Home Thinking Aloud Will Your Ego Be The Death Of Your Career? 

Will Your Ego Be The Death Of Your Career? 


by Edward D. Hess and Katherine Ludwig, coauthors of “Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age

looking in the mirror

This may be good news or bad news, depending on who you are: The day of the aggressive know-it-all who steamrolls over colleagues is drawing to a close. In the future, success will belong to those who can quiet their egos, collaborate, and empathize with others.

Why are inflated egos going out of vogue? Simply put, it’s because technology advancements are set to drive massive unemployment — researchers from Oxford University predict that 47 percent of all jobs in the United States may be lost to smart robots over the next five to fifteen years — and to redefine “smart” and “successful.

After the machines take over, any remaining jobs still available for humans will be those requiring critical, innovative, and creative thinking as well as high emotional engagement with customers, patients, or clients.

Obviously, this criteria is starkly different from our culture’s current markers of success. In the automated age, the authors say humility will be the golden ticket to getting a job. And by humility they don’t mean meekness, submissiveness, or thinking less of oneself.

In a nutshell, what humility really means is being able to recognize one’s own weaknesses, mistakes, and knowledge gaps, being open to new ideas, and being able to “forget the self” and appreciate what other people and things contribute to the world.

Living by this definition of humility — a vital component of what they call “NewSmart” — opens our hearts to others in a way that enables the empathy, compassion, and trust necessary for effective teamwork and collaboration.

Here are a few insights:

To master the ego, you must first overcome inhibiting cultural mindsets.

Culturally, we seem to value highly competitive individuals who appear to be strong, self-confident, extroverted, and all knowing, and who are good at self-promotion. In the future, a very different approach will be needed for success in the workplace. The chart below shows the stark contrast:

Embracing humility may not be easy.

Many “successful” people believe humility runs counter to their being perceived as strong. They were raised, educated, and trained in an era where higher-order thinking and emotional skills were not emphasized. In fact, most of today’s adults have no formal training in how to think, how to listen, how to learn through inquiry, how to emotionally engage, how to collaborate, or how to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities.

You may be thinking, I am a good listener, I already relate well to others, I’m not self-centered. You may be good enough, but good enough won’t cut it anymore. Now you have to be better — which means toning down your ego’s power over your life.

Human beings have a tendency to emotionally react and seek confirmation.

Cognitive science clearly shows that we are all reflexive, cognitive thinkers. We seek to confirm what we believe, we crave affirmation, and we naturally become emotionally defensive when someone disagrees with us. Those are profound impediments to the skill sets we’ll need to thrive in the future. It takes daily effort to overcome these responses.

Meditation and gratitude are surprisingly powerful tools for quieting the ego.

Recent neuroscience and psychological research strongly suggests two ways in which we can effectively practice quieting our egos and focusing on others. The first is through rigorous mindfulness meditation. The second is through daily gratitude exercises — for example, thinking about people who have played a positive role in your life.

I can attest I needed a lot of work on these skills and that these practices over the years have quieted my ego, enabling me to be more open-minded and less emotionally defensive. They’ve helped me listen better to others by not rushing to judge or disagree but taking the time to understand and reflect on what people are saying.

It may seem counterintuitive, but without a ‘quiet ego’ we are suboptimal thinkers and collaborators. And mastering your ego is lifelong work. It’s a daily task to avoid regressing to your hardwired proclivity to ‘look out for me.’ Those able to rise above that tendency and develop the traits associated with humility will truly have the advantage as technology continues to change the career landscape of tomorrow.


Edward Hess and Katherine Ludwig are the authors of the new book “Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age“, which puts forth a new model called NewSmart, designed to help humans thrive alongside technology in the Smart Machine Age.


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