Back in January 2016, the World Economic Forum (WEF) produced a report, The Future of Jobs, that considered, among other topics, the top 10 skills needed in the workplace. There were two lists, one for the year just ended (2015) and one predicting how these optimal skills would have changed by 2020.

Central to the analysis was the impact of what was described by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the Geneva-based WEF, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This was to be an era of advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, biotechnology and genomics and, by the start of this century’s third decade, it would be into its stride.

In short, Schwab argued, the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres were to become increasingly blurred. As we all experienced the shift from simple digitisation to innovation based on combinations of technologies, a societal transformation would take place on a par with previous industrial revolutions.

For the record, the First Industrial Revolution (from around 1760) used water and steam power to mechanise production; the Second (roughly a 100 years later) saw electricity permit mass production; the Third (starting in the 1960s) occurred when electronics and information technology enabled automation in production.

For a workforce anticipating a Fourth Industrial Revolution, WEF’s report concluded that, as machines begin to make decisions for us, core skills in 2015 like negotiation and active listening would, by 2020, begin to drop down and out of the top 10.

Creativity, on the other hand, was set to rise to a top three skill as workers strived to navigate the waves of new products, new technologies and new ways of working.

With 2020 now just around the corner, this chimes neatly with the proposition underpinning a recent, appetising publication from the world of marketing. Creative Influence: Rankin x Oystercatchers x The Fifth celebrates the power of creativity and its critical role in business by showcasing the creative philosophies and contributions of some of today’s trail-blazing marketers.

For example, in the book, the significance of creativity in unlocking the future is captured succinctly by RBS CMO David Wheldon: “Creativity. More important than ever before in marketing. A product of discipline, rigour, great use of data and imagination.”

Coincidentally, David’s wisdom goes on to pinpoint the most striking difference in the WEF report’s lists of top 10 workplace skills, 2020 vs 2015, and tee up the main thrust of this blog. Into the former list, at number six, had appeared emotional intelligence (EI). Not in the reckoning four years previously but deemed a core competence for 2020 and beyond.

In quoting American poet, singer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, David highlights a now famous phrase that beautifully dramatises the value of EI: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Some commentators go so far as to say that if succeeding in the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires one skill, it will be emotional intelligence. Indeed, for them, what we are now encountering is in fact an emotional intelligence revolution.

So, if it’s so important, what is it, this EI?

The term was first coined by psychologists Mayer and Salovey (1990) and refers in general terms to our capacity to perceive, process, regulate and act upon emotional information both from within ourselves and from others.

According to behavioural scientist Daniel Goleman, author in 1995 of a groundbreaking work on the subject, there are five components of EI. In brief, these are: self-awareness (recognising our own emotions and their effects on others); self-regulation (controlling our impulses and expressing our emotions appropriately); social skills (interacting well with others, putting the emotional information to good use); empathy (understanding how other people are feeling and responding accordingly); motivation (seeking fulfilment from inner needs and goals, beyond external rewards like fame and money).

Goleman also argued that, unlike the well-established intelligence quotient (IQ), emotional intelligence is not fixed at birth and, although shaped by childhood experience, can be nurtured and strengthened throughout adulthood. Theoretically, therefore, it is within the reach of men!

The benefits of being more emotionally intelligent correspond with the widespread acceptance that we are emotional beings. We behave emotionally in and out of the workplace, we make emotionally charged decisions, employers are increasingly appreciating the value of creating working environments and offering work schedules that respect their employees’ emotions.

From a purely business standpoint, the body of research on EI supports the argument that individuals with higher emotional intelligence are better equipped to collaborate, to deal with change and to manage stress. These are three key drivers of success in our complex, dynamic, unpredictable world of work.

From my point of view, as a consultant in this space, there is no doubt that fully functioning business relationships result in the main from the behaviours of emotionally intelligent participants.

In this regard, I will leave the final words to Daniel Goleman: “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”