MBA.co.za

Leading the way in an AI-driven world

by Morris Mthombeni: Executive Director at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.
Did you hear about the billboard that read: “How AI took my job… to the next level?”

The brand campaign for freelance marketplace Fiverr, which featured these words, perfectly illustrates the narratives at play around tools like machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). For some, the destructive impact of these technologies could leave humans out in the cold. For others, new technologies are an inevitable part of life and business that will disrupt jobs and industries while creating new economies and opportunities.

Whichever way you look at it, technology is just the tool. The real power to destroy or enable, to build people up or leave them behind, lies with policymakers and in the strategic choices made by corporate leaders.

Looking back in history, the world has already witnessed the fear and anger ignited in human beings when faced with new technologies and the threat of automation. Those textile workers of the early 19th century, known as Luddites, still exemplify this "rage against the machine" mentality. However, looking back one could argue that the British government’s failure to manage this transition and soothe human fears exacerbated protests and violence. This fiery human response could have been avoided had there been a more proactive effort to shift skills in a new direction.

Currently we are seeing examples of an arguably better approach emerging in industries like mining and car manufacturing, both of which are being impacted by technological shifts. Rio Tinto, the Australian miner, began a process of upskilling potential and existing workers in new fields like robotics and analytics around 2017, while workers at multinationals like Anglo American, Coca-Cola and Accenture are turning to immersive learning and virtual reality training to equip employees with valuable skills for the future. Vehicle manufacturer Mercedes-Benz recently announced US$2.2 billion in training for more than 600 employees to transform into data and AI specialists.

While this proactive approach is to be lauded, we also need to ask ourselves if the ripple effects of AI and generative technologies on human employability will be as dramatic as projected by the likes of the World Economic Forum, which believes “19% of the workforce could have over 50% of their tasks automated by AI”. McKinsey expects that by 2030 at least 14% of global employees may have to change jobs due to the impact of technological advancements and digitisation. But we are knocking on the door of 2030, and so far these numbers have not been realised at the pace expected.

This, of course, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep our eye on the ball. Right now is a pivotal moment for leaders in society and business to make sustainable, humane choices that will result in technology being used on a net positive basis for society as opposed to a destructive force.

Business schools need to step up

As a business school that helps to mould and challenge leaders for the future, we have an important role to play in shaping our collective response to this dramatic digital shift. This will require some change on our part, in terms of how we embed a vision of a more caring, conscious and supportive society into our pedagogy, our content and our research.

Business schools should become places of experimentation in this evolution. We should be encouraging our students to bring their ideas into the business school environment where they can be practiced and perfected, before being executed in the real world. In line with this thinking, we are upscaling our Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration (PDBA) in the coming year to include a digital focus. Working in partnership with Explore AI, our PDBA students can now do a management course with a data science bias embedded in the qualification. This qualification should be of immediate interest to all students in industries that are accelerating the embedding of data science into the core of their operations.

Likewise, we are launching a digital-focused MBA. The idea of the digital leadership MBA stream is not to turn managers into engineers, but for our managers to understand the language of engineers and how to lead and make choices that take both engineering principles and social principles into consideration. For the MBA digital leadership focus we are working with a consultancy that is part of our alumni network, the African Academy of Artificial Intelligence, as well as IÉSEG School of Management in Paris, one of the leading business schools in France.

We recognise that we need to help managers become more data- and AI-driven, in a way that helps us to become better societies. We need to be talking about critically important ethical decisions and how leaders must consider the impact of regulation and training, bias, and how humans and machines interact. In fact, our new partnership with an organisation called Economic Modelling Academy (EMA) is just part of how we are making deep modelling capabilities available to our students and delegates in terms of executive education. This way, we can enable our students to become far more data-driven in their decision-making and in forecasting the future; to ensure better planning and execution.

Managing in the future is going to require a different approach, as well as new skills and capabilities. It’s time to move away from imagining what could be and start acting out the positive and ethical attributes of an AI-enabled future, so we can better our societies, better our leaders and better our businesses.

Useful resources:
Gordon Institute of Business Science
Making an impact to significantly improve the competitive performance of individuals and organisation through business education to build our national competitiveness. GIBS is a leading business school in the heart of Sandton’s business hub, offering a wide range of executive and academic programmes.
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