Artificial Intelligence / Leadership / Technology

AI & Entrepreneurship

Artificial Intelligence is the most important technology transformation of the moment and we need to be cognisant of its capability. However digital’ is not about technology. Digital is not an instrument. It is a way of ‘seeing’ the world and the key themes emerging here are connectedness, transparency, speed, agility, and experimentation.

In a recent ICE webinar entitled: “Lessons from a CEO – How AI is changing the face of entrepreneurship and our future“, I touched on some key themes which impact the way we perceive AI in business.

What steps need to be taken to transform your customer relationships with AI?

The Future of most work processes is AI-Human collaboration. Therefore we analyse activity in which AI does not replace entire roles but instead automates tasks. Therefore customers will often not adopt AI as opposed to human service but will seek a blended service .. part AI and part human. AI is relevant  where it can improve service but it is also not relevant in areas which require emotional intelligence.

If an AI-based Virtual Agent (such as those we deliver at EBO) can interpret the intent behind your request, it can get you an answer more quickly and efficiently than a human agent. For most common queries, this delivers a better experience than interacting with an actual human. However humans and machines are good at fundamentally different things. People have intentionality … we form plans and make decisions in complicated situations. We’re less good at making sense of enormous amounts of data. Computers are exactly the opposite: they excel at efficient data processing, but they struggle to make basic judgments that would be simple for any human.

In a nutshell what this means is that:

  • Customers will adopt that which is always available (24/7 without a ‘down’ moment and in all languages) and fast to solve their query,
  • Customers will seek human input when complex discussions need to be held,
  • Business will drive adoption that reduces costs and improves experience,
  • Business will drive solutions that reduce errors and leverage on data-driven outcomes.
SwitchBoard Operator
Mostly, customers will not adopt AI as opposed to human service but will through a blended service: part AI and part human.

Why is scaling up relevant?

You have a real strategy if what you’re planning really matters to customers, and differentiates you from the competition. Once you establish that elusive product-market fit, scaling up is the only way to sustainably reach a market. However scaling-up is an art. And what matters is less the general ideas and more the discipline of consistent execution. 

Human connection is at the heart of business. How will AI change that?

AI must seek to augment human capability and not replace it. Nevertheless it is likely that some jobs will go whilst others will be created.

It’s interesting to note that the World Economic Forum predicts that by 2025 a total of 97m jobs will be created, with DataAnalysts & Scientists & AI and MachineLearning Specialists leading, while 85m jobs will be lost, with ‘Data Entry Clerks & Administrative & Secretaries’ the most impacted. The net gain is to be noted.

In this regard: AI will find it consistently hard to negotiate complex social relationships or be creative … and this domain will, therefore, remain principally human. Yet let’s recall that information is not knowledge and so AI will not always be able to reflect on data to create knowledge and this domain too will remain principally human.

Nevertheless it’s critical to state that the future of jobs will closely correlate to one’s ability to build a relevant education system for all. That’s why I think that today employability is less about what you already know and more about your capacity to learn and adapt.

Employability is less about what you already know and more about your capacity to learn and adapt

When should a brand (or entrepreneur) consider AI?

Let me focus on the HOW rather than the WHEN as the former is the trickier part.

A common issue I encounter is the restriction of the innovation process to one functional group (such as the notorious ‘IT Department’) within a company. The myth that one group is more suited to innovate than others is a hindrance to the pace of innovation as each business unit can provide a unique perspective for driving successful adoption of AI.

Therefore, businesses must develop cross-functional teams which work seamlessly across the various processes of the company. Collaboration is key to innovation, and while many organisations understand the importance of collaboration internally, collaboration externally can be equally important. Innovation ecosystems bring together industry partners, consultants, customers, and even competitors to drive innovation. Since AI has a degree of inherent complexity companies should create innovation ecosystems which harness the best available resources to tackle specific, repeatable uses cases which are ready for automation.

Your own entrepreneurial journey started with a doctoral law degree. Why?

I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of communication (..a social science) and technology (..a hard science). Using AI to help companies better understand and service their customers’ was for me an important mission.

Law provides a strong foundation for combined academic studies. More importantly it introduces one to logic, critical thinking, reasoning and analytical skills. It also provides a strong sense of justice and thirst to improve defects in ‘the system’. All of these skills are the same cognitive requirements for running a technology business. The rest (finance and IT) are learned fields of knowledge and although tough – they are the key means to an end.

In the famous words of Steve Jobs, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. And it is your duty to work to connect them actively. In my final year reading for my doctoral degree in law, I co-founded ICON a web development company with Ian Castillo. Both ICON and EBO (and other companies I’ve been involved in) are change agents. What they sell is not mere ‘technology’ in the restrictive sense but rather transformation opportunities. EBO doesn’t merely sell AI technology, it provides a promise around deep organisational transformation.

Therefore the founding goal behind both organisations was to capitalise on the wave brought about by two of the most important cultural forces of our time: Internet in the late 90s and Artificial Intelligence in the last few years. But the paradox of digital activity is that it is not about technology, but about people. If people lack the appropriate mindset to change work practices, digital arrangements will simply magnify the existing flaws. This has never been more evident than in the present pandemic.

ICON and EBO are both ‘change agents

What’s your take on failure?

It’s supposed to be hard.
You are supposed to fail.

Your first attempts aren’t going to work. It’s goings to take a lot out of you and it will drag you through the infamous ‘valley of death’ but – thankfully – energy is an asset we can always find more of. It’s a renewable resource. So stop expecting it to be easy and start looking for weak points. When setbacks come, you respond by working twice as hard.

What would you tell your 20-year old self?

  1. “To succeed you must study the endgame before everything else” is such a useful phrase attributed to chess grandmaster Jose R Capablanca. I’d tell myself that – daily – and if the ‘endgame’ isn’t yet clearer I’d toil to make it so.
  2. I’d also clarify to myself the centrality of referenceable Early Adopters when piloting a solution. We underestimate the difficulty of the first sign-ups and also their importance to open the flood-gates.
  3. Perfection is not a goal. Agility is.
  4. I’d also remind myself that people don’t work for a company, they work for a leader. This puts focus on the choice of CEO and management team – not just for the person’s own performance but also for that of the team reporting to him/her. 
  5. Focus on things which are ‘an inch wide yet a mile deep’. This strategy is all about finding your niche; that one focus area that is going to yield the best results. The fastest growing and most profitable businesses tend to position themselves as niche specialists. EBO is extremely disciplined in selecting the business pain points it should solve. 


Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

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