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In First Person: Nichol Bradford

Curiosity to Catalyst: HR's Role in the Age of AI

Nichol Bradford

Nichol Bradford is a global thought leader in transformative technologies and was appointed earlier this year as SHRM’s executive-in-residence for AI+HI enablement. Bradford is the co-founder of the Niremia Collective, an early-stage venture capital and advisory firm in Silicon Valley focused on human potential technologies, and the co-founder of, the largest global ecosystem of leaders building technology for human flourishing.


People + Strategy: Why is generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) such a significant revolution?

Nichol Bradford: GenAI represents a monumental shift, potentially the most significant since the Industrial Revolution. It could be one of the best things humanity has ever created in terms of the positive impact it can have on our collective prosperity. But that is not the only possible outcome. My journey with technology over the past two decades, deeply focused on enhancing human potential, has led me to explore how advancements like AI can fundamentally improve our lives.

How do you address concerns about automation, job loss or dystopian outcomes?

Bradford: With nearly half of work hours subject to automation or augmentation, it’s vital to remember our irreplaceable human qualities. Our biology, our need to belong, be seen and connect with one another is far older and deeper than any technology. We’ve seen how AI can highlight our humanity, not diminish it. It’s about augmentation—not replacement—and transforming jobs to make work more meaningful. History reassures us that technological revolutions breed new opportunities, pushing us to redefine work in alignment with our deepest values.

But we have to create this future. And how it turns out has everything to do with you—the choices you make in how you change and reinvent your organization and yourself. AI progress will not slow down, it will speed up, with today being the slowest change you’ll ever see. The core challenge is, amidst the rapid change, to guide AI in a beneficial way for people and planet so that AI augments the power of people to move the world forward and enables them to be their best self easily—creative, collaborative and healthy, inside and out.

AI progress will not slow down, it will speed up, with today being the slowest change you’ll ever see. … And how it turns out has everything to do with you—the choices you make in how you change and reinvent your organization and yourself.”


P+S: How do we create an inclusive AI future?

Bradford: Addressing fears, challenging assumptions and emulating those who are doing it well can help organizations create an inclusive AI future. Fear makes bad decisions by neurobiologically reducing our creativity and ability to see options. Outdated assumptions also block progress. We must address our own fears and question assumptions about upskilling being difficult. Today’s AI and the interfaces designed for human interaction are intuitive, often conversational, which makes the leap to AI fluency far more accessible than many anticipate.

Accenture recently published an interesting piece of data that underscores how upskilling might not be as hard as many think. While 37 percent of C-suite executives doubted their teams’ ability to transition to new technologies, a staggering 85 percent of employees felt they had a good grasp of AI, with 94 percent believing that with the right training, they could successfully make the leap. If you’re a CEO and you only believe that “upskilling is hard,” you may cut your workforce based on the wrong assumption.

This disparity between leaders and employees isn’t just eye-opening, it’s a call to action for HR leaders to champion a culture of continuous learning and curiosity. We can see that exposure to AI builds curiosity. And AI curiosity can build to AI fluency, which then can turn anyone in your organization into an AI catalyst and help you build to AI maturity. In fact, according to new research by SHRM, HR professionals who work in organizations that actively use GenAI are 16 times more likely to believe that AI is a job-expanding tool versus job-losing.

Finally, we should follow the examples of companies successfully implementing AI that have deeply invested in people and seen significant revenue increases.

I’ve heard you speak of companies that are “reinventors.” What do they do differently than others?

Bradford: Reinventors distinguish themselves through two primary strategies. First, they are reinventing their entire value chain and business capacity, rather than focusing on isolated use cases. Second, they are reinventing work and the workforce for GenAI by implementing skills-based roles. This approach is underpinned by people-centered change management, drawing on the collective insight of their workforce to drive innovation.

With a people-centered approach, you allow automation and augmentation to get rid of the tasks that aren’t driving your business or serving your customers—and your employees help you do that because they trust you. Together, you find the new tasks and the new jobs that expand your business success. However, Accenture found that 95 percent of employees didn’t trust their management to make AI decisions that were good for all of them. Without trust, you don’t get workers’ full genius on reinventing your value chain and don’t get the full upside.

As AI transforms the ways we work, what is HR’s evolving role in an AI-driven workplace?

Bradford: In the era of generative AI, HR professionals are transitioning into “AI+HI catalysts,” a role that places them at the heart of guiding ethical and human-centered AI adoption within organizations. This shift involves leveraging AI to enhance workforce skills and foster a culture of continuous learning. As AI+HI catalysts, HR’s mission expands beyond traditional boundaries to support AI catalysts in other functions to strategically integrate AI in ways that augment human capabilities and ensure inclusivity and innovation. This evolution underscores the critical role of HR in navigating the transformative potential of AI, emphasizing strategic insight and a commitment to enhancing human potential through technology.

HR’s role is to bridge the gaps, transforming fear and uncertainty about AI into excitement and engagement. By leveraging their unique understanding of the organization’s talent and needs, HR can identify the most impactful areas for AI integration and upskilling, ensuring that the workforce is not just prepared but empowered to thrive in an AI-enhanced future.

Moreover, HR professionals themselves must embrace the role of lifelong learners, continuously updating their own skills to stay ahead of the curve. This dual focus—on their own development and the development of their organization’s workforce—is what will enable HR to lead by example, fostering an environment where upskilling is seen as an opportunity for growth, innovation and personal fulfillment.

We can see that exposure to AI builds curiosity. And AI curiosity can build to AI fluency, which then can turn anyone in your organization into an AI catalyst and help you build to AI maturity.” 


P+S: It sounds like HR has a monumental role in shaping the future of work in the age of AI. How should they begin this journey?

Bradford: It begins with a commitment to understanding AI—not just its capabilities but its implications for human work and potential. From there, HR can start by fostering a culture of open communication and trust, where upskilling is aligned with the organization’s vision and individual employees’ career aspirations. By positioning themselves as AI catalysts, HR leaders can not only navigate but also shape the future of work, ensuring AI serves to enhance our human strengths and capabilities.

 How can an organization ensure that its AI transformation remains human-centered and inclusive?

Bradford: The essence of successfully integrating AI into our lives and work lies in our approach—it must be unequivocally human-centered. This commitment to human-centered change is not just about mitigating fears or managing transitions, it’s about recognizing and harnessing the incredible potential that AI has to make our lives better.

The key to this approach is trust and inclusion. Trust, because people need to feel confident that AI is a tool for enhancement, not replacement. Inclusion, because everyone across the organization should have a voice in how AI is integrated into their work. AI shouldn’t be a top-down directive; it’s a collaborative journey that recognizes the value each person brings to the table. Building an inclusive AI future hinges on cultivating trust and empowering people to actively shape their futures.

: Why is it urgent for organizations to begin integrating AI now?

Bradford: We’re at a critical juncture with technological change accelerating at an unprecedented pace. Traditional leadership styles are insufficient in this new era. Embracing continuous learning, fostering innovation and advocating for ethical AI use are paramount. This era demands a leadership style that’s adaptive, visionary and inclusive, ensuring technology enhances rather than diminishes our humanity.

: What strategic shifts are required to navigate this transition effectively?

Bradford: Leaders must articulate a compelling vision for AI+HI, aligning their organizations’ culture and processes. Above all, making this shift requires courage—the courage to embrace uncertainty, challenge the status quo, and to lead with a sense of purpose and possibility. The urgency of AI integration is matched only by its potential to transform our world for the better. By learning and leading differently in this era, we can ensure that this transformation is not just successful, but also deeply human-centered and inclusive.