For many players in the financial services game (if not the economy as a whole), the need to stay competitive with an ‘innovative’ technological advantage is becoming less about getting ahead of the pack and more about keeping pace – or even just playing ‘catch up’.

The spectre of technological solutions ‘replacing’ the role of humans across the value chain is ubiquitous in many industries, yet the question remains how humans, machines and algorithms can live in peace – effectively working together in a seamless service offer.

Any business model – or economic system for that matter – is advised to capitalise on the comparative advantages it can find within its operating environment. Trying to understand the interplay between human and technological value within an offer requires an understanding of the unique contribution humans can make.

Lessons from the hunter gatherer

So what do we really bring to the table? In evaluating what sets us apart, there are some lessons to be learnt from the hunter gatherer – when life was easier to deconstruct.

Despite being physically vulnerable, our ancestors carried a handful of comparative advantages (enabled by dexterous fingers and vocal chords). These could be exploited in their favour – but only if they could be used in concert and in sequence; these advantages were all just used as a means to an end. Where was our real edge?

  • Trusting relationships with common goals
  • Communication that got beyond the emotional
  • Abstract problem solving
  • Strategising and planning
  • Developing technological solutions to improve efficiencies

These advantages allowed us to plan, adapt and follow through with a clear path to success – technology just sustained our efficiency to get there. They really just enabled our greatest human advantage: bloody minded persistence to pursue an abstract goal.

Let’s consider the role technology played in the early days.

Our ancestors rarely confronted their prey, unable to out-run it or risk injury – they simply tired them to death with perseverance.

Communicating with each other, they learned from pooled experiences and then came to agreements as to courses of action with mutual benefit (the communal hunt).

They became adept at solving abstract, time-based probability problems, such as seeing marks in the ground and imagining these as tracks of their prey, and determining their pace and possible direction (imagining an abstract future under uncertainty).

Adapting to new information to keep on track, they would stick to the plan tirelessly (adaptability and pursuing a common goal).

Image source:

Where does technology fit in?

Humans can’t run as fast as animals and we are not as physically sturdy, but we can sweat, which allowed us cool down faster than our prey. The catch is we need to replace the water.

In comes technology – the ability to fashion portable water vessels, carry them with us and drink when needed was the game changer. Technological efficiencies such as this are effectively just tools to tip the advantage in our favour. Human persistence, adaptability and ability to form trusting relationships are actually what win the day.

Technology has always changed the game (with inevitable winners and losers) – but history testifies the Luddites rarely fair well. Anxiety and resistance to technological disruption simply heralds the birth pangs of a new age where most people end up benefiting.

Technology and its ability to increase productivity can help us keep more focused on what truly makes us indispensable – in turn avoiding our own obsolescence and actually fundamentally improving service propositions for consumers. While we must embrace technology, it is wise to remind ourselves that most people problems cannot be solved by data solutions alone. Technology is not here to replace us – if you are still resisting, it may be time to get with the program.

Image source: