Jonathan Brill – Speaker/Advisor/Radical Change Expert
To survive seismic technological shifts like AI, we must redefine what readiness means. Just one year ago, OpenAI launched ChatGPT. A year later, $67 billion in venture capital have flooded into AI startups—more venture funding than the entire GDP of Rhode Island and more than all US Investment just a decade earlier.
The sheer amount of capital will accelerate change, and businesses won’t have the luxury of reasonable timelines to adapt. Here’s how executives can cultivate a strategy that withstands AI.
Responding To Disruption
The question facing every business now is not when, but how you will adapt. Waiting too long to respond can prove catastrophic, as a long line of incumbents like YP, publisher of the Yellow Pages, have discovered.
By 2008, a decade after its founding, Google had built superior advertising capability to the Yellow Pages. Yet, it wasn’t until 2012—fourteen years after Google search was released—that YP attempted to launch its own digital search business to compete. Right response. Wrong decade.
Businesses no longer have the luxury of a decade to adapt. Just as Google moved at the speed of the internet, AI native companies will move at the rate of AI. To thrive in this environment legacy firms will need to rethink organizational readiness. They need to somehow catch up before the disruption presents itself.
The old model of business readiness focused on identifying material threats based on historical data, devising exhaustive contingency plans for these shocks, then methodically operationalizing each response. But AI and similarly disruptive technologies herald unforeseeable change that will unfold at warp speed. Their second- and third-order effects will ripple into every corner of business and society.
We need to develop processes that are nimble enough to capitalize on colliding social, technological, economic and political (STEP) change in real-time. We need to be less focused on devising plans for any contingency and more on one strategy that prepares us for every contingency.
Strategic Planning for Continuous Disruption
As you enter strategic planning this year, consider embedding these four activities in your process:
1. Scan The Horizon
Look a decade out at the STEP undercurrents that could converge to disrupt your industry. Even if you are doing a three or five year plan, aspects of the future often happen faster than we expect. Could there be another breakthrough in AI, a major energy shock, a breakdown of government? Study adjacencies and global markets for early indicators. How might internal tensions in India or China or geopolitical tensions between Pakistan and India impact your supply chain?
We recently worked with a Fortune 1000 manufacturer to understand its future operating environment, then to identify risks to its major inputs, outputs and processes.
The project started with an analysis of the rate and scale at which secular trends would impact them. We took high potential executives from the company on a tour of AI startups, then interviewed manufacturers in different industries and geographies to understand the challenges they were facing and solutions they were developing.
2. Model Scenarios
Leverage what you learned from broad scanning to stress test current assumptions. War game plausible “what-if” scenarios that could unfold as undercurrents converge and imagine second- and third-order effects.
Our manufacturing client held a workshop and used a range of AI tools to visualize how seismic shifts could disrupt them, and how a combination carefully considered supply chain, process and channel innovations could flip weaknesses into strategic advantages.
3. Know Your Response Window
Identify how long you will need to respond to threats. Track the metrics and trigger points that will signal when you must start and finish adapting. Identity where you will be unable to outpace disruption and build buffers there. Install listening posts to collect on-the-ground intelligence from customers, frontline employees, and external sources.
Our manufacturer set up dashboards and now holds quarterly reality checks with an external advisory council to identify blind spots.
4. Buy Leverage
Make measured bets on people, processes, and partnerships that allow you to seize first-mover advantage.
The manufacturer made specific investments in key areas that, while inconsequential on their own, when combined will ensure that it will profit from disruption. Among their investments, they now selectively buffer against supply chain risk, use VR to more rapidly train new workers and have forged profit sharing partnerships with key channel partners that prioritize their products in slack markets.
Volatility isn’t bad, but it’s typically bad for the unprepared.
As you enter strategic planning this year, scan widely for signals, encourage a range of perspectives, and build the capacity to lean into disruption.
AI will impact each company differently. Most leaders haven’t taken the time to really consider what is and isn’t possible, much less what it will mean for them.
In this willful blindness is your opportunity.