While often portrayed as a system based on the chase for dollars, capitalism actually derives its power from the fact that people enrich themselves by serving others. Those who understand that concept are likely to understand the basis of the phenomenon described in Geoff Colvin‘s latest Fortune column.

Infotech executives are starting to talk funny, and we all need to pay attention. “Designing emotion into the product is now something you really have to think about explicitly and measure yourself against,” says Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit, the maker of personal finance and small-business software. He’s telling me what it takes to win in his business today. When he and his colleagues test software, they mark it up with “happy faces or puzzled faces so the developers understand the emotion we were feeling at the time.” Really? For software that keeps the books?

“I need great product designers, and IT people aren’t always great at aesthetics,” says the CIO of one of Europe’s largest retailers at a conference in Berlin recently, describing his hiring challenges. “And I need people who are empathetic and collaborative. I can’t have a great IT architect who has to be locked in a room.” Excuse me? Isn’t that where code writers are most at home: alone in a dimly lit room, a crumpled bag of chips at their side?

“We’re hiring artists, special-effects creators, and people who understand beauty,” says Charles Phillips, CEO of Infor, a maker of enterprise software. We’re at his headquarters in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley, where he’s describing his strategy for competing against industry giants Oracle and SAP. Infor, he says, offers “beautiful business software for your business processes.” This, for software that has long occupied the boiler room of corporate infotech.

The clear trend here is not some fad in the software industry. A mushrooming demand for employees with affective, non-logical abilities spans the economy. Empathy—sensing at a deep level the feelings and thoughts of others—is the foundation. “Non-cognitive skills and attributes such as team working, emotional maturity, empathy, and other interpersonal skills are as important as proficiency in English and mathematics,” reports an advisory group of executives and educators on education reform in the U.K. When author George Anders searched for online job postings that paid over $100,000 a year and specified empathy or empathic traits, he quickly found 1,000 of them from companies as varied as Barclays Capital, McKinsey, and Mars.