Artificial Intelligence - Threat or Opportunity?

Disruption. Ambiguity. Uncertainty. This is our new normal. Whether it’s volatile markets, unpredictable election results, or competition from the unknown; we are faced with constant change. Hyper-change in fact, recognised only by the speed at which it happens.
Disruption. Ambiguity. Uncertainty. This is our new normal. Whether it’s volatile markets, unpredictable election results, or competition from the unknown; we are faced with constant change. Hyper-change in fact, recognised only by the speed at which it happens.
Technology is at the heart of this; driving the disruption through digital ways and means, with the resulting artificial intelligence having a significant impact upon the world of work.

Already we’ve seen well-known brands being shaken up, even decimated, by technological innovators. Blockbusters for Netflix. The Times for Buzzfeed. Encyclopedia Britannica for Google.

There are estimations of robots stealing a third of British jobs by 2030 (PWC, 2017). And that, in less than 12 years, computers will possess more intelligence than the average human being (Google). Right now, billions of people are connected across the world – sharing content, experiences and their lives like never before.

But is this technological invasion a threat or an opportunity? Should we, as business leaders, resist and deny, be the luddites leaving business success down to luck. Or do we take the leap; adapt and survive?

The digital conundrum

Digital and artificial technology brings both positives and negatives to the table.

The increased connectivity, knowledge sharing and transparency delivers greater creativity, social mobility and choice. AI gives us predictability and productivity; allowing for repetitive and physical tasks to be replaced for a faster, lower cost solution. For example, McDonald’s is adapting to a technologically-driven world with self-ordering kiosks; not only improving the customer ordering experience but as part of their strategy to differentiate themselves through “Customer Obsession” the kioks free up the restaurant team to deliver food to the table, host guests when then arrive in store and ensure that the restaurants are spotlessly clean.

Technology also provides a vast amount of data from a wide range of interactions across the workplace; helping improve decision-making. This is something the world of HR has never seen before; resulting in the transformation of the function. The ability to provide metrics on the workforce has driven the shift from what was once seen as a ‘tissues and issues’ department; to that which is critical for the success of a business. HR can now make decisions based on business insight, not gut feel.

Though on the other hand there are issues with cyber security; hacks on customer and employee data, viruses and malvertising can take down a business entirely in just a few clicks of a button. British Airways, the NHS and Nissan have all fallen victim in recent months with detrimental impacts upon customer trust, experience and loyalty.

And while some argue that AI will create more interesting jobs, as we’ve seen in the industrial ages before us, many fear an I, Robot style take-over. There are also concerns around commoditisation, as people race to the lowest price and more social unrest; with online providing the perfect channel to disseminate messages of hate, fear and anger.

Adapt to survive

Regardless of the pros and cons, we are living in a digital era. Our children will know no time where technology wasn’t fundamental to the way we live, work and communicate as a society. And so, we, both personally and organisationally, have just two choices. We stay as we are and hope for the best. Or we make changes, utilising technology in a positive way to improve our lives.

As Charles Darwin so famously said, only those who adapt will survive. And so, we need to prepare both personally and organisationally for success in this digital era.

For the individual, the first step is challenging all assumptions you hold about a career. It’s no longer about becoming a lawyer, doctor or professor; one career for life. Careers of the future are going to be vloggers, programmers and storytellers; people who have the resilience to change often. Chief Marketing Officer at L’Oréal, Hugh Pile, at the recent Internet Advertising Bureau’s Leadership Summit where we were keynote speakers, said:

“If you go upstairs expecting your daughter to be doing her maths homework, but you find her on YouTube broadcasting how to do the perfect eyebrow, just close the door. She’s making sure you have money for your retirement.”

It will be more about influence than accolade.

Continuous learning, but a deep knowledge and mastery of such, will be the norm. And it won’t be down to the employer to provide. In an entrepreneurial society, learning must be the responsibility of the individual. Start with your passion – creating your own duvet chuck moments and re-defining why you work.

Finally, there will be greater emphasis on deep relationships. Relationships which re-charge you and take you away from the frantic, superficial and multi-touch digital and impersonal world provided by technology. Relationships which keep you in touch with reality.

For organisations to embrace this digital sphere, planning is essential. What repetitive jobs can be replaced – there’s no point fighting it. And then once identified, what opportunities does that provide for the people who currently do this job? How will you manage the transition? Global management company, Accenture, for example, replaced 17,000 jobs with robots; yet not one person was made redundant. Instead they invested in reskilling and repositioning, long before bringing automation in at scale.

There must also be more focus on maximising skills that AI cannot, yet, replicate. Things like creativity, emotional intelligence, kindness. And empower your people to develop and express these. An adapted view of talent management helps here. One that does not think about job titile or career hierarchy but instead equips individuals with a flexible mindset and creative skills they need to deliver for the business (and themselves) in a workplace that will be continually disrupted.  Just one look at the current debate on the gig economy will tell us that the world of work will continue to change.

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us; with technology sitting at the heart of it. Yes, there are sure to be negatives, there always are. However, this is fundamentally an opportunity for empowerment and positive social change. This is the era which can change the world for the better. Get behind it now.