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Author's profile photo Paul Saunders

AI, Aquaman and Voltaire Are Standing At a Bus Stop…….

AI%20Generated%20Image%20of%20a%20Superhero%20standing%20at%20a%20bus%20stopThere are few things in the business world as cringe-inducing as the question “what is your superpower?”.

AI Generated Image of a Superhero standing at a bus stop

I don’t have a superpower – I am a mere mortal. I do have a particular skill in taking quite complex business and technical concepts and explaining them in interesting and semi-amusing ways, but that does not make me Superman or Spiderman. It doesn’t even make me Aquaman and let’s face it, he’s pretty rubbish.

The last time I discussed superpowers before they entered the lexicon of annoying business jargon was when I was 16. One morning on the top deck of a cigarette smoke filled bus (yes I’m that old) my friends and I had completed our usual reciting of the most memorable lines from last night’s “Blackadder” and had moved onto the topic of what would be our desired superpower. Invisibility was a popular choice, largely used to avoid doing cross country runs, and to sneak into the staff room and listen in on our teachers’ conversations which we were convinced were about how much they hated us. One friend wanted Hulk-like strength so he could beat people up which, in hindsight, should have been more of a red flag that it seemed at the time.

One of the members of our friend group joined us on the top deck, looking dishevelled even by our low standards, and when we asked him what his superpower would be, he replied instantly without asking for background information or context “being able to fly so I could fly to the bus stop in the morning.”

All of us looked perplexed, bemused, and confused, a not too uncommon look for us to be honest.

“Couldn’t you just fly all the way to school?” one of us asked, on behalf of the entire group.

“Oh yeah”, came the reply, “Suppose so.”

And this brings me on to AI.

AI is not magic. Nor is it a superpower. The very knowledgeable Matt Wood at AWS recently described it as “a mathematical parlor trick”.

The potential of AI, however, is huge. It goes way beyond the hype.

This isn’t 2023’s Metaverse (Alack, poor Metaverse – no one knew him, cared about him, used him, or wanted him, Horatio).

AI, both ‘traditional’ and generative, provides us with an opportunity to reimagine how we work, how we engage with customers, how we interact with suppliers and partners, how we…….

My former colleague, futurist, and all-around great guy Dave Aron, taught me one of the most useful lessons of my career – humble disrespect. We must constantly question why we do things, how we do things and how we can improve. We need to imagine the art of the possible and plot paths to potential futures.

We are at risk, at times, of just ‘doing AI’, just as in the past we were ‘doing digital transformation’ or ‘doing ERP’.

An Intelligent Enterprise leverages AI/ML embedded in its processes and systems to both improve and automate existing ways of working, but crucially also to innovate and expand its margin of differentiation.

The key is to always, as author Simon Sinek says, “start with Why?”. Why do our customers choose us over the competition? It isn’t and won’t be because you ‘do AI’. It is because of what AI enables you to be able to do for your customers.

AI is not the goal. It is what we can do with AI that will deliver value. ‘Doing AI’ is having the superpower of flight and flying to the bus stop to await the same bus to take you on the same journey to the same destination with the same experience every single day.

Matt Wood states that AI must be positioned to foster innovation. He states that any large shift is 50% technology and 50% culture. When it comes to changing how we work, how we differentiate to our customers, how we engage our employees, manage our suppliers, and improve our partnerships, then sometimes the balance changes to 10% technology and 90% culture.

Voltaire, the convivial social butterfly that he was, is quoted as saying:

 “Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.”

Obviously, some deep-seated issues there, but he makes a good point. Change is hard. It always has been and always will be.

The world is buzzing with new opportunities and possibilities. But as Voltaire reminds us, you will never be able to show a new road if you always travel on the same bus.

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