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  • Writer's pictureSeema Sutradhar

'Leading'​ in the 4th Industrial Revolution


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How will leading look like in this time of fourth industrial revolution? Is this going to be different? To understand this let us first look at what is the primary driver for this revolution. Undisputedly you will agree it is technology and predominantly, Artificial Intelligence. The impact of Artificial Intelligence is unimaginable as it will be penetrating across the industry in almost every aspect of business. In fact, the entire ecosystem will need to get readjusted as a result. AI systems can learn from vast amounts of complex, unstructured information and turn it into actionable insight. It is capable of replacing humans for most of the repetitive jobs and for solving complex problems based on large amounts of information. It is not far that AI will be able to address complex problems like cancer, climate change or providing powerful insights into the complex global economy.

Leading in this era will mean facing this unprecedented change where human jobs will be replaced by these smart machines initially. What will happen is that humans will need to redefine their jobs in the wake of this disruption and use AI to augment their tasks. The way forward will be to innovate. Leaders thus will need to nurture a culture that promotes creativity and innovation in their organisation. The magnitude of this disruption is so high that we will have to re-define business models fundamentally; identify new needs; new markets; new ways to fulfil those needs; the entire supply chain; in fact the businesses and the environment in which they exist. The entire ecosystem will face changes at deeper levels. In the pursuit of new demands, we may start focusing on the global challenges including climate change, poverty, food, health, education, clean water and sanitation, inequality and injustice, the uplifting of human lives and many more. This is a time of great opportunity to paint this future where we not only create jobs but create jobs that seamlessly fit into a symbiotic environment. Whatever we will create new, thus should grow from the foundation of our values and align to our ethics.

One of the ethical questions could be “Is technology creating a divide between the haves and have-nots wider and wider?” The barometer to measure whether decisions are aligned with ethics or not will simply be determined by answering the question ” Is technology including the masses in its solution or just powering a few?” The economic growth so far has led to a society where top 1% of the population holds wealth that is equal to world’s 99% of the population. Our economy is skewed to that an extent, and that is not healthy and sustainable. It is like an inverted pyramid standing in a vacuum with no air or other disturbances around it at the moment. As soon as there is any vibrations or flow of air, breaking this vacuum, the pyramid will experience push. Even with slightest push it will lose its balance and topple. Actually in the society, in our ecosystem, we are already seeing disturbances - so many people forced to leave their homes with nowhere to go, turmoil in businesses, climate change, poverty, hunger, clean water, inequality, injustice and disruptions to jobs all around. These are situations adding into the unstable equilibrium in our ecosystem.

It is an opportunity now to change the situation from an unstable equilibrium to a stable equilibrium and avoiding the storm that is already building up, from taking place. The cost of rebuilding after the storm will be unimaginable, and it may be that we never come back to the original state. We are experiencing the distortions in climate change, and we may not be able to reverse the effects if we are too late. The job we have to do is to reverse the inverted pyramid. What is true for wealth, is true for all other benefits to people and the job is to bring parity.

The majority at the base of the pyramid needs to be taken care well so that the base can support those at the top. The focus needs to be to build prosperity for this base, the majority of the society, only then the prosperity that the top few wants to experience will be sustainable.

The other ethical question could be, “Is innovation in harmony with mother nature?” “Is the supply chain linear or circular?” Linear is when the organisation’s span of concern is limited to sourcing the inputs for manufacturing it’s products and ends at selling the products to consumers. Instead, a more ethical response would be when company recognises it as their responsibility to make sure the product’s life cycle before it is manufactured and after the sale is influenced in a manner that the inputs and outputs can be fed back into the system more sustainably, thereby leading to a circular supply chain. This will be possible when we have a more sustainable response to whatever we consume from the planet. 'Move towards renewable energy' and 'sustainable practices in business' are encouraging steps. Even small steps towards sustainability will make a big difference and by staying alerted and conscious of making a difference will go a long way. The innovations thus must align and embody the 3Ps - People, Planet and Profit together without marginalising one for the other. This is the real challenge at this time as we are creating the future we want. Ignoring any of the first two Ps for the third is not what will work in the long run.

AI is the responsibility of leaders of this 4th industrial revolution. AI is here to augment humans. The questions are, "Are the innovations inclusive? Is it purposeful?" The way to go forward will be to develop a systematic culture of creativity and innovation in organisations. Create jobs for the future at the same time create a future that we all desire in essence and is sustainable. Thomas L Friedman in his article “Smart Approaches to jobs” in The New York Times International Edition, dated 26 January 2017 wrote:

“What we really need is to protect workers.

You need to protect workers, not jobs, because every worker today will most likely have to transition multiple times to multiple jobs as the pace of change accelerates. So the best way you help workers is by ensuring that they are flexible — that they have the skills, safety nets, health care and lifelong learning opportunities to make those leaps and that they live in cities open to innovation, entrepreneurship and high-I.Q. risk-takers.

The societal units protecting workers best are our healthy communities — where local businesses, philanthropies, the public school system and universities, and local government come together to support a permanent education-to-work-to-life-long-skill-building pipeline.

Businesses signal to schools and colleges, in real time, the skills they need to thrive in the global economy, and philanthropies fund innovative programs for supplemental education and training. Schools also serve as adult learning and social service centers — and local and state governments support them all, including reaching out globally for investors and new markets.”

In this era of 4th Industrial revolution where technology is bringing massive disruption, 'leading' will simply mean two things - nurture a culture of innovation as change is too big to let us stay where we are today; and secondly be ethical because we live in an ecosystem that is interdependent and a silo thinking when we are innovating will be devastating. We do not want a society that is divided between haves and have-nots like an inverted pyramid; our planet with distortions or human relationships with no trust. The power of AI is an opportunity to humanity as it will free us from repetitive jobs as well as solve complex problems with ease and allow us to address the global challenges facing humanity. It will allow us to have the time and resources to make corrections to our mistakes in the past and paint a future that will keep inspiring generations to come.

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