HR should learn to celebrate being wrong, says Cox

18 Jun 2021 By Caitlin Powell

Professor of particle physics closes the final day of this year’s virtual CIPD Festival of Work by highlighting the importance of humility in human interactions

Humility is one of the most important transferable skills HR professionals can learn from science, delegates attending the CIPD’s Festival of Work have been told.

In his closing keynote speech yesterday rounding off the three-day virtual event, Brian Cox, professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said being wrong and uncertain was perfectly natural.

“Humility, which is a transferable skill from science and from interaction with nature, is the key”, Cox said, suggesting people should celebrate “being wrong”.

Understanding our ignorance also needed to extend to how we interact with each other, he said.

“Everyone will disagree with you on something and that's the sign you are free. The sign that you live in a free society is that there are people out there who disagree with what you're saying.”

Cox added: “The thing that worries me is there's a great deal of ‘certainty’ around.” Most people think they instinctively know how to do things but, he argued, this was not always the case.

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In a separate part of his address, Cox touched on why Earth is a place “worth preserving and fighting for”.

From a physics perspective, Earth may be the only place in the observable universe where the idea of “meaning of life” exists, he said.

“I don't think many people think there are hundreds of civilisations in the galaxy, and very many people think there may be on average [only] one or so”, Cox explained. Because of this, humanity has the “responsibility” to look after the Earth otherwise, “if we destroyed ourselves, we would eliminate meaning in an entire galaxy”.

Cox also warned that humans would need to teach emerging AI technologies to be “moral”. In doing this, he said, we ourselves needed to “understand what our own mortality is in our own decision-making processes in order to programme them”.

Closing the conference, Peter Cheese, chief executive of CIPD, said wellbeing was a central theme when thinking about creating positive outcomes from work for employees.

“You can go all the way back from Aristotle to Yuval Noah Harari and indeed Brian Cox, who talked about the importance of creating a future that's good for all and that wellbeing can be one of those very central measures,” Cheese said.

He added that these ideas of wellbeing needed to be carried through to our use of technology, particularly in the work environment.

“As Brian Cox touched on, we remain in control of these ideas as people and as human beings and, to bring it into the practical domain within organisations, we all have a responsibility to make sure how technology is getting used, how it reforms and structures jobs and roles, and organisations”, Cheese explained.

When developing technology, Cheese said the people profession needed to ask itself: “How does this benefit people? How is this going to be good for all of our stakeholders, but perhaps particularly the people that we have a direct responsibility for?”

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