We’ve just ended a particularly challenging year with no relief in sight. Business battles have multiple new fronts – including national and local government restrictions for business, openings, travel and more. In turn, this has resulted in new stress on people, service, technology, service and the bottom line.
While taking stock of your current position and thinking about your strategic future, include AI (artificial intelligence). Give thought to how it will change your business world. As your executive coach, I’m telling you it will—it will change your world. Just as VHS rentals moved to DVDs and Redbox and then on to streaming, bulky TVs migrated to flat screens, and physical retail and grocery outlets changed to online purchasing, AI will change the way we consume, the way we serve our customers, and many currently unseen areas of daily life. Pay attention to the warning signs now.
As an entrepreneur in my late 20s, I began expanding my restaurant “empire.” In one year, I opened two new locations in two different states. I was riding high, and business was good. Statistically, 85% of my business came from nearby college patrons. It was July 17, 1984, when US President Ronald Reagan ruined my life. With the stroke of a pen, Reagan signed into law an act which changed everything. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act raised the legal drinking age for wine and beer from 18 to 21 years-old. Previously, nearly every college student was old enough to consume; following the change, it was only senior or graduate students who could imbibe. The result was a 70% drop in revenue at both new locations.
My above experience is relevant to you, because I had ignored the warning signs that the drinking age would change. There was political discussion and debate regarding the drinking age that I naively shrugged off as something that would never happen. The new law kept me awake many nights as I struggled to meet payroll for over 75 employees. After a six-month battle to cut costs and drive new revenue, I finally closed three restaurants. Looking back now, I must admit, Reagan didn’t ruin my life—I did it to myself by ignoring the warning signs.
Today, there are warning signs that AI will change the way you and your customers do business. Are you naively shrugging them off or ignoring them?
When I coach executives today, I institute a Winning Moves approach as part of their strategic plan, and I always include discussions on a framework and process for AI. No matter how you initiate the discussion, don’t neglect it.
If more proof is needed, here is a high-level list of reasons to consider, investigate and make long-term plans regarding AI:
- Self-driving Vehicles: According to the Blockchain council, "Designers for the core software behind self-driving cars are facing a challenge while performing machine analysis on millions of hours of driver data. Since different parts of the process rely on different data sets, storing and organizing these datasets remains a considerable challenge." This will be solved and will change transportation, vehicle ownership, and more.
- Blockchain technology: Blockchain refers to "distributed databases that are tamper resistant," and it is the technology that powers every cryptocurrency in the world and is destined to be a great economic disruptor. Eric Wade, author of Crypto Capital, says, “Think of it as a giant Excel spreadsheet that shows the complete transaction history and location of every transaction made. Every 10 minutes, the spreadsheet gets updated as an additional ‘block’ of new transactions is permanently added to the spreadsheet. Everyone can have their own copy of the spreadsheet. It's completely transparent." How will this transparency change contracts, agreements, sales orders, customer requests and more?
- Computer Vision: Machines can ID, verify, organize and classify information more efficiently than staff (examples: healthcare applications, autonomous vehicles, finance, manufacturing, and more).
- Virtual Reality: Think training, new ways to “try before you buy”, etc. from immersive technologies.
- Natural Language Processing: Computers can understand text and spoken words in a similar capacity to you and me. How many paid positions will this eliminate? Will this create new opportunities in international business?
- Organizational Development: Artificial intelligence can succeed at debating humans. Check out IBM’s Project Debater.
- Sight: Technology will see and make decisions on your behalf. Machine vision enables computers to view of the world, analyze visual data and make decisions. It’s being used for self-driving car research, facial recognition for law enforcement and product quality control. One major railroad uses this technology to inspect truck carriers entering their property. What previously took 45 minutes for a truck to pass inspection for entry (tires, maintenance, potential for bombs, contraband, etc.) can now be completed more consistently and accurately in 2-3 minutes. How will machine sight change the needs of your customers, improve capabilities of your team or create new opportunity for you?
- Can You Hear Me Now? If you’ve ever uttered the words, “Hey Alexa, text my boss,” then you know that a device can hear, perform analysis and understand. How will this affect the future of your meeting minutes, speech to text or virtual assistants? As a frequent traveler when coaching CEOs, I often call one airline where the virtual assistant makes a typing-type sound while asking me, “Wait just one minute while I look up your information.” Could your business leverage this in the next five years for better customer service, reduced payroll and more?
- Speaking: While it’s helpful (and fun) to have Alexa, Siri and Google Maps respond to queries and give you directions, Google Duplex takes it one step further by using AI to schedule appointments and complete tasks over the phone in very conversational language. The ability to speak multiple languages, including regional dialects, to multiple listeners is possible.
- Breathtaking: I read an evolving science article from 2018 on AI which is designed to use “sense of smell” to detect illness from human breath. Check the link for incredible possibilities as you think of how it might affect your business.
- Writing: Template letters and documents were a wonderful addition to word processing. What about AI as an author for marketing materials, press releases, product descriptions, web site data and more—how does that change your business?
I have no expectation that you’ll have all the answers on AI today. You won't. Instead, start the AI conversation with an open conversation and investigation with your team; make it an ongoing part of your business planning process. Moving forward, never ignore or naively shrug off the warning signs of change. AI will change your life.
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