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The AI Imperative: Why CEOs Must Act Now to Harness Artificial Intelligence

The AI Imperative: Why CEOs Must Act Now to Harness Artificial Intelligence

At the 2024 Make BIG Happen Summit in Miami Beach, Peter Diamandis issued a stark warning to business leaders. He said, “There are going to be two companies at the end of this decade: those that are fully utilizing AI, and those that are out of business.”

CEO Coaching International CEO and founding partner Mark Moses placed AI within an even BIGGER disruptive context. Just as the wheel spread civilization, the printing press spread ideas, and the telephone and internet spread communication, “AI is poised to change the very essence of life itself and redefine the fabric of humanity. AI will not be bound by the limitations of the human mind. It will be empowered by its limitless potential. This AI revolution is not just about technology, it’s about us and our willingness to dream.”

But as CEOs continue to learn about and appreciate AI’s vast potential, they’re also faced with a more pressing need: to act, now. In a summit conference room packed with very opinionated high performers, no one pushed back on our speakers’ predictions about how dramatically, or how quickly, AI is going transform business.

The choice before leaders is clear: create an AI Roadmap that will Make BIG Happen, or stay small and get left behind.

The AI Revolution: Reshaping Business Landscapes

Less than two years ago, tech savvy early adopters were having fun asking AI to draft emails in the style of William Shakespeare or paint their dogs like Picasso.

It didn’t take long for the fun to turn serious. Within a few months AI was writing papers that were good enough to ace Ivy League classes. “ChatGPT  passed  the  bar exam,” noted Peter Diamandis. “It passed  the  MBA final at Wharton. It got 100%  on  the hardest exam at MIT, where I spent a decade.”

Fast forward to today and we see AI:

  • Coding websites for users who have no programming background and creating marketing campaigns for entrepreneurs who can’t afford a marketing department.
  • Doctors are using AI to analyze immense amounts of patient data so that they can keep us healthier, longer.
  • Financial advisors are feeding AI market and client data to help optimize portfolios.
  • Warehouse managers are monitoring their supply chains in real time.
  • The U.S. Olympic committee is using AI to track and train athletes for the upcoming Summer Games in Paris.
  • And AI’s ability to write copy and create images has progressed so dramatically that, last year, actors and writers went on one of the longest strikes in Hollywood history, in large part to secure their livelihood and likenesses against AI.

Summit speaker and AI Made Simple author Rajeev Kapur shared a story about a recent meeting he had with a BIG cosmetics company in Paris. The c-suite and their science team were struggling to crack a formula for a new product. Kapur said, “‘Let’s ask ChatGPT what we can do.’  We put in a prompt, with everybody’s feedback, and in 15 minutes it spit out a formula that they had never thought of. They’d been trying for three years. They’re now testing that formula. It could be a billion-dollar EBITDA transformation to their business. And it took 15 minutes.”

A cornerstone of our Make BIG Happen System is learning to ask the right questions. AI can already provide sophisticated answers that, combined with knowhow from top talent, could transform your business. Those answers, those plans, and those potential transformations are only going to get BIGGER as AI technology continues to progress.

Clinging to the Past: The Existential Risk of Inaction

Kapur also shared a story from his time at Dell that should be a warning to any CEOs who don’t have an AI Roadmap:

“One day in the mid-90s, Michael Dell took the Mosaic browser out of its box, five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy disks, threw it on a desk, and said, ‘I want you to go figure out how to sell computers on this thing.’ And we looked at him like he was stupid. Who the hell is going to buy a computer online? We didn’t believe him. And then a couple years later, Jeff Bezos at Amazon says,  ‘Buy a book for $5 and $5 shipping.’ We weren’t curious. That’s the most important thing you can do right now. Just be curious.”

Kapur’s story may sound quaint today. But the hesitancy many companies showed to make a true digital pivot persisted through the pandemic. With AI, the stakes are even higher. As Peter Diamandis pointed out on our Summit stage, we’re at the early stages of a revolution that combines exponential computational power with a massive increase in digital data output, collection, and analysis. Companies that don’t have next-gen tech and talent are facing a horse and buggy vs. the Model T moment.

“We’ve  gone from software companies to internet companies to cloud  companies,” said Diamandis, “and now everyone’s moving towards AI companies. It’s not 30 years from now or 50 years from now. It’s happening during our lifetime, it’s on our watch, it is happening now, and it is the most important happening that has ever existed. I cannot stress this enough.”

Building the AI-Powered Organization

Both Diamandis and Kapur stressed how important it is that companies begin their AI Roadmaps with data collection. In some cases, you’ll use AI to capture your traditional KPIs more effectively. In other cases, you’ll use what you’re learning to create new KPIs that reveal new insights, challenges, and opportunities.

But numbers alone aren’t going to upgrade your organization. It’s what your best people do with that data that will determine if your company gets to BIG. That’s why Kapur wants CEOs to start thinking about AI from a different perspective.

“I don’t want anybody to focus on the term ‘artificial intelligence,’ Kapur said. “I want you to focus on ‘augmenting intelligence.’ At the end of the day, if you do this right, all these tools can help you become more efficient, become more predictive, and outshine your competition.”

Get a Chief AI Officer,” recommended Peter Diamandis, “and  that  person  talks  to  you and helps you  understand what’s going  on, and  then they’re  helping your team run  experiments  beyond just  ChatGPT.” A c-level expert can help your company zero in on the most practical AI implementations as well as the most important data that your AI is providing. Your CAIO can work with marketing to create new campaigns that target potential customers more specifically, and coordinate your sales and R&D departments on pilot programs to test new products and services.

Armed with this data, the CEO will gain new insights on just how aligned the company’s departments and operations are on a singular goal: growth. And if the CEO is as invested in AI as they are in hiring the best people, the combination of tech and talent will create new synergies, greater efficiencies, and a more unifying sense of purpose.

Overcoming Barriers

Kapur’s concept of “augmented intelligence” can also help ease workers along your company’s AI Roadmap.

“If you lead from an artificial intelligence perspective, your team’s going to get scared,” Kapur advised. “Those around you are going to think they’re going to lose their jobs. So, start talking about it as a tool to enhance their jobs.”

Instead of being threatened by AI, workers should feel like they have a new assistant to help them speed through mundane tasks, spitball ideas, or find info fast. Effective AI integrations could help employees spend less time at their screens and more time collaborating with each other and providing face-to-face customer service.

The CEO should also encourage AI experimentation during the workday. Employees shouldn’t feel like they’re “cheating” if they ask AI to draft a report or optimize a blog post for SEO. The more your team members play around with AI, the less scary the tech is going to seem and the more useful it will be.

Finally, solicit regular feedback at every level of the organization. Remember, productivity and happiness aren’t the same thing. If you have a Chief Experience Officer, have them work closely with your CAIO to gauge whether AI integrations are making life easier or harder for your workers. Use what both your AI and your people are telling you to clear barriers to further integrations and identify areas where AI could be even more helpful. Providing opportunities for training and mentorship around AI can also show longtime employees that the company cares about helping them prepare for the next phase of their careers.

Seize the AI Imperative

“Think about AI as a massive level of intelligence just waiting to serve you,” said Peter Diamandis. “Remember: it’s the questions you ask that matter the most. So, what questions are you smart enough or stubborn enough or curious enough to ask? Those questions are what will differentiate you from competition.”

CEOs have to start asking those questions now. AI isn’t a “wait and see.” AI isn’t a “nice to have.” It’s an urgent, strategic imperative. And it’s up to CEOs to set a vision for their company’s AI-powered future.

“The person who has to own the AI vision in the organization is you, the CEO,” said Rajeev Kapur. “If you are not driving a top-down vision of AI in your business, you will fail miserably. This is not social media. This is not a search engine. This is not, let me go get my intern to teach me what Instagram is. This is you. You have to own this vision.”

Looking ahead, CEO Coaching International promises to elevate the benchmark once again when it hosts the 2025 Make BIG Happen Summit on April 25 – 27, 2025 at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, FL. You won’t want to miss it. Put it on your calendar now.

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 53.5% during their time as a client, more than three times the U.S. average, and a revenue CAGR of 26.2%, nearly twice the U.S. average.

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