Before A.I. – ‘I think, therefore I am’ – Rene Descartes
September 1996 was when I started university in the UK and its crazy to think that this was 21 years ago, because a lot has happened since that time, for me personally and also from a technological perspective.
Much like many of you reading this article, I recall being excited about moving to a new city from a small town to study for a degree and I remember day dreaming about my career choices once I left, which is why I was a little taken aback when I attended a breakfast function here in Auckland this week.
The event was for future entrepreneurs and many of the attendees were local university Masters Students, who had ideas which they wanted to validate and potentially commercialise.
These guys (generic term, not gender specific) were smart, passionate and driven.
I’ve got to admit that at times during the discussions; I experienced feelings of jealousy, inadequacy and insecurity, which were all born out of my own ignorance of the massive technological changes that are happening all around me and the awareness that there were people born after I started university who were more knowledgeable than me on these important subjects e.g. Blockchain.
I had FOMO, because here was a whole generation of young people, who were potentially more suited to operate in the business world of the future.
During the course of the event (and after my cortisol levels had dropped), the question of A.I. arose and what impact it will have on the workforce of tomorrow.
A postgrad student who had been relatively quiet up to that point, voiced his concerns that A.I. is a huge threat to his future job prospects and that he is fearful of what value he would have in the future.
His concerns were shared by pretty much everyone else in that room.
Here was a representative group of a generation that, moments before I was insecure about taking away my contribution in a future society, themselves feeling insecure about another generational change (A.I.) taking away their chance to contribute in their future.
The irony struck me straight away and I immediately was reminded that change wasn’t something to be afraid of, as long as you were willing to; not only keep learning, but also have the courage to apply that learned knowledge in new innovative ways.
As the eldest in the room :), I was eventually asked my thoughts on A.I. and whether I was concerned about its potential impact.
“I’m not at all concerned about A.I. as long as it stands for ‘Artificial Intelligence’. As soon as it stands for ‘Artificial Imagination’ I think that’s when I’ll start to worry”
In my limited experience, the most valuable employees, sales people or businesses are the ones that can develop new ideas, can picture things that haven’t come before and have the confidence to explore possibilities that haven’t been mapped out already.
They are the ones that value imagination – dreamers.
If something has already been done, then it lends itself to be replicated and in turn commoditised.
This is ultimately what A.I. represents to me, the commoditisation of applied knowledge in known environments.
What I mean by this is A.I. will eventually be able to replace any roles in businesses and organisations, as long as those roles are operating within a defined framework, where they have a clear beginning and an end – Transactional.
Let me give you a Sales example; If I am an Account Manager who is transactional and going through the motions of ‘selling’ such as submitting RFP’s for contract renewals every two years, or solving supply issues in a reactive manner, then eventually I will be replaced by A.I. because the principles of what I am doing has been done before and a machine can replicate this via algorithms etc., just like a human brain can develop synapses over time by repeating behaviour (muscle memory).
Many Account Managers do this now, moving from one company to another, repeating the same things they learnt in Company A and applying this in Company B, whilst never investing, either through fear or laziness, in new approaches or ways of doing things. They have stopped dreaming.
Eventually, a piece of technology will replace them, just like a millennial could replace me.
Unless of course, I, as a sales person am doing something that hasn’t been done before, then I am not being transactional, but instead I would be adding real value to the business or organisation I am in.
But in order to do something that hasn’t been done before, you have to first imagine it, and you have to be a dreamer.
As sales people, you have to do more than you (or your predecessor) have done in the past. You have to imagine new possibilities and use all your skills to turn those possibilities into tangible opportunities for growth. Only then will you be of true value.
Sales, much like entrepreneurship isn’t about transactions, it’s about converting imagination into reality.
That is what the best sales people do and that is why the best sales people are also entrepreneurial by nature.
If you’re concerned about A.I., Millennials or something else taking your job, my advice would be to stop worrying about what you can do to stop it from happening (because you can’t stop progress) and instead concentrate on imagining what more you can do in your role – Start dreaming.
After A.I. – ‘Somnio ergo sum’ – I dream, therefore I exist