We are on the brink of a technology tsunami that will likely be as challenging and transformative for us as the Industrial Revolution was for our ancestors. This tsunami will be led by artificial intelligence (AI), increased global connectivity, the Internet of Things, major advances in computing power, and virtual and augmented reality. As a result, the Smart Machine Age (SMA) will fundamentally change the availability and nature of human work and make obsolete the dominate Industrial Revolution model of business organization and leadership. The organization of the future will be staffed by a combination of smart robots, AI systems, and human beings. Humans will be needed to do the tasks that technology won't be able to do well: higher-order critical thinking, creativity, imagination, and innovation and tasks involving high emotional engagement with other human beings (SMA Skills).
It's a fact that all businesses today are trying to become technology companies--and digitally enabling the workforce is a challenge we all face. Businesses of all kinds are responding to new demands in a variety of ways, all with an eye to keeping pace with customers' demands for better products and services with a greater digital experience. The pressure is on for us leaders of companies to infuse technology throughout our business to get smarter, faster and more efficient. I'm a former English major who now lives in the heart of Silicon Valley, and I often worry that amid all this bright digital change, business leaders risk forgetting about the importance of soft skills or emotional intelligence--communication, relationship building, writing, persuasion and the art of storytelling. Digital skills are powerful, but without the human-to-human connective tissue that makes business and society function, we will actually lose out on many of the benefits of technology.
It is tempting to regard artificial intelligence as a threat to human leadership. After all, the very purpose of AI is to augment, improve, and ultimately replace human intelligence, which is still widely regarded, at least by us humans, as our key competitive advantage. There is no reason to believe that leadership will be spared the impact of AI. Indeed, it is very likely that AI will supplant many aspects of the "hard" elements of leadership -- that is, the parts responsible for the raw cognitive processing of facts and information. At the same time, our prediction is that AI will also lead to a greater emphasis on the "soft" elements of leadership -- the personality traits, attitudes, and behaviors that allow individuals to help others achieve a common goal or shared purpose.
Developing strong leadership across all levels of a healthcare organization has become a must-do initiative. Leaders have the power to affect bold change at a time when transformation is essential for the future. For instance, according to 39% of payer operations executives we surveyed, a change in leadership would likely trigger a major operational transformation within their organization. Perhaps this is why organizations continue to invest in leadership development. Organizations spent $1,296 per employee in 2017, up 1.7% from 2016.
Artificial intelligence (AI) companies generated an estimated $8 billion of revenue in 2016 and are on an incredible trajectory to increase that figure five times over the next three years. Enterprises are increasingly investing in artificial intelligence as a way both to drive down costs and transform customer and employee experiences. According to Accenture's Technology Vision 2017 survey of more than 5,400 IT and business executives, 79 percent agree that AI will help accelerate technology adoption throughout their organizations. While the disruptive growth of AI is a fact, the impacts to the workforce are more difficult for companies to articulate and address. What is clear is that leaders in every function must begin to take a nuanced view of the role that every type of worker – human and machine – will play in the workforce of the future.