Leadership alert: The dust will never settle and generative AI can help

Artificial intelligence can play a crucial role in assisting leaders and their teams in making strategic, as well as immediate, data-driven decisions and taking effective action.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

Fighter jets are built for the greatest possible maneuverability. As a result, they are inherently unstable.

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One of the things we're hearing a lot recently from leaders and independent contributors alike is that they're "waiting for the dust to settle" before they make their next move or their next major decision. This is understandable given the tumultuous and unpredictable nature of the last few years, from COVID-19 to business restructurings to banking collapses to the rise of generative AI and everything in between.

But here's a newsflash for all of us: It's never going to happen. The dust is not going to settle. So let's stop waiting and wasting time. We need to become more sensitive to the changes all around us and more responsive to them, not more passive or more resistant. If we want to build high-performance organizations of the future, Boundless* organizations, we need to throw our ideas about stability out the window. We need to organize and plan and design our businesses to be inherently unstable themselves.

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But what would it mean to be inherently unstable?

Most airplanes are built to be stable, meaning that after a disturbance they will return to aeronautical equilibrium with minimum pilot effort. In everyday circumstances, this is a highly desirable characteristic. It makes the plane comparatively easy for a human to fly, even one with limited expertise, and consequently makes flight accessible to more people. So this is all good. But it comes at a cost. The more stable the aircraft, the less maneuverable it is. In everyday situations, this is hardly a problem. But in challenging situations, when environmental or competitive forces are at play and responsiveness is in high demand, this trade-off starts to become one.

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In the case of fighter aircraft, for example, lack of maneuverability would be a real problem during combat. So fighter jets are designed for the exact opposite set of characteristics. They are built for the greatest possible maneuverability, and as a result, they are inherently unstable (also known by the friendlier-sounding term "relaxed stability"). 

The problem is that inherently unstable aircraft are nearly impossible for humans -- even highly trained pilots --  to control by themselves. So pilots rely upon computerized fly-by-wire flight control systems that sense flight conditions, take thousands of measurements per second, and continuously manipulate the plane's control surfaces. This combination of designed instability and computerized control systems utilizing real-time feedback loops gives the human pilot the best of both worlds, maneuverability and stability.

In short, fighter pilots need help simply to keep their planes in the air. The planes are so optimized for maneuverability that without assistance from onboard computers, they would be unflyable by any human, however expert. But with that help, pilots can maximize the maneuverability of the plane to accomplish their objectives while giving the task of keeping the plane aloft to the AI system.

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What does this have to do with leadership and dust settling? Quite a lot as it happens. 

Today's businesses, like most airplanes, are built for stability. They withstand change rather than respond to it. What they are not built for is maneuverability. Waiting for the dust to settle means battening down the hatches and hunkering down until normality returns, not being active in the prevailing conditions. 

But making decisions and taking action, being maneuverable or responsive, is precisely what the company of the present and future is going to need. The conditions of business are going to continue to be turbulent. There will be more and more information flowing in from customers, partners, competitors, and the market in general, and it's going to be out of the realm of human leadership to process it in real time. There will simply be too many inputs, too many decisions to be made, and too many actions to be taken for humans to do it all on their own.

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We believe that leaders need to act against their natural reactions. They need to stop thinking that they have to be in control of everything and everyone to be "good" managers and executives. In fact, they have to go in the opposite direction and demand so much data to be generated from every part of their operations that no one could possibly handle it or make sense of it without help. In the words of Ming Zeng, the chair of Alibaba's Academic Council, they need to "datafy" everything. And then they need to set AI upon it.

Generative AI will revolutionize the way we work. AI is the electricity of the 21st century. Ignore it and your business will be left in the dark. Accenture notes that 97% of global executives agree AI foundation models will enable connections across data types, revolutionizing where and how AI is used. Generative AI integrated with the right customer processes will improve customer experience.

AI can play a crucial role in assisting leaders and their teams in making strategic, as well as immediate, data-driven decisions and taking effective action. AI empowers organizations to deliver powerful customer experiences by driving efficiency through automation and building trust by securing customer data. To unlock the power of AI, you need:

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  • Reliable and trusted customer data to build a harmonized customer profile
  • Pre-built, custom, or public AI models -- ideally a combination of these -- to feed your data into, so insights can be leveraged into automated actions
  • A single platform with security and governance built-in to enable both innovations and increased customer trust

AI is only as good as your data. And AI + automation will drive organizational efficiency. And successful use of AI depends on governance and security. The benefits of AI in business are boundless

Ten of the most significant ways in which AI can help (a list generated very helpfully, we should add, by ChatGPT) include:

  1. Personalized customer experiences: AI can analyze customer preferences, behavior, and purchase history to deliver personalized recommendations, offers, and experiences. This helps businesses build stronger customer relationships and increase satisfaction.

  2. Virtual assistants and chatbots: AI-powered virtual assistants can provide personalized assistance, answer inquiries, and perform tasks for business people. Chatbots can handle customer queries, freeing up resources and improving customer service.

  3. Data analysis and insights: AI can process large volumes of real-time or live data quickly and extract valuable insights by identifying patterns, trends, and correlations within the data. AI algorithms can also perform predictive analysis of historical data and make predictions about future trends, market conditions, and customer behavior. This helps leaders anticipate potential outcomes and make proactive decisions.

  4. Automation and efficiency: AI-powered automation can streamline repetitive tasks, such as data entry, report generation, and administrative duties, freeing up time so that people can focus on higher-value activities.

  5. Risk assessment and management: AI algorithms can assess risk factors and provide recommendations for risk mitigation strategies. This helps leaders make informed decisions, minimize potential risks, and optimize resource allocation.

  6. Natural language processing (NLP): AI can process and understand human language, enabling business people to extract insights from unstructured data, such as customer feedback, social media conversations, and market research reports.

  7. Supply chain optimization: AI can analyze supply chain data, including inventory levels, demand patterns, and logistical factors, to optimize supply chain operations. This helps identify bottlenecks, reduce costs, and improve efficiency.

  8. Fraud detection: AI algorithms can detect patterns indicative of fraudulent activities, such as abnormal transactions or suspicious behavior. By flagging potential fraud cases, AI assists finance, accounting, and compliance professionals in taking appropriate actions to prevent financial losses.

  9. Pricing optimization: AI algorithms can analyze market conditions, competitor pricing, and customer behavior to recommend optimal pricing strategies. This enables senior management and sales professionals to maximize revenue and profit margins.

  10. Real-time analytics and monitoring: AI-powered systems can monitor business operations in real-time, generating alerts and notifications based on predefined thresholds. This enables everyone across the organization to take immediate action and address issues promptly.

It's important to note that while AI can provide valuable support in decision-making, human expertise and judgment are still crucial for considering ethical, legal, and contextual factors in business decision-making processes. Marketing research on generative AI adoption practices shows that human oversight, skills, and trusted customer data are current requirements to power generative AI. Today, 63% of marketers say trusted customer data is important in successfully using generative AI as a marketer. The majority, 66% of marketers, also said human oversight to ensure brand voice is important in using generative AI successfully as a marketer. This means proper training is required -- 54% believe generative AI training programs are important for them to use generative AI successfully as a marketer. And lastly, 72% expect their employer to provide them with opportunities to learn how to use generative AI. We also see how generative AI can improve productivity across all lines of business, including creative work in marketing. 

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Today's businesses and their leaders are facing unprecedented complexity and turbulence. But there are no signs that it's going to get any easier or smoother any time soon. And so the time is ripe for a fundamental rethink, a new mindset that abandons hope of stability and that embraces the exact opposite. It is a mindset that intentionally pushes the organization out of equilibrium, out of the hope of human control, and that learns to apply computerized systems utilizing data, AI, and real-time feedback loops to enhance humans' power of strategic decision-making.

* "Boundless: A New Mindset for Unlimited Business Success" by Henry King and Vala Afshar (published by Wiley) is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and will be available in bookstores from September 14, 2023. This article was co-authored by Henry King, business innovation and transformation strategy leader at Salesforce. 

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