This was in relations to BI (business intelligence) and AI (artificial intelligence) and what professionals need to do to survive the advent of AI into the business world, decision making and professional careers. It was suggested, the way to beat AI is to learn faster.
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I had no choice but to write this business leader a personal email outlining his recommendation could be equated to the song John Henry. Generally, John Henry was a Steel Gang Lead who had a hammer in his hand. He competed against the Steam Shovel at the turn of the century to beat technology down, saying he would die with a hammer in his hand. The Steam Shovel did win, and John Henry was laid to rest. To this day, trains pass by haunt the man who died with a hammer in his hand. My point, telling people to learn faster is like saying here’s a hammer now go beat the AI computer in your analysis and decision making. Eventually, AI will win, you will die, and the economy will change. You should be asking, what is the impact, why is it important, and how should you proceed, so you can prepare for another shift in your professional landscape.
Pick Your Battles: I don’t want to simplify this too much. I learned from raising teenagers I needed to pick my battles. Again, you think that lesson would be learned in the professional world. Teenagers can be somewhat moody. So you need to know when to engage and when to pull back, or else everything blows up in your face. I think when you look at AI and BI you need to know when to pick your battles and develop an understanding to what you should or need to lean into and what you need to let go. Some of your day to day routine work will disappear, the business world will for a while be moodier, so it is better to create a flexible plan with alternative routes now. Maybe even doing first and asking for forgiveness later.
When Stephen Hawking Speaks: I often think a commercial, from years ago tagline, “when XYZ speaks everyone listens.” When I hear or read Stephen Hawking’s name, I stop and listen. He has made some dangerous predictions about AI in 2015. It is along the lines of AI having the drive to reproduce and survive like biological organisms. If you are a sci-fi fan, you can pick the language to use. The main simplified point, AI with goals could take human resources away. The counter to the point is AI, with specific complex communities, will be like social bees. For example, a hive could be created in complex supply chain manufacturing environments. The human piece, ensure you advance your skills and capabilities to minimize your displacement. In other words, job loss.
Creep into Decision Making: AI has already made its way into decision making and is impacting work and computing. I suspect a lot of people don’t even realize it. We need to recognize now that AI and BI will grow exponentially. Sped up and improved to add value to business via business intelligence. It will continue to be part of the value chain for basic decisions and will advance further. When I think of basic decisions, in today’s terms, I think of smart investment systems that automatically define your investment portfolio and make adjustments based on a set of criteria that you specified or the airline ticket systems that adjust pricing based on pre-set criteria. These decisions, in the not so distant past, had human intervention, now serviced by an automated system.
Friend or Enemy: We can go back to the turn of the 20th-century industry song John Henry to say that technology has replaced many routine jobs. Initially, machines needed a human hand. Now, we can say that automation has replaced human workers in more decision making roles and routines. I was reading and thinking about ‘black-box’ decision making. The general idea, there is an unknown in how an AI system arrives at a decisions, conclusion or recommendation. In a human system of business analysis you might test the validity of the problem statement, the assumptions, and the final solution. Maybe with the standard process define, solve, implement and measure all events with a variety of professional intervention. With the human component removed there might be less prejudice, but there is the other side where humanization of decisions considers not just facts but the human element. Within business analysis, you will need to balance profit drive and the public good. I do not know how that plays out.
Power Rangers Rescuers: The reality is this whole article is about the power; the power of computers and the power of decision-making makers. If decision making is being replaced by machines then so are the decision makers. In business analysis, you use a process to arrive at recommended decisions that are presented to decision makers, usually a sponsor. Our future is one where the professional and the manager have to up their game. People who can think strategically and creatively will be the power rangers of tomorrow. Not the tactical person since tactics will be sourced by machines.
For the past decade in my business analysis training programs and writing, I have been telling professionals to work on the strategic and creative thinking abilities. If things continue on the present course success in the middle is not an option. Meaning middle management and middle careers will further be eroded, organizations will slim, and the savvy strategic creative professional will rise to the top. Your professional relationship with the organization will change embracing multiple organizationally initiatives across a varied business landscape. You will be the Power Ranger Rescuer able to integrate AI and BI into your work.
Maybe even a rewarded hero of an age of creative business problem solutions. Something I think organizations don’t do well is rewarding the intellectual abilities possessed within the business analysis mind, but that will be another article! I will say that I sometimes wonder who’s worth more; the project manager who brings a project to completion or the business analysts who finds a business problem solution that saves an organization millions of dollars. Who’s the hero? You decide.
Accelerated Education: This is where I started. I mean that learning faster is something we human’s won’t be able to do as AI and BI are integrated into the fabric of our existence, but that does not mean we stop learning. It will just be a different kind of learning. Recently I was in a meeting regarding education. The question posed was why some professionals have their master’s degree, and other don’t. Their work history easily equated to a master degree in business. It was suggested that the learning had to be done by doing and attending an advanced course or boot camp that gave the person the skills, information, knowledge, and exposure they needed for thinking and the applicable tools. I agree partly with the response because in the corporate world acceleration means learning applicable skills now. This might appear to counter to what I stated earlier about learning faster to beat AI is like John Henry hammering at the mountain. You ain’t going to win. But it is not. With boot camps, you are not trying to beat AI and BI systems. You are focusing on a specific skill set that embraces creative thinking and is applicable now. That is it. Hopefully, we will get past hard skill learning and will embrace experiential soft skills learning on another level.
Final Thoughts: With this blog, I was not trying to debunk AI, BI or education in any way. But I do believe the advances in AI and BI will radically change the way professionals who use business analysis best practices survive the next on slot of business and technology integration. I do think that the professional who considered their learning in relations to AI and BI design interactions, who can go past the operational and tactical and groom their creative abilities along with their strategic insights, can prepare themselves for a heck of a career journey.
When I was in university, years ago, I wrote a philosophy paper answering the question can computers think. I based my paper on a Cola Machine that said thank you after you paid for a drink. At the time I argued no machines can think. Using the example, a human had to program and maintain systems that simply acknowledged receiving payment for services rendered. A human can do this, but in this case, there were no other interactions or pleasantries. I received an A+ for this paper. That was 30 years ago today.
I did mention in my paper that as the decades pass we may actually have thinking deciding systems that go past the limitations of wires and circuitry. I believe it is time we within professional business analysis community embrace ourselves for a change in decision making and careers now so we can contribute to tomorrow. Be strategic, be creative and build relationships. Good luck.
Remember, do your best, invest in the success of others, make your journey count, Richard.