The decision I’m referring to goes right to the heart both of leadership and strategy. It concerns one of the biggest disruptors that our organisations will face. I’m talking about Robotics and Artificial Intelligence and the decision focuses upon this question:
How will my organisation use Robotics and AI?
A Slam Dunk Answer?
‘Simple’ – that’s the response that many may give. After all, most of us have been trained to believe that the primary role of the organisation (and its leaders) is to maximise shareholder value. The right answer then is obvious and may absorb only a few seconds of thought. We should use this new technology to drive down operational costs. After all, we seem to be living in a world where the successful drive down costs to lower and lower levels. We could also use this technology to break one of the basic rules of competitive strategy – that is to provide market-leading value adding products from the lowest possible cost base. So the answer is straightforward.
A Slight Problem …
The slight problem is that this answer only holds good in an economically rational world. A world dominated and shaped by free market supporting democratic states and powerful business organisations. This was the type of future world that most of us envisaged before the Great Recession of 2008. But there are clear and distinct indicators that the future is not going to be so clear cut. Consider, for example:
- Our future world may not be a democratic one. There are a large number of studies forecasting the jobs and professions that Robotics and AI will absorb. In my old industry, insurance, it is forecast that nearly 99% of underwriting jobs are at risk. The problem is that many middle class jobs will be hit and it has long been held that the middle classes are the supporters and drivers of democracy. If the middle classes become alienated, what will happen to democracy? In addition, we have to consider the rather scary prospect of how AI could be used to influence the way we think.
- Not everyone wants globalisation. In the short to medium term, the casualties of globalisation may well rise and the power of the ‘anti-globalists’ is yet to peak.
- Trust is declining. Trust in established political parties is in decline (trust in the US Government has been on a steady pathway of decline for nearly 50 years).
- People are getting more powerful. Connectivity is encouraging people to organise around common values and interests. There are schools of thought that propose that the resultant social groupings or ‘social movements’ could, in the future, become more powerful than many nation states.
Not Clear Cut
The answer isn’t at all clear cut and this is therefore one of the most difficult questions business leaders will have to address. A seemingly logical answer may well work very well in the short-term, but present very real problems for organisations in the longer-term.
One way of starting to think about an answer might be to consider another question:
Who could regulate our business in 2027?