How professionals and corporations can prepare for the AI revolution

Dr Stephen Simpson and Hugh Shields, founders of UK-based corporate performance consultancy Alpha Fortius, advise on how to survive and thrive in the new world of AI

Artificial intelligence is nothing less than the next great revolution and will have a huge impact at every level of our existence. No more so than in the business environment, both for professionals and their employers.

Individuals need to raise their game in the workplace – offering value which no amount of processing power can hope to replicate – or risk being swept away in the relentless march of technology. For companies, however, the imperative is how to successfully integrate and utilise AI for the benefit of their business and customers.

If you want to win against AI, get creative

Many jobs that we humans perform can already be done by AI, more quickly and more efficiently. The only thing that is presently slowing this technological revolution is the cost, which is so high for some tasks that it is not currently economically viable to build these systems. However, the truth is that sooner or later this cost differential will turn positive, and then there will be no going back to our old comfortable ways.

So where does this leave individuals? As is usually the case, taking action now is the best strategy. Sadly, there are only two options. Professionals will change, or they will be changed. In other words, if they do not learn new skills then they, and their jobs, will simply disappear.

I firmly believe, however, that everything is not as bleak as it might first appear.

While AI is certainly becoming more sophisticated, it is principally envisaged as unburdening staff of the more basic, repetitive tasks. Where it can’t compete is in the realms of creativity and inspirational thinking.

Fortunately, this is an area that all of us can improve. However, to fully unlock these creative powers it will require a massive change in the way we think about our business, the people we employ, and ourselves.

Many throughout the ages have believed in the existence of “infinite intelligence”, although they might have used different words to describe it. To elucidate, they feel that their best achievements have more to do with outside forces than their own, undoubted, ability. If this sounds somewhat fanciful then it is well worth considering some of the greatest thinkers in our history.

Figures as diverse as Buddha, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, James Maxwell, Isaac Newton, Wolfgang Pauli and George Bernard Shaw have credited this fundamental resource for their intellectual breakthroughs and successes. The America inventor and businessman Thomas Edison, for instance, stated that, “I know this world is ruled by infinite intelligence. Everything that surrounds us — everything that exists — proves that there are infinite laws behind it. There can be no denying this fact. It is mathematical in its precision.”

We would be unwise to discount the wisdom of such visionaries. If we can accept at least the possibility of the existence of infinite intelligence, then where does it come from? The simple answer is that nobody knows, although there is no shortage of opinions. The only possible sources that I can think of are that this intelligence comes either from deep inside us, or from an outside source that we can tap into.

The big question, then, is, “How can we use it?” If we believe it comes from inside us, then it is most likely to be within our brain. The chances are that it has been hardwired through millions of years of evolution and is hidden deep within the reptile brain — the most primitive part of the human mind. This presents us with a problem, because now more than ever before, the vague instincts and intuition from this deep source find it harder to break down the barriers which the conscious mind, particularly the ego, have erected to block them.

If, however, universal intelligence comes from outside, then all we have to do is know it is there working 24/7 in our best interests and leave it at that. That being said, it does take a huge leap of faith, so once more the ego will do its best to interfere.

In both cases – and irrespective of where this intelligence comes from – the ego is blocking its effect. Ego is no amigo.

The final and most important question is, “How can I silence the ego so that I can tap into this intelligence?” It is not an easy task, and this is the challenge that I face with every client and organisation that I work with. The tools I have at my disposal ignite creativity and intuition. When people are truly in the flow state — that mental sweet spot where everything just seems to go right effortlessly — there is no room for ego, and their performance is raised exponentially as a result.

No organisation, particularly in the present challenging business environment, can afford to ignore the soft people skills that can have such a huge impact on productivity. Those that do so will not survive. Likewise, for professionals. The definition of “value” is shifting, and the rise of AI has helped identify those essential abilities that are irreplaceable. Creativity is at the top of the list.

So how can we unlock these powers? In a nutshell I suggest three simple steps for all professionals to adopt that are proven to weaken the ego:

  • Talk less
  • Listen more
  • Unplug from your favourite technology for at least a few hours per day.

Give it a try. The results will surprise you.

Integrating artificial intelligence requires organic thinking

The business imperative to optimise the use of AI and other new technologies is absolutely clear. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, technology can help you somewhere and its impact is pervasive. To put this another way round: if you do not adopt and optimise new technology, the competition will drive you out of business. That may sound a little apocalyptic, but it is the reality.

So, what are all these new technologies? Space precludes a detailed examination of this question. However, let us make brief mention of two big areas which are already having a major impact on the world.

The first, as already mentioned, is AI. AI is an umbrella term for explaining advanced computer intelligence. It summarises the efforts to make computers think the way we think, to be able to simulate human decision-making, leading to human-like actions, and ultimately to be better and faster at problem solving than we are. AI makes it possible for machines to use experience for learning, adjust to new inputs and perform human-like tasks.

The second big technology which is emerging and is mainly now being used in the world of payment systems, is blockchain. Blockchain was invented by a person (or persons) using the name Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 to serve as the ledger for the cryptocurrency bitcoin. A blockchain is a growing list of records (“blocks”), which are linked using cryptography. Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp and transaction data. A blockchain is resistant to modification of the data and this feature makes it very attractive for payment systems and other applications which demand high security.

The big question, then, is what to do as a business? In practice, how do you optimise use of these new technologies, and where do you start? What, exactly, is the framework? Fortunately, a lot of methodology is already out there and can be readily applied. Here are three tips to get you going…

  • The challenge is an exercise in cost-benefit optimisation. In other words, you need to realise that you cannot have every technology solution immediately on day one. You have to figure out where your low hanging fruit is and go after that.
  • The next thing is to really figure out what your business processes are. There is no point using technology to convert suboptimal manual business processes to suboptimal automated business processes. Instead, you should spend some time understanding your business processes and looking at ways in which they can be made simpler and more effective before even thinking about applying the technology layer.
  • Finally, when you do get to think about the technology you want, stay focused on your customers. Which business processes, if automated or given a boost by technology, will give customers the biggest bang for their buck? Ultimately, whatever you do, it has to come back to a benefit for the customer; otherwise, there is no point. This may seem a rather obvious observation, but it is surprising how often organisations get caught up in an internally facing muddle. The customer is king, and you have to test the impact of your technology directly with your customer before making big investment commitments.

Dr Stephen Simpson and Hugh Shields are co-founders of Alpha Fortius Consulting, which improves staff performance and refines IT infrastructure policies. The consultancy offers services including motivational speeches, workshops and weekend retreats. Dr Simpson is a mind coach, presenter, author, and fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine. Hugh Shields has been named as one of the 50 most influential accountants in the UK and is also a leader in the field of artificial intelligence applications and innovative technology for business.

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Dr Simpson and Hugh Shields welcome comments and questions and can be reached at stephensimpson _AT_ msn _DOT_com or hughcshields_AT_ gmail_DOT_com.