Dancing and Thinking… Learning from Strictly

The competition, the glitter ball, the perfect 10. 

It’s about perfection, about getting it right. Right?

Except it isn’t. Life isn’t perfect, and we don’t learn by getting things right.

Strictly reminds us what it is to really be human. It’s about how we feel. In all our glorious unpredictability, our instincts, our capacity for empathy between and across our natural tribes.

The audience of all those decades of Strictly shows? The competition, the dancing, the professionals, the costumes, the winners, the judges? What do we remember, year after year? Ed Balls.

His success defies any definition of how dancing is supposed to be enjoyed. Polls would not have predicted the public response. Artificial intelligence could never replicate an Ed like solution (or understand the surprise at Bill Bailey being competent). No amount of analysis or options generation could say “the answer, to Strictly, is Ed Balls”.

The march of technology seems a million miles from the comfort of a Strictly final.

However, human endeavour is increasingly replicated, even replaced, by machine learning and artificial intelligence. Human life will continue to be categorised, labelled, stored and processed. It will be subjected to relentless remote influence, monitoring, even prediction of behaviour. Reduced to bits and bytes, likes and dislikes, and a binary one or zero version of the world where there is a right and a wrong. Yet, sometimes our preferences will make no logical sense. Across fields as diverse as war fighting, music writing, architecture and farming, the unpredictable nature of human behaviour is what is constant.

Data will be represented as the answer to all our questions and challenges (follow the science), with an occasional nod to the wisdom of hindsight (science is still learning). Yet the human brain pays attention to the most tangential of inputs even when faced with alarming ambiguity. It can decide how to prioritise, select, filter, and change tack over time, without (necessarily) refreshing the data feeds.

What does make us human? Emotions, experiences, empathy and memorable stories? Trial and error and learning from our mistakes? The joy of surprise and the intense desire to avoid failure? We dance the dance, even from our sofas. We live it, and the neurons fire.

Logic says that Ed Balls should not have survived the first elimination on Strictly, but he came with his sense of self. He told a story, generated a connection, established some trust with his audience, and for no predictable reason whatsoever, the votes followed.

To prepare for the world of artificial intelligence and big data, enjoy the Strictly final. Pay close attention to those vital skills in the digital world – emotion, experience, empathy – and gain a deeper understanding of which errors matter and which do not!

More from Human Digital Thinking in 2021.

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