Get fit! Stop smoking! Transform your business! Success with any meaningful change begins with a simple question: “Where do I start?” From our work with business leaders all over the world on how to compete using our new digital machines, we found that “where do I start?” is probably the most common query of our modern business age. In these days of ‘all things digital’, your work life probably seems more packed with questions than answers. When machines do more of nearly everything, what will you do? Will a robot take your job away? Will your company be ‘Amazoned’? What will your industry look like in five years? Will your children be better off than you are? By now, many clearly recognize that AI is already all around us. In fact, it’s at the core of experiences many of us have every day. It’s how we book a car through Lyft, arrange a hotel room through Hotel Tonight, or engage with Alexa to play the music we want. What’s beginning to happen, and what will accelerate over the coming years, is that AI will be applied more to work that matters – how we bank, how we heal, how we insure our families, how we educate our children. As we explain in our recent book What To Do When Machines Do Everything, the hard truth is that the debate about digital, AI and new machines is no longer about “if” but “when?”. Endlessly wondering “where do I start?” is a surefire way to land on the career downescalator. (Next floor: VCRs, Kodak film, and irrelevance...) If you’re still unconvinced, just ask the recently departed C-suite occupants from Ford, GE and Uber (or Blockbuster, Yahoo, BlackBerry), who have not met digital economy expectations. This may all sound a bit dire or alarmist, but before you reach for a breakfast martini, keep in mind that the good news is that digital means growth! We surveyed 2,000 C-suite executives from retail, banking, insurance (health and P&C), manufacturing and life sciences – with a combined total revenue of about $7.3 trillion – and found that the impact of digital transformation on these industries between 2015 and 2018 alone could be up to $20 trillion. In a business world moving at the speed of Google and growing at a Moore’s Law pace, “where do I start?” becomes an existential question for each of us. Getting it right is the great opportunity of our time. Fortunately, the early winners of the digital economy are already beginning to show a practical path to get started. Here are three things you can do immediately to become fit for the future:
To become more digital, focus on humans
It may sound counterintuitive, but in a world of more pervasive technology, activities that humans do well will become even more important. Analytical, communication and learning skills, as well as the ability to relate to other people, have all been vital for business success throughout history. But in the coming years, these very human traits – things we do naturally, but computers struggle with – will become even more essential. The data clearly shows that distinctly human job skills – the ability to engage with others, lead, ask questions, reason, and interpret – will dramatically increase in importance. You might think: “Hang on! I saw a robot on CNN that could dance/sing/drive/pick strawberries/whatever… What about robots doing more human stuff?” Yes, machines will do more and more, but the people building the new machines will tell you that fears about robots replacing all human knowledge work overnight is largely indicative of the hysteria that accompanies every major shift in technology. (As a society, we have been worried about new technologies impacting society since the invention of the written word, which even Socrates was against). Being able to apply judgment, curiosity, creativity and the human touch are all far outside the purview of current and near-future technologies, and this will remain the case for some years to come, even as the new machines become more capable.
Fears about robots replacing all human knowledge work overnight is largely indicative of the hysteria that accompanies every major shift in technology
Enhance your workforce with the new machines Our productivity has been improved by technology since a tired Mesopotamian started using the wheel to help save his aching back 5,000 years ago. More recently, machines and software have been working with us and for us in factories for years. Now however, software bots based on AI and machine learning are becoming more ubiquitous and powerful. When you buy something from Amazon or accept a recommendation from Netflix, you are already using automation and AI in your personal life. This very same model is now being applied to countless business processes. The current AI fearmongers assert that robots will take over all the jobs. Some jobs will go away; there is no doubt about that. But the number is less than many people think, and the more common scenario is that workers will be enhanced with new technology to become much more productive. The next time you walk into your workplace, think about what everyone is doing (for work,
Q4 2017 Dialogue