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AI Part 2: Business leaders get ready

Before reading this article, please read “AI Part 1: Breaking the frame of how we think about AI”

You recognize: AI is an intelligence, not a technology. It is an omni-accelerator, not a tool.

AI will hit every industry with the force of a slow-motion 200-car pile-up on the George Washington Bridge. Some will be impacted in 6 months, others in 6 years, the lucky ones in 16. But the force has been unleashed, and barring some international accord to halt AI development, it’s coming.

As business leaders, how do we get ready?

Let me say first, I’m not exactly sure. No one is. Sweeping change is easy to predict, precise change impossible.

But by checking our frame, researching the best thinking, intentionally wrestling with 3 areas of impact, continually improving our thinking, and preparing the culture, we can place our organization in the vanguard of those who will can best predict and leverage the coming disruption to survive and thrive.

  1. Check framing. Are we working on how we think about AI? Read my article on that here, and look for thinkers who challenge your framing, such as Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark (written 5 years ago, but still prescient).
  2. Research the best thinking. Learn about general developments and those specific to your industry. “The AI Dilemma” from Center for Humane Technology and Lex Fridman’s podcast with Sam Altman (CEO of OpenAI) is a great place to start. Make learning about AI a part of your ongoing habit. Look for leading thinkers in your industry and don’t be afraid to become one.
  3. Wrestle with 3 areas of impact. At Mainstay, we are using cross-functional teams to focus on each of these individually and collectively. Assign a portion of a thought leader’s time, within the organization, for research and coordination with all other team members. Consider intentional, focused time on each, on a regular basis:
    • How will this impact our clients? What happens in the lives of customers and in the businesses you serve?
    • How does it improve our business? How can we imagine AI helping us do our business better, faster, and more efficiently? Where will it reduce waste, solve problems, and improve what we do?
    • How will it phase shift our business? What if the change isn’t just iterative (more of what we have seen before), but something else entirely? If AI fulfills its promise, and we were a well-funded startup in our space, what would we do? Use the principles of zero-base design, alongside an alien superintelligence, and ideate.
  4. Continually improve. At first, these exercises might feel like kindergarten story time. But over time, as we all gain knowledge, as AI develops, and as the industry changes, those who have invested the time in thinking differently and in attuning to industry changes will be among the first to recognize relevant changes outside the business, that beckon to opportunity or threaten doom. For most business leaders, we don’t need to become THE innovator in our space – we just need to be in the top section. Set that as the aim – to be in the most nimble, anticipatory top decile (10%) of your industry.
  5. Prepare the culture. AI means change. And change is hard. Intentionally ask your team to engage in this with you, and expect leaders around you to be getting ready. Consider that the goal is to shorten time from “change is available” to “impact from the change is actualized.”

The first wave of AI implementation will likely increase efficiencies, solve thorny problems, and eliminate jobs that few people want. Thriving businesses will be leaner and faster.

The next wave of AI implementation will be far more disruptive. It will eliminate jobs that people genuinely love, will drive unemployment higher, and will see the rise of entirely new approaches in old industries.

If we are wise as a society, we will work hard to align AI, adjust society, or halt AI development before we get to the third wave. May we individually and collectively cultivate the wisdom to utilize these new intelligences towards what is truly good for human flourishing!