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Inhuman interest: The AI-Thought leadership interface

AI is here to stay. The question is not whether but how these transformative technologies will be integrated into organisations and thought leadership.  

And that leaves us to consider what the human/AI relationship will be in the thought leadership journey as AI technology and applications evolve.  

These were just two insights that emerged from our first panel at Thought Leadership for Tomorrow in New York on integrating AI into thought leadership.  

Automating the mundane, amplifying human potential

We’ve all heard about the cost-saving potential of automation for efficiency, and pessimistic predictions argue that AI will replace jobs at a scale not previously experienced. 

But our panel agreed that far from replacing human labour, AI will amplify human potential.  

AI can automate repetitive, stress-inducing tasks, freeing up human thought leaders to focus on higher-level strategic thinking, creativity and insight.  

Panel member Matthew Duncan, Head of Future of Work Thought Leadership at Microsoft, cited data from Microsoft’s Work Trend Index 2024. Driven by the degree of drudgery and excessive admin, 75% of employees interviewed were already using AI in their work, including 78% who were bringing their own AI to work if their organisations did not officially sanction it.  

‘AI Power Users’ use AI across a host of tasks, including research, experimentation, and building AI into their work routines. 93% of Power Users said it helped them focus on more important work, and 92% said it boosted their creativity.  

So, employees are increasingly turning to AI. But what does this mean for accelerating employees’ potential?  

Pashmeena Hilal, Head of Strategy and Insights for Retail and Consumer Goods at Google, discussed the challenges of marketing and selling when today’s shopper is guided by both the head and the heart.  

They want products that reflect their values but at a cost-effective price point. Retail experiences must be fun but frictionless, personalized but ensuring data privacy, online and in-store, including a variety of products but also carefully curated.  

This complexity is where AI comes into its own. With capacities for data processing that far surpass humans, it can handle the intricacies of campaign management and reporting, offering a truly personalized experience. But far from replacing human marketers, AI evolves its role towards a ‘seat at the table’, influencing value creation, business strategy, and other organizational outcomes.  

Integrating AI means that traditional disciplinary silos can become organizational leadership roles, drawing on professional experience and translating it into leadership.  

Shaping thought leadership with AI 

In thought leadership, a judicious use of AI can be leveraged at every stage of the process, from hypothesis generation to campaigns. It can generate ideas, be a partner in ideation, and act as an interface to interrogate data or generate ideas.  

“AI becomes a thought partner…part of the team,” said Duncan. 

ai thought leadership

BCG’s GENE is one example of an AI conversational thought partner, and Paul Michaelman, editor-in-chief at BCG, demonstrated how it works to participants. By asking questions and interrogating answers, GENE can be present in the creation of thought leadership

The most effective and trusted thought leadership is driven by data insights. AI can analyse vast amounts of data more quickly and potentially with greater accuracy and insight.  

Putting AI data-driven insights at the heart of thought leadership empowers leaders to base their ideas on solid evidence and real-time identification of emerging trends.  

AI can help mitigate bias in thought leadership by providing a broader range of data perspectives and prompting leaders to consider viewpoints they might otherwise miss…but with a caveat. Our panel discussed AI’s own biases and the importance of diverse groups engaging with AI to ensure inclusive research.  

AI can also be used to personalize thought leadership content for different audiences. This could involve tailoring content based on demographics, interests, or past interactions. It also creates the potential for diversifying how thought leadership is presented, as creatives can more easily and quickly deploy AI tools to create infographics, scrolly-telling, video, and greater interactivity.  

A thought partner with promise and peril 

Engaging and experimenting with AI is the undeniable future for thought leadership. But this doesn’t imply a lack of accountability.  

Our panel discussed the ‘transparency tightrope’ – the need to balance the efficiency benefits with transparency in AI-generated thought leadership. Chair Cindy Anderson, Global Executive, Thought Leadership Engagement & Eminence at the IBM Institute for Business Value, suggested the need for a clear methodological statement. In contrast, others argued that AI integration in thought leadership creation would become so commonplace that discussing how it was used in assets would be irrelevant.  

Whether we will cease to notice AI’s involvement in our assets or not, understanding and identifying the interface between AI and human contributions is essential. For now, AI is not wholly reliable, and as such, we should see it as a ‘tool to be leveraged, not an authority’.  

It is perhaps these concerns that inhibit progress. Hilal shared some data from Google that suggested that going full-scale with AI is hard. 39% were concerned about inaccuracies and 38% about quality. 37% of lapsed users wouldn’t trust AI to do the job better than a person.

As we experiment with AI, it is vital to be aware that the technology is in its early stages so we don’t rush headlong into a minefield.  

As Hilal suggested, organizations could begin with more targeted integration, such as the tactical microanalysis of audience data.  

What will we do?  

Perhaps one of the most vexing questions about AI is: can humans adapt? An audience member asked whether knowledge or information workers would keep their status and compensation, for example. How much will change? 

The question speaks to a broader query about how we will fill our time as thought leaders and carve out our USP as AI does more. As Duncan asked, “AI will give us our time back, but what will we do with it?” 

What emerged from our panel is that what we do with our time (and whether we can retain our role as thought leaders and knowledge workers) is about our agency in evolving humans’ unique capacities as AI takes over technical functions.  

We know these unique human capabilities have coalesced around some key thought leadership trends in recent years.  

Whether those capacities involve being able to innovate, draw on our lived experience, or prioritize our ability for relationship-building, AI challenges thought leaders to be more human.  

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