13. Digital sociologist Lisa Talia Moretti explains the skills needed for the future of work




What does it mean to be human in this new world? How can we redefine the role of humans in a world of machines? Digital sociologist Lisa Talia Moretti worked with WNDYR on a research project about the role of humans in the future. Here, she recaps this work and its relevance in todays environment. She explains which 10 specific skills we must develop to remain relevant.


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Lisa has recently been named one of the top 100 people in the UK who is changing the digital and internet industries for good in the field of Tech Ethics. This has lead to her being appointed as the Resident Digital Sociologist for the Ministry of Justice, UK. She speaks about the need for governments to have a “Department of Tech”, as well as how companies need to recognize and develop “HQ” (Human Quotient) and other soft skills in their employees. Finally she speaks passionately about Ethics—what it is and how to implement it in our lives. It’s about deciding how we want to live our lives.



Doug Foulkes: Hello and welcome to the future of Work and the Digital Landscape; the podcast that focuses on work in the future. Produced by WNDYR, that blog, Chaos and Rocket Fuel. Today, WNDYR CEO Claire Haidar and myself, Doug Foulkes are joined by digital sociologist and associate lecturer at Goldsmiths University of London, Lisa Talia Moretti. Hi, Lisa.

Lisa Talia Moretti: Hi. It’s so lovely to be here today. Thank you so much for having me.

Claire Haidar: I’m just so, so excited to have Lisa with us today. Genuinely Lisa, welcome.

Lisa Talia Moretti: Oh, thank you so much. It’s great. It’s just so brilliant to be back in WNDYR bubble. I love it.

Claire Haidar: You know, let’s just jump straight in. Here we are in a very different world. And who would have thought that the work we did together four years ago would be so absolutely relevant to where we are today and what we’re facing?

I really think it’s important for us to take our listeners back on that journey. I can still remember that conversation with you in a coffee shop. And I can still remember the follow up where you showed me the incredible diary of all the work and the research that you’ve done. Take our listeners back there and talk to us about that project and where it’s taken you and us.

Lisa Talia Moretti: Yeah. Oh, my God. It was probably one of the most rewarding research projects I’ve I’ve ever had the opportunity to work on. And, you know, I reference it so much in the work that I do. What is the role of humans in the future? Right. And in a world of machines where they are going to be more machines than humans, how do we actually redefine what it means to be human in this new world? And, and I think that was kind of the really the starting point of conversation for us and what we really sort of like bonded over the sort of this conundrum and mused over it for a long time.

And one of the first things that I wanted to look at and, you know, like you were saying that conversation in the coffee shop was really about understanding, well, if we need to redefine our place in society and amongst a world of machines, one of the things that we need to go back to is what are we good at? Right. So the very first part of the research for me was about really trying to understand what sat machine intelligence apart from human intelligence.

One of the things, you know, that we started to think about was really thinking about what what is this machine intelligence? How does that how is human intelligence different? And through all of the talking and through all of the reading and the writing, the thing that we really came down to is that machines are really good at the routine processing work and identifying and presenting factual outputs. So when you think about that as a definition, their core skill set is centred around proof generation, statistical reasoning and information retrieval.

And then, you know, I did a lot of work around my my degrees in sociology. And so a lot of the text that I was referring to when I was looking at the human intelligence and how to define that, was looking at social theories and also cultural theories. So really relying a lot on sociology and anthropology.

And a lot of what I discovered there is that human intelligence is defined by highly personalized knowledge, and this knowledge is actually shaped by the individual experiences that we have. And these experiences can be moulded to a huge variety of unpredictable circumstances. So humans are very good at adapting to new norms and not only understanding the rules, but knowing when it is when it is that we can break the rules and how to act in that situation when the rules no longer apply or the rules are so different and new to us and we’re learning them on the fly.

So our core skill set is therefore centred around creative and critical thinking. And I remember when I was trying to think about a way to describe this in the research, one of the things that I relied on is the use of metaphors and the power that a metaphor can bring to the research. And so one of the metaphors I really leaned on a lot in my work was thinking about birds and airplanes. And so birds and airplanes both fly and they can both take off and they can both land.

But a bird will never be an airplane and an airplane will definitely never be a bird. They will never have that. They will never, ever be able to have that agility. Right. And and that’s was for me, like one of the ways to really translate that in the research.

Doug Foulkes: Lisa I’m going to go off on a very slight tangent.You’re a ballet dancer. What can we learn from the world of dance with regards to work and the future of work.

Lisa Talia Moretti: I really need to underscore this answer by saying, I’m very amateur, like unbelievably amateur. I dance for fun, my mom was the professional, the professional ballet dancer. And but I think with regards to what we can learn from the world of dance with the future of work, is that there are many different ways to dance in the same way that there are many different ways to work. And, you know, just because, you know, one person’s the discipline of dance, you know, people say, oh, you know, to do ballet, you must do this, you must do this.

But we’re starting to see that there is lots of different dance disciplines that are being informed by one another. And I think this is really interesting about the world of work and how different roles and different departments are having to collaborate more closely together and having to learn from one another more. And we’re starting to see the adoption of skills and roles into existing skills and roles that we perhaps never saw before. So there’s a real sort of medley taking place.

Claire Haidar: The interesting thing is it actually reminded me of what you said about birds and airplanes is that it’s so similar. You know what I mean? When you look at dances and where I recently encountered dance was there is a group called the Black Dance Theatre here in Dallas. And one of their lead instructors and trainers is a very good friend of Mark and I’s. And she shared, you know, when this whole Black Lives Matter cause and really, really important historical event that’s taking place right now kind of started erupting, where a black dancer and a white dancer did this dance together.

And it was just such a perfect summary for me of sometimes words can’t fill the space, but movement can in a way that words never will be able to.

And for me, where that correlates back to work and to how we need to be thinking about work is that we’re going to have to become, as you say, more adaptable to the unpredictable, because the unpredictable is going to be hitting us so often. You know, we’re so used to relying on words to make work happen, but moving forward, we’re actually going to have to move into different forms of movement and ways of working to adapt to that unpredictability. So a lot of like tangents and loose threads coming together there.

Lisa Talia Moretti: Yeah, and Claire you’ve actually triggered a thought in me. You know, the other thing that, you know that you learn in dancing is to really listen to the music and to really be guided by the music, to listen for those beats, to understand when it is your turn to move. Especially when you’re dancing in a group. You know, you have to be aware constantly about the people who are behind you, who are next to you, who are in front of you.

And I think this most importance is something that came up a lot in our research, as you know, the importance of active listening. And I think there’s another kind of thread there, another theme there. And, you know, you’re referencing the Black Lives, the Black Lives Matter protest. We need to listen to what people are saying. We need to pay attention to all of those voices that have previously not been heard. And we need to welcome a new set of dancers on the stage and understand how we need to move around them and that it’s not just about us on the stage anymore.

Claire Haidar: That is what’s so critical of organizations right now is because they’re the entire globe is having to work in a way that we’ve never had to work before. You know, like WNDYR as a company of the few lone companies that have been doing this for a number of years already, we genuinely have been the outcasts, you know, we’ve been criticized, frowned upon and told that we’re mad, all of those different things. But all of a sudden, the world is being forced to work like this.

And I think the only way that organizations are truly, truly going to be able to embrace it and move forward with it is by actively listening to their workforce; because it’s it’s the workforce who’s going to tell them, well, this is working for me and this is absolutely not working for me. You know, and I think together that that combination of active listening and then being highly experimental in rolling things out and being ruthless and saying, well, this is working, what isn’t working and then implementing what is working is going to be the only way that organizations will be able to settle into this new norm.

Lisa Talia Moretti: Yeah, yeah, I completely agree.

Claire Haidar: Anyways, coming back to you. To you as a digital sociologist, Lisa, you have just recently been recognized in an amazing way. And you’ve also just been given a very, very prestigious award. Firstly, congratulate. I am not surprised in the least, like when your message came through, I was like, well, absolutely, of course she deserves it.

So tell us about both the award and the recognition and tell us where this is taking you, because that is something amazing and something that I’m really excited about.

Lisa Talia Moretti: I feel very privileged to be in this position. And I was recently named one of the top 100 people in Britain who are changing the digital and the digital and Internet industry for good. And I was named in the category Champion for Change for my work that I’ve done in the space of tech ethics. And I have just recently been offered a role as the resident digital sociologist at the Ministry of Justice here in the U.K. and specifically I will be looking at and working with them and the lasting power of attorney service. And that’s a one year contract. So and I start in two weeks.

Doug Foulkes: So Lisa, just moving on from that, so why is digital anthropology and digital sociology so critical in our world at the moment?

Lisa Talia Moretti: For a long time now, computers and technology and the world of digital has really been rooted in science and engineering. And, you know, it’s called computer science and it’s called software engineering, after all. And very many people think of technology as a results as being absolutely 100 percent connected to these different this these disciplines, science and engineering.

But actually and and as a result of that, they think of tech as being just a product. But if you take a sociological and anthropological view and you add that lens to the world of technology, you actually see that technology isn’t a product, it’s actually a system.

And that technology isn’t just technical in nature, it’s socio technical in nature. And when you think about technology in a socio technical way, it totally changes the way that you design that technology because you are so much more aware of thinking through the potential impacts, negative impacts, as well as the positive impacts that this digital product or service could have on society. And so I think that’s why it’s so critical, because anthropologists and social and sociologists are able to actually lend that human voice, that human understanding, that social understanding to the design and the creation of tech products and services.

Claire Haidar: Why I’m so excited about the award that you’ve just been given and also the doors that it’s open for you in this new role that you’re stepping into is because you’re touching government. In order to truly bring about change in the world, we need to start working at government level.

A lot of people very much avoid politics and they avoid citizenship, if you could call it that, because they feel that it’s too much of a behemoth system that is so ladened with bad that they can’t actually influence and touch that. And one of my missions recently, you know, just started just in WNDYR is to actually show people that you can be political in very good ways.

Unpack for us a little bit why you feel from your lens so few governments are in the forefront of this and why this role of yours is so exciting.

Lisa Talia Moretti: One of the struggles is that government tends to not attract the type of person that they need. And I say that and I say that quite carefully because I wanted to make sure that I word it rights. So I think a lot of people imagine that, you know, governments are there just purely to deal with policy and regulation. And we have seen governments to be what we think of governments to be bodies of individuals who are there to say no.

And I think we need to try and again, reshape, redefine how we see that. And I think if you start to think about government as an enabling feature or an enabling group of people within society, then it becomes a much more attractive place to work. I think the other thing that has been problematic is that government hasn’t organized themselves in a way to be able to respond to tech. So for a very long time, you know, for most countries, in fact, we don’t have a ministry of technology.

So as a result of them not really being organized in that way, it becomes quite difficult to know, well, who’s accountable for these conversations? Who’s accountable for making these changes? Who’s accountable for holding these organizations to account? You know, Denmark was the first was the world’s first country to have an ambassador to the tech industry, and he’s he is based in Copenhagen, but, you know, we we they are still quite an anomaly Denmark in that sense. You know, the U.K. doesn’t have that. You know, the U.S. doesn’t have that. So I think that’s why it’s been really difficult.

Claire Haidar: I think the exciting piece about bringing, for example, a ministry of technology into governments is that we will be able to create healthy societal change en masse, because that’s the beauty of technology. ,Is it can it has the capacity to do that.

And if we actually, as you say, embrace this mentality of enabling, we will be able to enable change at a much more exponential rate and level.

OK, so listen, moving back to the future of work and particularly coming back to that research that you did for us around, you know, your output of that very intensive research was two things.

The first thing was you unearthed 10 specific skills that companies need to be focusing on in very organized ways to actually upskill their workforce in it. And then your summarization of the entire project, you know, culminated in the white paper that was all about the creation of experience.

So my question to you is those 10 skills and, you know, we’ll definitely share the 10 skills with listeners, so we don’t need to delve into that right now. But they seem very simplistic at the surface level. It’s things like empathy. It’s things like, you know, question and query design. And I would even go so far as to say that some people looking at that list of skills would literally outrightly dismiss them and say, oh, I can do all of that.

Why do you think these human traits are so lacking in the world of work today?

Lisa Talia Moretti: Because we don’t it’s exactly what you say, because we don’t think of them as skills. And I think this is problematic. You know, we think that’s, you know, it just by being human, that everyone will be good at adapting to change, that everyone will be a visual thinker. But actually, that’s not true. And in the same way that you have to learn how to code, you have to learn how to be a good public speaker.

Well, it turns out that you have to learn and you have to be taught how to collaborate. You have to learn how to actively listen.

And, you know, a really good friend of mine, Phil Harvey, he does a lot of work around cognitive empathy and he always talks he in one of his talks that he does, he always says to people, you have to listen, not wait your turn to speak.

And I think that is such a powerful line because I think so many people don’t quite know what it is to listen. But I do think that social media has conditioned us to raise our voice, to amplify, to be more brave in sharing our stories. But the whole of social media, if you look at every single social media tool that has ever been created, it has prioritized, prioritized the individual’s voice. It has its prioritized speech. It doesn’t prioritize listening.

And so we’ve become very good at telling our stories and talking about our stories and ourselves, particularly on our social platforms. But we have become very bad at actually listening to others.

Doug Foulkes: So moving on from that, Lisa, what would you say that organizations and societies can do to actively upskill their workforce in these areas?

So I think the very first thing, and I am just going to run through the sort of 10, 10 key skills that we found.

So we found adapting to change, visual thinking, teaching, effective communication, collaboration, active listening, empathy, question and query design, risk taking and strong ethical conduct. So those are the kind of 10 key skills that we found that are really going to be important in human intelligence in a very machine heavy data heavy world. And we called them the Human Quotient HQ. And I think what companies need to do is they need to first of all, they need to recognize and acknowledge that these are skills and that soft skills need to be taught.

But we need to understand where are people, where do people need extra support? Where do they need teaching? So for me, that would that is the very first place to start is to realize the importance of these skills in the workplace and then to recognize that they are actually skills that need to be taught.

Claire Haidar: Lisa moving into one of those specific things because this is your absolute passion area; ethics, which is one of those 10 skills. This is your thing. You live it, you breathe it and you talk it daily. Why is it so paramount to our world today?

Lisa Talia Moretti: I think the very first thing to say is there’s a lot of people that get confused about what ethics is. So I think it’s always easiest to I find sometimes to find something by starting with what it is not. So ethics is not a feeling. It’s not an emotion. It’s not about following the law or ethics is not a religion. It’s not about culturally accepted norms. And its ethics is certainly not about science. But there are ethical principles in scientific practice.

What ethics really is instead is about promoting conditions for human flourishing. It’s about living as a person of integrity and understanding what your principles are and how to implement those principles in your life. And it’s also about sort of mindful practice of moral perception, sensitivity, being flexible.

And for me, this kind of key thing around discerning judgment, you know, so it’s not just about equality, but it’s about equity, you know, and I think it’s really understanding some of the nuance around words like that when you are thinking about how to implement ethics into your work. So for me, ethics is all about just engaging in debate and conversation about how we want to live our lives.

And the reason this is important in the world of tech is because technology and even more so data is actually increasingly being used to shape how we live and also how we create what we believe is a good life or what is a good company or a good government. So that’s why I think it’s really important.

Claire Haidar: You touched on on a critical word there. Data is shaping our lives more so than I think we are actually even aware of it.

And I think that is where the future of work needs to start really turning inwardly, companies need to start looking at themselves and start; can I, I’m making this up on the fly as I’m talking to you, but they almost need to start data mapping themselves, you know, so companies have become really good at like mapping employee journeys, mapping customer journeys, mapping product journeys. But are we mapping our data journeys and actually asking ourselves, how is this impacting us?

Do you think that is where ethics and the future of work meets each other?

Lisa Talia Moretti: Ethics is all about like what does it mean to live a good life? So now if technology and data is shaping our lives, we need to think about, well, how do we want to use technology and data to shape a good life? And, you know, we can apply that then to the world of work. So if technology is shaping your company and previously you are thinking about business ethics or company ethics and, you know, what does it mean to run a good company?

What does it mean to be a good corporate citizen? You know, if data and technology are then impacting what it means to be a good corporate citizen and what it means to run a good company, that you have to think about that intersection and how you, what kind of behavior is going to manifest at that intersection.

Claire Haidar: You’re not the only one championing ethics out there right now, as well as digital sociology. Who do you recommend that we should have on our radar?

Lisa Talia Moretti: The AI Now Institute is an organization that I recommend people always to look at. And the two co-founders there are Kate Crawford and Meredith Wittaker. They’re part of a New York University, so based in New York. And they’re doing some really great work. I think also in New York is GovLab, which is a really brilliant organization that is thinking through governance and data. Here in the UK, I think the Open Data Institute is a really fantastic organization to look into. Again, quite focused heavily on data, but they have a really brilliant sort of ethical lens to that. And that includes skills, data, skills for the future. It also includes things, things recently that they’ve done around data mapping and stakeholder mapping. And then another person that I think is doing some really great work is Rumman Chowdhury, I’m going to incorrectly say he surnames, so I’m going to spell it instead, it’s Rumman Chowdhury. And she is based at Accenture and doing some really good work.

And then very lastly, the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University is a really good one to look at to.

Doug Foulkes: Lisa, we could talk for another hour easily. The time has flown by, but we do have to bring this to a bit of a close. I’m going to wrap up just with one more question. If you could look at, say, two years, what would your ideal workplace look like?

Lisa Talia Moretti: So my ideal workplace would look like a place that has a lot more collaboration. There is something to be said for the amount of self organizing and and coordinated efforts that are happening out on the streets at the moment with protests and people standing up for what they believe in. And I would love to see more of that coordinated response take place within organizations where employees are holding leadership to account and saying to them, these are the values of the organization that you told me, but we’re going to live and breathe.

This is the mission of the organization that you said that we were going to live and breathe. How are we doing that? How are we not just meeting those values and that mission, but how are we exceeding that? How can we go above and beyond to be more inclusive, to be more collaborative? And, you know, I would love to see more of a collaborative effort between, say, the public sector and the private sector. If I look at the work that’s being done in government, there are some incredible people that are so inspirational that I’ve met who are really passionate about this work, but they just don’t have that network effect to reach over into public and into the private sector to bring them in and to work on things together.

I think that lack of collaboration is really hampering creativity and is really hampering innovation.

Claire Haidar: I couldn’t agree more. Lisa, I honestly wish you the absolute best in this new role that you’re going to be taking up. I am under no illusion that you are walking into an extremely challenging phase of your career. And I want you to know that there’s a lot of support surrounding you. Please go and do this incredible, important work for us because the world genuinely needs it.

Lisa Talia Moretti: Thank you so much, Claire. It’s just been an absolute pleasure to be able to connect with you and to today and to be able to just. Yeah, it’s been a great conversation. I’ve loved it. Thanks so much to you and Doug this year.

Doug Foulkes: Lisa thank you. Thank you, Claire. As always, thanks for setting everything up. I’m learning more and more throughout these podcasts. And actually on your last comment I find quite interesting is that it’s almost like a thread that’s holding the future together with whatever podcasts we’re talking, whatever the topic, that word collaboration, that’s definitely something that’s going to be more and more important as we move into the future.

So from us at Chaos and Rocket Fuel, thank you for listening. Be sure to pop back for more top of mind conversations. Keep safe out there and we’ll see you soon.

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