Cecilia Flatum, Eirik Stranden & Amy Webb: Navigating the Technology Landscape

In a moderated discussion at Oslo Business Forum, Cecilia, Eirik, and Amy sat down to discuss the technology landscape and why leaders must fight their fears and face the future. 

Capable leaders understand how to manage uncertainty and cope with complexity. In the last three years alone, they have navigated a global pandemic, geopolitical unrest, and accelerating climate concerns. But when it comes to technology, many leaders appear to be paralyzed.

“Being a business leader is getting more complicated,” Cecilia said. “There are more things you need to be up to speed on, and AI is just one more thing. As leaders, we need to ask the question, ‘Do we have the right executive team to lead this journey?’”

“Being a business leader is getting more complicated.” – Cecilia Flatum

Eirik believes the “right” team requires resilience. “It’s always been important to be resilient, but especially in the times we’re facing now.” 

He recalled research demonstrating that rapid decision-making distinguishes the top 5 percent of CEOs. “Take big decisions fast enough and frequent enough,” he said. 

Those big decisions may be necessary, but they are not easy. In her work with executives, Amy often poses a difficult question: in this environment of uncertainty, what is it going to take for you to make a decision? “The answer is they want to be confident,” she said. “Nobody wants to be wrong, especially during this strange moment in time.”

6M3A5350 (1) (1)From left to right: Amy Webb, world-renowned futurist and best-selling author, Cecilia Flatum, Managing Partner and Head of Consulting for Deloitte Norway, Eirik Stranden, CEO of 24SevenOffice.

Driven by Fear

A lack of confidence has many business leaders struggling to take decisive action. They end up feeling either paralyzed or pressured. In those instances, Amy said, “You have to break these big challenges into smaller pieces.” 

She claims leaders already have the skills to tackle these challenges, but when it comes to technology, they often revert to faulty decision-making. Driven by fear, they make short-term decisions without modeling the long-term implications.

To combat the indecision that so many leaders feel, Amy offered a framework called ADM. When faced with something new and uncertain, leaders should consider if they must:

 A) Act. Is this something that requires action right now to avert disaster?

 B) Decide. Is this something that requires a thoughtful, strategic decision?

 C) Monitor. Is this something we must pay attention to in the long term?

“Leaders have to feel empowered to take the time they need to make decisions,” Amy said. “But you do have to get to acting, deciding, and monitoring so that you don’t make the wrong decisions.”

Matching Vision with Data

Cecilia believes the companies that are able to make decisions and adapt the fastest will be the winners in the long term. She sometimes walks the executives she consults with through a vision exercise, asking them to imagine waking up in 2043. If they can envision the future, they can then use that vision to ask, “What does this really mean for the decisions we have to make today?”

Amy agreed that decision-making starts with vision but reminded leaders they must also be prepared to do the work. 

“You have to build models based on actual, real-world data,” she said. It’s crucial for business leaders to build probabilistic models showing their plausible futures to determine how they will win 20 years from now.

“You shouldn’t stop and wait.” – Eirik Stranden

Eirik believes decision-making and action-taking require a combination of people and technology. “You need to have some kind of guidelines, models to differentiate risks,” he said. “But you shouldn’t stop and wait. You should catch up while you develop.”

Building Trust

Rapid AI development has left little time and space for leaders to grow trust in the technology, another hindrance to decision-making. How can leaders determine how to move forward when they don’t trust what they don’t understand?

“You have to compare the reward with the risk,” Eirik said. “You need a scientific method or empirical approach because there are so many things in life we don’t have control over.”

Cecelia noted that as auditors, her organization has extremely strict internal guidelines. They have taken an approach to gather experts, collect information, and test in safe environments. 

 “We use a concept called ‘innovating at the edges,’” said Cecilia. She shared an example of a manufacturing organization that established a company to experiment with innovation. Gradually, it became a part of their core company. She encouraged leaders to find a balanced approach based on their type of business.

Thinking Long Term

“We’re going to be developing this for the next several decades, so how can we get everybody to be thinking very long term?” Amy asked. 

Regulation may be one solution, but she doesn’t believe it’s the final answer. “Regulation is a reaction,” she said. “The problem is that regulation is often static, and the thing that is being regulated is evolving. So, when it comes to AI, this is a really challenging space.”

“This isn’t about the adoption of a product. It’s about creating the future.” – Amy Webb 

She noted that in the U.S., there is currently no regulation on the use of AI. In China, the rules of AI are being decided from the top down. “Europe’s big contribution might, in fact, be regulation,” she said.

“Could we incentivize companies with tax breaks,” she asked. “Can we get them to make the right decisions? I think the answer is yes.”

A Call to Action

Members of the panel left leaders at Oslo Business Forum with a call to action, offering advice to leaders dealing with today’s overload of technology development.

“Invest in digitalization and AI,” said Eirik. “I think that’s crucial for the whole organization.”

“Upskill people, especially leadership,” Cecilia said. “A lot of young people are already on the technology and using it. We have to be on that boat with them.”

Amy pressed leaders to engage in long-term scenario planning. “Using data and given what we know to be true today, what is a plausible future of AI?” she said. “What’s our scenario, where do we play, where do we win, and then map that back to strategy.”

All the panelists agree that the single most important thing leaders must do is act. “Don’t wait,” Amy said. 

Key Points

  • Capable leaders understand how to manage uncertainty and cope with complexity, but when it comes to technology, many leaders experience decision paralysis.
  • Many leaders struggle to take decisive action on AI due to a lack of trust and confidence.
  • The companies that are able to make decisions and adapt the fastest will be the winners in the long term.
  • Leaders can increase their confidence in decision-making by weighing risks and rewards, testing in safe environments, and engaging in long-term scenario planning.

Questions to Consider

  • Is your thinking about AI characterized by short-term fear or long-term vision?
  • Think of a recent decision you felt pressured to make. In hindsight, was it an Act, Decide, or Monitor scenario?
  • Is your vision for the future backed by data? What models have you developed models to predict probable outcomes?

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