The ONE Skill Innovative Companies Value Most: A Deloitte Perspective

Published: Jun 07, 2019

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Back in January, Deloitte released the findings of their second annual Industry 4.0 Readiness Report, which surveys technology, media, and telecommunications (TMT) organizations to assess how prepared industry leaders are to embrace the “new era of globalization” promised by emerging trends in digitization and data exchange.

Industry 4.0 is the catalyst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a period in which new technologies, increased emphasis on big data and analytics, and erosion of the boundaries between the physical and the digital drive innovation. This seismic shift is disrupting business models across industries and transforming the way businesses connect with customers to deliver products and services.

Few, if any, industries are not impacted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and in surveying organizations’ readiness for the future of innovation, Deloitte found a “tension between hope and ambiguity” among business leaders. Executives at these companies understand that their industries are changing, though many are less certain about how to execute concrete strategies to remain competitive.

"The Human Factor": Navigating Success in Industry 4.0.

In a recent perspective piece, Deloitte focused on “high innovators” (companies that prioritize experimentation to navigate Industry 4.0) to identify the skills these executives value most in their employees—those most crucial to success. The answer, surprisingly, is not technical prowess.

The number-one skill that high innovators value most in their talent is critical thinking. In contrast, companies identified as less-innovative placed critical thinking last of eight surveyed skill sets.

Technical skills and expertise of Industry 4.0 disciplines—like data science, cybersecurity, or artificial intelligence—are certainly essential. However, the “human factor” of an individual—the ability to think critically and creativelyis a powerful differentiator. According to Deloitte:

Seventy-one percent [of high innovators] strongly believe that autonomous technologies will augment the efforts of human workers, while only 29 percent think that the technologies will replace humans (for less-innovative organizations, the belief in augmentation is lower, at 61 percent). While algorithms are getting better at making recommendations and drawing conclusions, the uniquely human skills of judgment and critical thinking are still essential for interpretation and final decision-making.

The challenge Industry 4.0 poses to companies as it thrusts them into the future of business is not to replace the human element with the technological. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Companies—and by extension, employees and job seekers—must develop their technical expertise in tandem with their critical thinking skills in order to succeed. The development of one skill set does not come at the expense of the other.

What is critical thinking? Becoming a critical thinker.

Those "uniquely human" skills of judgment and interpretation cut to the heart of critical thinking. The majority of us have heard this phrase for most of our lives, but the concept itself is abstract enough to defy a succinct definition. Critical thinking is a strategy of thought that guides you towards making decisions that aren't influenced by personal biases or preconceived notions. Essentially, it is the ability to step outside your own point of view to address a problem pragmatically and arrive at the best decision possible.

Critical thinking cannot be digitized. It's also something you cannot learn in just one class. Critical thinking skills are developed via practical and theoretical experience—through new situations that force you to solve complex problems, debate your peers, and engage different perspectives. You become a critical thinker through failure that forces you to reevaluate your approach and experiment with different solutions. Deloitte's report even defines high innovators, in part, as companies that give their leaders leeway to learn from failure.

There are so many ways to develop your critical thinking skills to position yourself for success in this new age in which we now find ourselves. On-the-job experience certainly helps, as does your education. An advanced degree, in particular, places you in an environment engineered to build these skills: an academic setting, where you are forced to think outside the box, yet given ample room to safely explore. 

Knowledge of key Industry 4.0 disciplines will play a critical role in your success at a TMT company, but as employers invest more resources and attention into developing their talents' critical thinking, already having these non-technical skills will certainly give you a competitive edge.


Deloitte is a Vault Top 50 Consulting Firm, ranking No. 4 in the 2019 Vault Consulting 50 and No. 3 for both IT Operations & IT Strategy Consulting.