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Digital executives’ response to artificial intelligence


Digital executives’ response to artificial intelligence

As Andrew Moore, Head of Google Cloud AI said in his 2019 Harvard Business Review article: “Sooner or later, every technology transitions from an elite to a mainstream tool. Artificial intelligence is now undergoing a similar transformation.”

I’ve taken an interest in Artificial Intelligence, not because my firm specialises in the digital space. But I’m seeing at first hand how Siri, Google Assistant and others are moving from the novel to the really quite useful.

Let’s get technical for a moment.

The Artificial Intelligence that exists in our consumer world today is artificial narrow intelligence (ANI). This can process (at least I’m discovering ‘most’ of the time!) quite routine tasks – such as playing your favourite Spotify playlist or telling you whether you’ll need an umbrella tomorrow. In other words, ANI systems can process data and complete tasks much more quickly than humans. This is no bad thing since it’s making us more efficient and some would argue, contentiously perhaps, improving our quality of life.

So how is this playing out for digital executives’ job security?

My view is AI will likely replace some ‘hard’ or more technical leadership skills. For example the parts of the job responsible for the raw cognitive processing of facts and information. Machines are proven to be much better at that than humans. But AI lacks our self-awareness and consciousness. In a nutshell, it can’t (yet) think for itself.

As AI impacts virtually every industry, most predict that its advances will place even more emphasis on softer skills such as personality traits, attitudes, and behaviours. In other words, what might help individuals influence others towards a shared purpose on the digital agenda.

This is endorsed by Harvard Business Review (HBR) data taken during 50 years of research. It suggests that personality traits such as curiosity, extraversion, and emotional stability are twice as important as IQ when it comes to predicting leadership effectiveness.

AI will automate data-driven aspects of leadership

One would reasonably expect the current AI revolution to commoditise and automate the data-driven aspects of leadership, delegating the soft elements to humans. But first there’s the need for humans to execute the AI strategy. And pulling off digital transformation is no easy task. Remember 70% of digital transformations are reckoned to fail, which you can read about in one of my other articles Digital Transformation? Hire this profile.

HBR advocates the need to rethink what effective leadership looks like. Certain qualities, such as deep domain expertise, decisiveness and authority are losing their cachet to more agile types of leadership such as humility, adaptability, vision, and constant engagement.

Market intelligence firm IDC predicts global spending on AI topped $35 billion in 2019 and will more than double to $79.2 billion by 2022. So companies clearly have the appetite to invest and believe there are serious opportunities to deploy AI selectively to gain efficiencies.

So whilst digital executives shouldn’t be looking over their shoulders just yet, there are inevitably parts of the job that will be replaced by AI. And those without the necessary soft skills, which machines can’t replace and that will be in high demand, might find Alexa biting at their heels.


About BartonRock: We are the executive search partner for companies where data-driven digital leadership is intrinsic to growth.

We manage the careers of leaders whose know-how and commercial acumen within digital steers the strategic direction and future survival of companies.

Our assignments search for executives who understand how to implement and lead data-centric digital agendas.

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