How CEOs can lead the ‘revolutionary transition’ to generative AI 

How CEOs can lead the ‘revolutionary transition’ to generative AI 

The Fortune CEO Initiative is dedicated to helping business leaders find ways to promote social progress as part of their core strategies. This opinion piece is based on a discussion among CEO members during this year’s CEO Initiative Annual Meeting, held Oct. 3, 2023, in Washington, D.C. The authors are CEOI members and were co-chairs of this year’s annual meeting.

CEOs across the country are discerning what to do today to build a roadmap for the artificial intelligence leaders of tomorrow. AI offers endless possibilities, but there are also challenges to adopting this technology in organizations. We offer these considerations for CEOs as they implement AI and prepare the next generation of leaders.

To capture value from AI, it must be intuitive and accessible to all, managed in a safe and responsible framework, and measured like any other strategic business initiative. We are incredibly optimistic about generative AI because it is the democratization of capacity through an intuitive interface that opens the world of automation to all employees. 

Often, the individuals who are the business or product domain subject-matter experts are the ones discover the most valuable applications of AI. That’s not to say you won’t require data scientists or PhDs in deploying AI. But the power of generative AI shines through the value unlocked through solving complex business problems in a real-world setting. The easy, chatbot style interface enables everyone within an organization to play a part in leveraging AI to advance or accelerate the company’s goals.

Therefore, CEOs should encourage the use of generative AI throughout the organization to improveproductivity, creativity, and operational efficiency. As leaders, we can model behavior by experimenting withgenerative AI regularly in our professional and personal lives. As with any new skill, new patterns and useful answers will emerge with practice, and the use of this new technology will become an incredibly constructive habit.

Generative AI as a co-pilot

Think of generative AI as another voice, a virtual analyst, or a co-pilot to complement you and your autopilot. You are still the captain, you steer the outcome; but you have more coverage and ready access to ideas and iteration, at a much faster velocity, to drive outcomes.

We think generative AI and AI more broadly represent the most significant technical shift in recent years and possibly our lifetimes. With any revolutionary transition, there are initially more questions than answers. Fortunately, we can leverage our experience with existing change management and governance frameworks to empower our employees while protecting our customers and our companies. 

As with any new cultural shift, corporate initiative, or technology deployment, you need process governance, education, measurable targets, and management oversight. AI is no different, but it evolves faster. So CEOs must proactively implement guardrails through education, security protocols, acceptable usage definitions, and data privacy policies to ensure responsible use of AI. 

Additionally, leaders need to keep a mindful eye on generative AI as they would with any new technology, including monitoring, incident detection, and implementing robust management systems and executive ownership. Education and culture are critical—you are only as safe as your weakest link within the organization who could reveal client information or other sensitive data.

Embracing rapid experimentation

After guardrails and guidelines are established, encourage and leverage the domain expertise of your employees, who have specific expertise about your organization’s customers, challenges, and solutions. Democratize innovation, empowering small teams of experts to study concrete problems you want to solve. Dive deep into the details of specific problems; do not try to conquer the biggest societal problems at first. Focus on developing the muscle memory of how to work with AI, including A/B testing, measurement, and interaction—then build on those successes. Embrace a culture of rapid experimentation—try, measure, refine, deploy, and repeat.

We can be eager, even impatient, to solve the biggest problems, but the reality is that AI is a new technology and we have little experience with it. Nobody knew what to do with the internet initially; it took years to figure it out, with missteps along the way. We will go through a similar, albeit markedly faster, cycle in adapting to AI.

We anticipate that digital-ready students may lead the way for us in the classroom, the workplace and society, surfacing the most creative next set of solutions around AI. But the private sector must embrace two things: One, research and development; and two, learning and development for our current employees and future workforce.

We must revamp how we approach learning, development, and training. It must be focused on more than just how to do a job better, and rather on finding the most efficient and effective path to an outcome, automating old tasks and disrupting conventions in service of creativity and speed. As leaders, we mustensure our people learn how to use these tools productively and responsibly. 

What young and mature workers can teach each other

We are incredibly optimistic about a future where our young people, who are already mission-driven, leverage the power of incredibly intuitive technology in generative AI to attack problems that have been too complex for us to resolve in the past. Having said that, we must remember that the younger generation does not have decades of experience, context, and judgment to draw from; they will need support and guidance for ethical use of all new tools. Younger workers may quickly adopt new technology, but our mature employees have the experience, context, and judgment skills to understand right and wrong. 

Finally, with any disruptive new technology comes both the opportunity for equitable access and risk of marginalization. We hope leaders will be intentional in leveraging generative AI to increase access and equality. We also want to ensure the AI outputs are ethical, in part by better understanding what the source, or supply line, is for the generative AI being used. CEOs should consider playing a bigger role in educating and developing skills beyond the company, in the communities we serve, as a way to increase equitable access; they should also support curricula in schools, online, and in the workplace for all employees. 

As industries adopt AI at scale, we will benefit meaningfully from this wave of innovation. We also shouldkeep in mind Amara’s Law: We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the impact in the long run. It’s very early days for an incredibly exciting future, where leaders can make a material impact for good.

Rob Lake is co-founder and CEO of BoulevardJennifer Tejada is chairperson and CEO of PagerDuty.

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