I recently attended a CEO Institute event focused on, ‘The changing nature of leadership’. As you can imagine, Artificial Intelligence (AI) was a theme that was present throughout many of the presentations and discussions of the day. Despite an undertone of anxiety and trepidation about the unknown (yet inevitable) impact of AI within the room, I found myself leaving at the end of the day feeling optimistic, and even a little excited about the profoundly positive impact it could have on humanity.
There were two themes that stimulated my optimism, the first being a history lesson on how humanity has thrived through many similar innovation leaps over time but, more specifically, how much we reviled and revolted against being part of the factory make-lines that defined the industrial revolution. Why did we protest and picket with such fervour? Because human beings are not meant for repetitive, non-stimulating tasks. We have more purpose, and we seek more purpose.
Which leads me to the second theme of the day, the most impressive and progressive CEO speakers, were those that were fiercely committed to being purpose and values driven. What stood out was the distinctly human ways in which their purpose translated into behaviour – the removal of large corner offices and ‘Exec only’ boardrooms, premium car spaces re-allocated to time-dependent delivery drivers, business models where 40% of the profit is shared with employees, investing in derelict property with no foreseeable commercial benefit, because the local community deserves better…. These all feel distinctly human-driven, not necessarily ‘intelligence’ driven decisions.
So, my first outtake was the potential for AI to take away the grind and unlock our unique human capacity for creativity and abstract ideas. To rapidly work through all the logistics, the risks, and the barriers that often extinguish creativity and innovation and be left with a brief for unencumbered creative ideation – sounds exciting to me! It also reminded me I have already seen this potential for AI in action. Whilst at Lendlease, I saw the potential of Digital Twinning technology to unlock the opportunity for development and design teams to push the boundaries of Place Experience, without compromising Place Performance. Thousands of urban development scenarios were tested in a matter of days – that previously would have taken years – leading to human-inspired design outcomes that were truly ground-breaking.
More recently, I’ve seen the positive, human potential of AI applied in my dear friend Muna’s business, Circle of Style. AI has empowered her exceptional network of fashion stylists to provide highly personalised, pre-loved fashion selections for thousands of customers by taking away ‘the grind’ of making sure the clothes will fit (AI has that covered), leaving the stylists to focus on what they are really good at, making customers look great!
My second outtake was the potential to remove bias and fear-based decision making within an organisation which, in my experience, can be the biggest barriers faced by leaders wanting to be purpose and values driven in how they operate. AI, if properly briefed on the purpose of an organisation, can be a tool for ensuring the business makes decisions and operates in full alignment with its stated purpose and values – “Do what you say, and say what you do”. In an environment where staff and broader society are holding everyone more accountable for their impact, AI can help identify and validate strategic or commercial initiatives, ensuring they reinforce, not undermine, your values and what differentiates you from others. I can’t help but wonder if AI (if around at the time) could have saved Kodak? If briefed on Kodak’s purpose to make ‘capturing an image as easy as using a pencil’, would AI have encouraged the Kodak leadership team to back their product engineer Steven Sasson when he came to them with the world’s first digital camera? I think so, I hope so.
It’s true, I do like to see the world as a ‘cup half full’ (most of the time), but I can’t help but feel there is great potential for humanity if we harness AI to take care of the grind, and keep us kind.