what make us human, many of the new skills are very much counter to human nature.  Our basic fight-flee-freeze response is triggered by fears of failure of embarrassment and these directly interfere with our ability to be creative.  There is much narrative on this as you would expect as this is probably the one singular biggest challenge in implementing a successful lean framework – and not surprisingly there has been a lot of research into how to overcome this.  Hess then focuses his writing on how to overcome this natural inhibiting cultural mind-set in order to compete effectively

Hess structures his review into a two key areas

Firstly – he terms “NewSmart”  – i.e. what it means to be Smart in our current and evolving society. Starting off with the obvious anti-pattern which is simply knowing more/getting the highest test results/make the fewest mistakes just doesn’t work anymore – simply because this is what a machine can do. (this clearly creates another challenge within our broader education system but that is a subject for another day).  “Newsmart” displaces the focus on the quantity of data known to the quality of data that is known and being able to apply it from a thinking, learning and emotional intelligence perspective and collaborate.  This isn’t a particularly revolutionary thought as for example most Solution Architects know a very simple principle for example in the data domain the difference between “Data” and “Information”; however Hess does put through a good argument and suggests there is a much higher order that needs to be understood

Second is Humility. The definition not being the simple connotation often used which is being meek/subdued/not worthy .  It is also a lot more than the simple definition of being modest of one’s own importance – albeit this is at the core. The evident anti-pattern is that it runs as counter-intuitive to being confident, smart and strong (the old and traditional management style of red brick institutions)   Hess’ definition , drawn from English and US Psychology is a mind-set about oneself that is open minded , self accurate and “not about me” , embracing the world as it is . Hess’ assertion is to extol the virtues of Humility that then enables the behaviours outlined above

Finally, Hess defines four core behaviours that enable Newsmart and Humility. These are Quieting Ego, Managing Self, Reflective Listening and Otherness (emotionally connecting and relating to others).   These are explained in a lot of detail and there are definitely learning points in each one, although in almost contradiction to the core principle of Newsmart, there is almost too much over-prescriptive detail.

An obvious conclusion to me, is to be “more human” – but what this actually means is focus on more human excellence- to be more agile, adaptive, and an enabling leader

This is a good read. It’s the best review I have seen on a real review of “Humility” and how to learn what could be considered a basic trait and turn this into a towering strength.

I finish this review on not a reference point within this book but a relatively recent example of what I would term humility and how this was considered a towering strength:

In-coming CEO of Uber; Khosrowshahi,: I have to tell you I am scared. I’ve been here at Expedia for so long that I’ve forgotten what life is like outside this place. But the times of greatest learning for me have been when I’ve been through big changes, or taken on new roles–you have to move out of your comfort zone and develop muscles that you didn’t know you had.



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