With the swift expansion of artificial intelligence, automation tools are now readily available to corporations and consumers alike. Companies are integrating new technologies to avoid falling behind their competition and appearing out of touch with trends that matter to their employees and customers.
But the steps to incorporate and embrace emerging tech can be challenging. Expert faculty from the Graduate School of Management at Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business identified four best practices senior executives can employ to capitalize on advancements in AI and dodge common pitfalls.
1. Innovate early – with startup partners.
In its 2022 Global AI Adoption Index, IBM reported that 35 percent of companies were using AI and 42 percent were exploring AI for future implementation. Findings from Grand View Research indicate this tech adoption will drive the market size to $1.8 billion in revenue within seven years. To remain competitive in this environment, leaders can collaborate across companies to use AI in ways that set them apart from major rivals.
Swift changes in tech-driven markets demand innovation and adaptation, but many businesses are optimized to resist change rather than embrace it, leading to fewer risks – and rewards. The hesitation to adopt can be a danger to the bottom line.
“Executives can avoid this stumbling block by implementing agile methods and building mutually beneficial partnerships with startups driving innovation in their areas of need," said Stephen Sauer, senior lecturer of management and organizations and Entrepreneur in Residence for the college. “Established companies can benefit from the tech experimentation that is more common in newer businesses while giving these partners the wisdom of experience.”
Karan Girotra, Charles H. Dyson Family professor of technology and management, adds that when tech advances rapidly in times of political and socioeconomic uncertainty, leaders can underestimate the rate of change and overestimate the ability of past expertise in helping them tackle the environment.
“Executives need to adopt a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all, mindset. Leaders need to embrace smart, cheap and fast experimentation to try out many new initiatives and learn fast,” Girotra said.
2. Choose accuracy over convenience.
Information may be more accessible than ever, but discerning fact from fiction grows more difficult each day. The convenience and speed of generative AI make it easier for audiences to accept and share information without examination. However, the perils of using incorrect data, which range from operational shortfalls and security threats to public relations crises and financial losses, can ruin organizations.
“The increasing amounts of misinformation with which we are all confronted today – including from AI errors – can undermine our problem-solving efforts,” said Risa Mish, professor of practice of management. “Now, more than ever, leaders must be able to guide their teams in understanding what we know versus what we are assuming we know.”
According to Mish, AI exists to help us tackle complex issues in a way that balances efficiency, thoroughness and accuracy, but leaders should be willing to learn how to apply the technology responsibly.
“Corporate decision-makers should first work to comprehend core AI concepts. Then start with small-scale projects to test the tech in their operations,” Mish said. “This requires leaders to build cross-functional teams that understand the organization’s strategy and can align AI with goals.”
3. Recognize your biases.
Incorporating machine intelligence into business operations may require leaders to reassess their approach to corporate ethics. AI systems operate on data provided by humans and can perpetuate prejudices as a result. If not carefully monitored, this can lead to unfair outcomes for workers, customers and other stakeholders.
“Leaders need to be aware that we are all susceptible to biases which can negatively impact our decision-making and behavior. We naturally look for, remember, favor and interpret information in a way that confirms our previously held beliefs or values. We also discount or reject information that runs counter to these beliefs and values,” said Michelle Duguid, associate professor and associate dean of diversity, inclusion and belonging.
While AI can expedite decision-making for hiring, business forecasting, surveillance and more, Duguid encourages senior executives and their teams to take precautions against complacency. Instead, firms can develop quality assurance processes to ensure automated outputs meet their corporate standards.
“Senior executives need to be able to think strategically about potential risks and challenges, and make informed decisions that align with the company's overall goals and values,” said Sauer. “Strategic thinking is a team effort, and the more leaders are able to build teams with diverse opinions and experiences – what we call ‘heterogeneous task cognition’ – the more successful they will be in combating any biases that might creep in with the use of AI and other digital technologies.”
4. Use AI as a supplement, not a replacement.
More than 40% of business owners are concerned about an overdependence on AI, according to a recent Forbes Advisor survey. Automation has the potential to replace human workers in certain roles, leading to job displacement, changes in employment patterns and economic disruption.
“Advances in AI and other digital technologies present businesses with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvent their products and processes,” said Girotra. “At the same time, there are several pitfalls – technologies that do not live up to their promise, new business models that have no feasible path to profitability, the large negative externalities that these innovations place on society. Businesses that blindly embrace these opportunities, or those that are paralyzed by the pitfalls, are unlikely to survive.”
Looking at AI as a tool with capabilities and limits, and creating a builder culture, Girotra says, is key in taking advantage of the opportunities.
Elizabeth Mannix, Ann Whitney Olin professor of management agrees. “When leaders have self-awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses – and they are cognizant of their impact on others – they can lead with intention and create an environment in which their team members can thrive alongside AI.”
Faculty from Cornell University have designed online certificate programs on a variety of in-demand leadership, technology, business and finance topics, including change management and digital transformation. An AI strategy certificate from the SC Johnson College of Business is also available online through eCornell.