News Stories · Digital - Disruption - Leadership - China

AI, successful business models and overcoming dragons

November 2019
 - IMD Business School

That’s a wrap on day two of our signature program – Orchestrating Winning Performance – in Dubai.

The day started with a series of sessions on governance, technological disruption, the implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the importance of strategic agility and what the world can learn from the meteoric rise of Chinese companies like Alibaba. It closed with a keynote speech by H.E. Omar Sultan Al Olama – the world’s first government minister for AI.

Here’s a closer look at some of the highlights from day two.

Whoever leads the AI race will lead the future

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will change the world and countries must work together to ensure the technology is used responsibly, said H.E. Omar Sultan Al Olama in his keynote address to participants.

The UAE was the first country in the world to appoint a minister for AI, and it’s determined to become a world leader in the field by 2031, Al Olama said. Two factors – tolerance and a forward-thinking and optimistic nature of leadership in the country – will lead to a successful implementation of AI in the country, the minister added.

Ultimately, the whole world will need to prepare for the advance of AI technology, Al Olama stressed. Those who fail to prepare will undoubtedly fail, while those who consider just the financial gains and ignore the social implications will also miss out on the potential benefits.

Another huge challenge will be to ensure that policymakers around the world are armed with knowledge of AI before they design the rules that will govern the technology, minister Al Olama said. In response to this, the UAE has launched an initiative to train 100 government officials in AI technology.

In January 2020 the UAE will also introduce AI into schools as of grade 4 onwards. Teachers are already being trained on the new curriculum so children learn about the technology from an early age, and are prepared for the onset of a technology that could, if used wisely, bring huge benefits to people all over the world.

Watch the full keynote speech of H.E. Omar Sultan Al Olama here.

AI: boom or doom?

Sticking with the topic of AI – the technology is widely misunderstood and needs to be demystified, said Amit Joshi, Professor of Digital Marketing.

Many people assume that AI can understand or learn any intellectual task that a human being can (known as Artificial General Intelligence). In reality, we are nowhere near robots replacing humans, said Professor Joshi, and – depending on who you ask, we won’t reach this point for another few decades.

AI right now can do one thing – pattern recognition (taking massive amounts of data and processing it). And at this it is superhuman.

AI is more likely to work with us and help us at our jobs, Joshi said. A radiologist, for example, isn’t going to be replaced by technology, but he or she could be amplified by it.

Are countries paying enough attention to AI? The simple answer is no, said Joshi, with some notable exceptions like the UAE, the US (where it is mostly being developed in the private sector) and China (where it is a joint public/private exercise and is being used for both social and economic reasons).

AI has huge implications for education and employee training, Joshi added. We need to move to a system of lifelong learning and, instead of focusing on the ‘three Rs’ (reading, writing and arithmetic), instead shift to the ‘four Cs’ of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity – skills that AI will find harder to replicate.

What the world can learn from China’s business ambition

The world’s second largest economy is fast-becoming a dominant force in global business, thanks to a unique business model and an ability to thrive in a turbulent tech landscape, said Mark Greeven, Professor of Innovation and Strategy.

Retail giant Alibaba, for example, accounts for a reported 58% of all online retail sales in China. Together with Tencent, the two companies – or digital ecosystems – have a joint valuation equivalent to the GDP of Switzerland.

The pace of growth is no less impressive – these ecosystems have emerged in less than 20 years and have been fuelled by investment and acquisition, entrepreneurship, new ventures, continuous innovation and internationalisation.

What is China’s secret ingredient?

While the nascent technological space which the likes of Alibaba thrived on over a decade ago can never be replicated, there is much to be learned from the attitude, connectivity and flexibility of the Chinese business ecosystem, said Greeven.

Chinese businesses are rapid, responsive and resilient, and their organic growth and inclusivity has created an interdependence which serves one thing – further growth.

Read a detailed recap of Professor Greeven’s session, here.

A hero, a dragon and a quest

Arnaud Chevallier, Professor of Strategy, examined how people in positions of leadership can become better at solving the complex problems that come up in both their professional and personal lives.

The solution can often be found in a simple situation-complication-question (SCQ) sequence, he explained.

Much like a fairytale, a good SCQ sequence “has a hero, a treasure, dragon and a quest,” explained Chevallier. The dragon represents the problem that is standing in the way of a hero accessing the treasure.

“If you use this simple approach, you just need to ask how the hero can get to the treasure despite the dragon,” said Chevallier.

An important factor in problem-solving is remembering more opinions are better than a sole decision-maker, he added.

A group has the potential to collect more complete information, compared to an individual, while making decisions, and so it is integral to include all the stakeholders early on, in a meaningful manner and to ensure you include them enough.

“There is a value in diversity; it is harder for us to see our own bias, it is much easier for others to see our own blind spots,” pointed out Chevallier.

The power of a business model

“The fact that you have a business does not mean you have a business model,” said Salvatore Cantale, Professor of Finance.

During his in-depth look and the importance of business models and value creation, Cantale cited two great examples of how the above statement plays out for real in the business world.

Starting with social media platform Twitter, Cantale spoke about how, when co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey sent the company’s first ever tweet (“Just setting up my twittr”), he and his colleagues had no idea what they wanted to become. The company was repeatedly criticised for not having a business model, and after four years of operating had zero revenue.

In response, Twitter announced a revenue model contest, otherwise they would shut down. This led to the business model they have in place today (put very simply, it provides a service in return for people’s data).

The company is now worth billions of dollars.

Meanwhile, a quick analysis of Apple’s business performance before and after a change in business model no less revealing, Cantale said.

In 2001, when it launched iTunes, the company ceased to be a product and became a platform. This changed everything for the company, and it has achieved exponential growth in ever since. The company’s growth in market cap from $900bn to $1 trillion in 2018 happened in just 183 trading days.