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 startup. 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 AI, 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'm seeing science fiction is fast becoming science fact. The take-home message is that we've entered a new age of AIautomation 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.

Here are three shortcuts to thrive in the age of AI.

1. Smart 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. Think day one.

The 2000s were Microsoft's lost decade, where it seemed to lose touch with its customers and fall into an existential crisis. Waves of new innovations from Google and the App Store to iPhone and tablets flattened the growth curve of its once legendary PC software business. In 2014, Satya Nadella became Microsoft's new CEO and declared the new game was to be a day one company. A day one company makes the decision that every day will be a new day, where experimentinginventing, and innovating is the norm.

For Nadella this means asking three questions.

1. How successful are we at creating new products, services, or business models?

2. How effective are we at adapting to new changes or disruptions?

3. Does our culture reward risk and failure?

3. Think 10[x], not 10 percent.

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 percent, not by a factor of 10. Those 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 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 execute 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. 

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 thrive 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."

Published on: Jan 31, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.