“The essence of leadership is finding the strategy within the hype!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
Successful CEOs aren’t in the business of chasing shiny new toys – they need to chase growth!
And so they’re having a heck of a year already as everyone comes at them with ideas around this year’s hottest new shiny toy – AI!
My post the other day about the rapid growth in the number of AI tools and ideas drew interest from several readers who pointed out this is the dilemma they are already facing as CEOs. (I have a diverse group that follows my daily posts.) I certainly appreciate their challenge – because the history of leadership is one of having to carefully balance the enthusiasm of their team for chasing hot new trends with the reality of the need for strategic purposes.
Never has this situation become more real than it is today with AI.
As I keep on saying, don’t get me wrong – we are at a transformative moment with the sudden acceleration of AI. The next few years will see a seismic battle for dominance between search giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple; we will also see the birth of new billion-dollar companies from a brilliant idea that is being hatched at this very moment; we will witness the obliteration of many existing software and service business models. The upheaval, opportunity, and challenge of this era are huge. Right now, there are people in the iconic garage hatching an idea that will make them the next generation’s billionaire superheroes.
And then, there is the rest of the economy.
You know, industries like manufacturing, insurance, agriculture, healthcare, retail, consumer products, and more. All of these industries will be massively shaped and impacted by this moment in AI – and I’m covering these trends in my AI Megatrends series. And yet, CEOs of these organizations are already struggling to understand what they need to do to make sure that the opportunities of today’s technology align with opportunities for strategy.
Real strategy, real opportunities. CEOs always need to bring any new idea back to the key, core questions; how might this help me run my business better, grow my business, or transform my business? In the absence of any clarity, a careful pause of deliberation is helpful.
And it’s pretty clear that moment is now.
This is all happening at a staggering speed. I had an exploratory call yesterday with the CEO of a furniture manufacturer. Based in North America, he’s been working hard to align the opportunity of accelerating trends to his operations – robotics, the cloud, workforce training, and more. He’s now under immense pressure from his team to do ‘something’ with AI but needs clarity. How will it help him streamline operations to achieve some cost savings? How might new tools actually help him grow top-line revenue? And overall, what will the impact be on the very nature of the organization going forward – will it provide any real opportunities for transformation of the organization into more of a lean, mean fighting machine?
He does not have any clarity on these issues – and I think most CEOs of mainstream organizations globally are in the same boat at this moment in time.
Without a strategic purpose, there is no purpose!
And that’s why I am relentlessly focused on providing clarity for this moment. Many of my talks don’t just include keynote presentations — I’m often engaged to come into small, intimate leadership meetings to help senior executives understand some of the trends that will shape their world. Over the years, this has included many presentations to small groups of CEOs within a forum for private equity capital.
Notably, by way of example, these organizations below have had me speak to the CEOs of the companies in their investment portfolio. Overall, the combined value of the portfolio companies in the room would be in the hundreds of billions. Sterling Partners, AEA Investors, and Berkshire Partners all sought my insight on aligning fast trends to leadership strategy.
I’ve also done quite a few of these presentations for very-high net worth families and firms. It has included such groups as the Wrigley family foundation and companies that manage the Rothschild wealth. And in one of the most fascinating events I’ve participated in, I was invited to Athens to address several hundred representatives of what are known as ‘family offices’ — organizations that manage the wealth of the world’s wealthiest people. While I did not get a complete list of attendees, I do know that some of those in the room represent and manage the wealth of folks such as the Bill & Melinda Gates family office; the Accellor-Mittall families, those of the founders of Google and many, many others. It was suggested to me that some $10 trillion of wealth was represented in the room.
What’s common to all of these talks? The portfolio companies all represent those vast numbers of industries – agriculture, insurance, manufacturing, retail – where CEOs are trying to align fast-moving trends to strategy. They all revolved around trends that will define our world, and which will spell opportunity in the future! In these situations, I don’t provide insight on particular stocks to invest in — but do provide guidance on the trends that will shape our world on a 5,10, 15, or 25-year basis.
And of course, the topic on the agenda for organizations like this today is AI – what’s real, what’s not, where do we invest, how do we align our organization to the opportunity, and what do we need to be careful with?
It’s pretty clear that right now, with an increasing interest in the topic, private equity managers are looking for insight that helps them to assess where they are going with their own investments and interests; the CEOs in their portfolios are struggling with the same issues; and overall, CEOs everywhere are in the same boat!
Without a strategic purpose, there is no purpose!
And the essence of leadership is finding the strategy within the hype.