How Businesses Can Plan for AI

Lots of businesses are wondering what AI means for them, and it’s essential that companies have an AI strategy, even if that strategy is to do nothing. But even if the answer is ‘do nothing,’ you can only get there by asking the ‘what if’ questions first.

But what are those questions?

We’ll get to those in a moment, but here’s a quick recap of why this is such a difficult discussion.

AI is complex, and most people don’t understand it.

It’s moving fast, so it’s hard to keep track of, and your decisions or assumptions can get overtaken quickly.

There’s no single AI: there are lots of different AI that can do different things. Trying to discuss AI as a whole is too big a challenge for most organizations.

So it’s OK if you’re struggling: this is hard!

The Big Problem: Your Leadership

Spoiler: AI probably isn’t the biggest issue here.

The biggest challenge is that decision-making in most businesses is far too slow. Many organizations – even relatively small ones – cannot make effective decisions in a meaningful timeframe. When something is as consequential and moving as quickly as AI, they won’t be able to keep up.

So while I’m not suggesting that businesses act hastily, they need to move with deliberate speed.

So how should you consider what AI means for their business, customers, and staff?

Some High-Level Considerations

Given the difficulty of this issue, I’ve identified a few considerations to help facilitate the decision-making.

Doing Nothing is OK

Doing nothing isn’t the same as ignoring the problem. Doing nothing is OK, but only as long as that is a conscious decision. Keep in mind that there will be some businesses, particularly some small businesses, that don’t need an AI strategy. Even some big companies might not need an AI strategy right now. The important thing is that doing nothing is a conscious decision, not the result of burying your head in the sand.

Take Baby Steps

There’s lots of low-hanging fruit concerning AI, so start small. It’s easy to try tools that will help improve people’s writing, generate images, or develop code. Employing these low-level tools doesn’t mean you have to turn over the running of the entire business to a robot.

Here’s a simple example.

I recently added an AI-powered chatbot to my websites. It uses my books as a knowledge base to answer questions on risk and crisis. So instead of hoping that ChatGPT will give people the right answer, I can be confident of the answers it’s going to give.

With Staff, It’s ‘And’, Not ‘Or’

I think asking whether we have AI or people is the wrong question. There will be some jobs, probably those done by very low-skilled office staff, that AI can do better. However, the real benefit is that we have AI plus people, AIXP: AI plus expertise. That way, we get the judgment and oversight that we really need because these models aren’t infallible, and they can’t show empathy or exercise human-level judgment. I think using AI as an efficiency tool to augment the experience of individuals is the most significant opportunity for most businesses.

And for lower-skilled staff, instead of thinking about layoffs, we should think about how we retrain our staff to guide the AI and work effectively with others. Surely a much more fulfilling career than mindless busy work?

If you’re wondering what AI means for your job, I wrote a piece on that here

You’re In Control

Remember, the AI does what you tell it to do. That means it’s tough for the AI to run amok unless you’ve allowed it to run amok. It’s also very difficult for the AI to come up with offensive or crude comments unless you’ve trained it that this is OK.

So remember, you can use AI within boundaries: you don’t have to let it take over control of your entire business.

You Can Roll This Back

And finally, you can always turn it off. The idea that AI will somehow embed itself in every computer and we as humans will be unable to extract it is absurd. That will only happen if we let it and, again, we have agency. Therefore, you can add AI to a process and if it doesn’t work, turn it off or change it.

And again, you can commit incrementally. AI adoption is another business strategy, and, like any other strategy, if it doesn’t work, you can change it or abandon it.

Business’s New BFF (from Dall.E)

The Two Big Questions

Hopefully, these considerations help take some of the heat out of the decision-making, but when it’s time to address the issue, what should you ask?

There are two big questions that every business should be asking, both of which relate to the core of your business.

What Do We Do That Is Challenged by AI?

Anything you do that could be improved by AI is a challenge. So if you process data for companies, AI is a challenge. Businesses could build their own tools to process and analyze their data. Or someone else could roll- out a better, faster AI-first tool.

However, it’s hard for businesses to build their own tools, and you’re just as able to add AI to your services. So, in this case, it’s a challenge that you could meet. Whether you want to or not depends on your business, but the important thing is that you are challenged by AI, not defeated by it.

What Do We Do That is Killed by AI?

Unfortunately, some work will be rendered obsolete by AI, and if that’s your business, you will struggle in the long term.

Think about Fiverr and Upwork: both platforms specialize in providing fast, cheap, low-level work (I know there are highly skilled people there, but these are the homes of the $5 logo in an hour.) Canva was a big enough challenge to graphic designers on these platforms, but AI tools are faster, cheaper, and often better. But it’s not only the individuals who lose out; so will the platforms. They will lose the commissions they take from thousands of small transactions daily.

(I also suspect that the big consultancies, which rely upon selling lots of low-level consultants’ time to firms, are going to face a big challenge. Why would I pay thousands of dollars for someone’s junior analyst when I have a model that does that same for pennies.)

So if AI makes the core of your business obsolete, you need to address that issue ASAP. This is different from being challenged by AI, where you can incorporate it into your business. In this case, AI is going to kill your business.

Again, what you do will depend upon your business: you might be able to move upmarket, provide very specialized services, or pivot. There will be options, but you need to identify those fast.

Whatever you Do, Ask the Questions

In both cases, the question comes back to the core of your business and does AI challenge that or kill it?

But even though this is a pressing issue, don’t be too hasty: hasty, kneejerk decisions probably kill as many businesses as deferred or delayed ones. But there is a need to move quickly and ask, ‘So what does AI mean for us?’

Then, even if the answer is ‘do nothing,’ you still have made an active choice*, not just waited for events to overtake you.

*As always, Rush said it better.

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