About six weeks ago I received an email from somebody called Amy Ingram. It was a friendly, professional email to schedule a meeting with the CEO of an exciting new start-up I was writing about for my Future Proof column in Inc.
Not Who I Thought She Was.
After a couple of email exchanges the meeting was confirmed and I thanked Amy for her time. When I got to meet with the CEO in person later that week, he looked at me with a glint in his eye and asked, in a rather curious tone, "What did you think of Amy Ingram?" A little confused, I replied that she was very professional and efficient at her job. The CEO smiled again, paused and said that he had a confession to make: Amy was not a human being. She was in fact A.I and the clue was in her initials (Amy Ingram). 'Will you forgive me?" he asked with a grin.
A New Age.
Of course I did, because everywhere around me I am seeing that science fiction is fast becoming science fact. The take-home message is that we've entered a new age of AI, automation and algorithms, where the speed and scale of change create tremendous risk but also tremendous opportunity. I call it 'exponential change' and it's happening now. It took 75 years for the telephone to reach 100 million users, WhatsApp 3 years and the game Pokémon Go just 3 weeks. This new age is the Fourth Industrial revolution, and it's one where data is the new oil and information is the new currency.
Fast Eats Slow.
In this new reality, it's no longer about big or small. It's about fast or slow. According to a recent McKinsey study, 80% of CEOs believe that in this new reality, their current business model is at risk and only 6% are satisfied with their innovation performance. Now more than ever, we need to use brains, guts and an action-oriented growth mindset to ensure our businesses don't become a footnote in corporate history. The twin forces of cloud computing and mobile connectivity are creating massive yet hard-to-predict opportunities, and as ever in business, there will be winners and losers.
Here are three shortcuts for how to not just survive but thrive in the age of AI, automation and algorithms.
1. Intelligent Failure.
Stop worrying about the rate of failure because as long as those failures are cheap, you can afford a lot of them. As the saying goes, "fail fast, fail cheap and move on". To fail intelligently, you need to focus on three simple rules. First, know what success looks like and doesn't look like. I'm always surprised at the lack of focus on a clear outcome. Deciding what not to focus on can also limit any uncertainty. Second, convert assumptions into knowledge and learning. This is a much smarter use of time than trying to prove how right you are. Finally, codify and share what's been learned via a process known as 'After Action Review' (AAR). Pioneered by the military to ensure continuous learning, the AAR process involves asking three key questions.
1. What did you intend to happen?
2. What actually happened?
3. What are the lessons learned?
2. Embrace "Ripple Intelligence".
Can you navigate the myriad different trends, changes, and contexts that can disrupt an industry or business, for better or worse? It may be, that in order to do this well, you need to develop something that entrepreneur Elon Musk possesses in abundance - a quality called ripple intelligence: the ability to see the interactions of business contexts play out like ripples moving across a pond. Musk has a vivid imagination, obsessive focus, and a deep curiosity about the world and business in particular. He is brave not just in his words but also in his actions, and he uses ripple intelligence in a systematic way for moving fast.
One of the best ways to develop this intelligence is to step outside your normal orbit and develop a point of view about not just the ideas, trends and issues that excite you, but also about the ones that that keep you awake at night. Done well, this can help you anticipate hidden opportunities and catch the next big wave before others do. Early adoption will ensure you stay agile and ahead of the pack.
3. Think 10[x], Not 10%.
When was the last time you set a challenge for yourself that pushed you to deliver more than you thought was humanly possible? Most people think about how they can grow by 10% or 20%, not by a factor of 10. 10[x] thinkers are hardwired to think bigger and bolder, whether it's wiping out malaria in the next ten years or making space tourism a reality. They have an eye on the future and can spot an unmet opportunity quickly before others.
You don't have to be a CEO or run a startup to think 10[x]. This is a mindset that involves taking control of your vision rather than having someone else hire you to do theirs. Get started, have a clear destination, fail fast, test ideas lightly and often, and know that those who think 10[x] hold two beliefs: 1. problems can't be solved with yesterday's thinking, and 2. you have the resources to achieve your goals.
The Last Word.
Next time you receive an email, don't assume it's from a human being. The future has already arrived. To lead in this brave new world, you will have to find the courage to upgrade your business model and your mindset multiple times in order to remain viable. The bad news is, you're probably not going to learn this at business school.
As a CEO said to me recently, "if it's not broke, break it."