Critical thinking rivals technical skills for Industry 4.0 success

Innovative TMT companies value the human factor

When developing a talent strategy for innovation, TMT companies may want to look beyond the hunt for technical superstars. Savvy innovators should also consider how to build up their workforce’s non-technical proficiency, especially in critical thinking skills.

Top skills “high innovators” are developing for success in Industry 4.0

Industry 4.01 technology innovations—such as cloud computing, big data and analytics, Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence (AI)—are enabling new products, services, and business models, and fueling a new era of digital transformation. They’re changing how organizations work—and the skills they seek. Stories abound about talent wars for techies like AI researchers and data scientists (aka “America’s hottest job”).2 Headlines proclaim that organizations are vying for the best technical talent, at any cost, to innovate rapidly.3 But that’s only part of the story.

We took a closer look at the 612 technology, media, and telecom (TMT) respondents surveyed in Deloitte’s 2019 Industry 4.0 readiness report4 and identified a subset of “high innovators” (29 percent). This group represents organizations that place a high priority on innovation and embrace experimentation, giving their leaders the leeway to learn from failure.5

Only one-third of high innovators think they have the right workforce and skills in place for the future. Strikingly, the number-one skill that high innovators say they’re working hardest to develop isn’t technical: It’s critical thinking skills. For less-innovative companies, critical thinking comes in last of eight skills probed. Both groups place high priority on Industry 4.0 technology expertise and knowledge of cybersecurity, data privacy, and compliance.

Why do high innovators value critical thinking skills more? Seventy-one percent 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.6

“Human skills” may be just as crucial to success as technical ones. While two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents to the Deloitte 2018 global human capital trends survey indicated technical skills will need to increase as AI is integrated into enterprises, almost as many (62 percent) pinpointed the expanding need for complex problem-solving skills, followed closely by cognitive abilities, process skills, and social skills.7

When developing a talent strategy for innovation, TMT companies could do well to look beyond the inevitable quest for technical know-how. Savvy innovators should also consider how to sharpen non-technical skills like critical thinking, whether by acquiring new talent or by training their existing workforce.

This charticle authored by Susanne Hupfer on April 17, 2019.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, is a global concept, but it can take many different forms, and names, around the world. In the United States, the focus tends to be more on a more holistic digital evolution, and many use the term digital supply network. Within Europe, where the concept originated, the phenomenon is known as Industry 4.0 and tends to be more factory-based. While the terminology may differ, the overall concept remains largely the same and encompasses the same technologies and applications. Source: “Forces of change: Industry 4.0,” Deloitte, December 18, 2017.
Michael Sasso, “This Is America’s Hottest Job,” Bloomberg, May 18, 2018.
Jeremy Kahn, "Sky-High Salaries Are the Weapons in the AI Talent War," Bloomberg, February 13, 2018.
Success personified in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Four leadership personas for an era of change and uncertainty,” Deloitte, January 2019.
For one’s organization to be classified as a “high innovator,” a TMT executive must agree s/he has permission from leadership to fail and learn while innovating, and must identify at least two of the following innovation-centric activities as a top-3 priority for the organization as it aims for success with Industry 4.0:

  • Soliciting innovative ideas/approaches from employees
  • Investing in research and development
  • Exploring products and services beyond their core business
  • Recruiting talent with a proven track record of innovation

The recent Deloitte study “Seasoned explorers: How experienced TMT organizations are navigating AI—Insights from Deloitte’s State of AI in the Enterprise, 2nd Edition” survey revealed that, for the most seasoned AI adopters in TMT, one of the most sought-after roles is “business leaders who can interpret AI results and make decisions/take action.”
Insights from Deloitte 2018 global human capital trends survey. In addition, the World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2018” predicts: “Proficiency in new technologies is only one part of the 2022 skills equation… as ‘human’ skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion, and negotiation will likewise retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility, and complex problem-solving.”

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