Bosses Beware: The autonomous leading machine could replace you too

If you don’t like the idea of being replaced by technology, think twice before you do it to your employees.
Mark Goulston, M.D.

As automation and AI increasingly take over jobs that were once thought to be technology-proof, there is one career that may be as vulnerable as the rest: the CEO.


Let’s see what a CEOs role is. A CEO’s major responsibilities are:

  • Articulate a clear vision of success.
  • Create a strategy for accomplishing and achieving that vision.
  • Establish relationships outside the company that can lead to investment, strategic partnering or even mergers or acquisitions.

I’ll break down how technology can replace each of these sacred tasks.

An algorithm can articulate a clear vision of success.

“Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, A faster horse!” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” – Steve Jobs

One way to envision what customers want before they do is to use all the data available to track their behaviors, buying tendencies and repetitive buying preferences – all of which are replacing focus groups. Focus group research is on the way out because what people say they like or dislike often doesn’t translate into what they actually buy. Also, focus groups’ data can be based on past behavior which isn’t much help regarding what customers are going to want in the future before they know it.

One algorithm to identifying and then articulating a vision of success is to take the information from big data regarding customer buying habits and use this frame for what you want customers, clients, investors and talent to think:

  • “Whoa!” – “I can’t believe what I just saw, heard, read and/or felt!
  • “Wow!” – “That’s amazing, astonishing, unbelievable!”
  • “Hmm…” – “That’s too good not to use, we can do this!”
  • “Yes!” – “Sold! I can see how and where using that will excite me, solve a problem I am having and cause me to feel, ‘I gotta have it!’”

To get a clearer sense of this four-step formula in action in creating a vision of success, check out this dramatization of the Apple co-founder going to Xerox Parc and first laying eyes on the Graphical User Interface (GUI) that he would take back to Apple and create the Macintosh.

For a second taste of the four-steps from the mouth of Jobs himself, check out his recollection of that visit and you’ll see the four-steps as he describes it.

To summarize how an algorithm can dictate a clear vision of success, try out this exercise and have a manager (or the soon-to-be-invented CEO BOT):

  1. Get a sense of customer buying habits from available data.
  2. Show your design/creative team those results.
  3. Show them both of the above Steve Jobs’ video clips.
  4. Have them describe where they see the ‘Whoa!’ ‘Wow!’ and ‘Hmm… Yes!’ reaction from Jobs when he first sees GUI.
  5. Have them discuss what customers need to see, hear, read and feel to cause them to react the way Jobs did.

Want more evidence? Here’s a real-life example where an AI-enabled marketing system was superior to a human brand manager’s vision of his target audience.

Image – Shutterstock

An algorithm can create a strategy for accomplishing and achieving a company’s vision.

Although many companies don’t follow a business strategy because they too often use confusing and abstract terms – for example, many employees don’t know the difference between vision and mission – and instead, react to what’s coming at them.

There is an algorithm that summarizes the steps to achieving a vision:

1: Assess Needs

For the majority of people in a company, the word “goal” is confusing and intimidating. That is why if you ask people their goals they often hem and haw or just throw out some number to get their boss off their back.

Not everyone has goals, but everyone has needs. And nearly all companies have three needs:

  • To make money — to pay for overhead, have a runway to develop disruptive products/services and deliver a return on investment
  • To consistently astonish and amaze and delight customers.
  • To develop a team and fully engage employees to zealously commit to fulfilling the above.

2: Get Results

What results would fulfill the three needs above? If the company consistently astonishes customers and is very socially redeeming, that would satisfy all three needs. That’s because such enthusiastic customers will want to buy their products and employees will want to be part of a company that creates such excitement in customers.

To do that, the results must trigger these ‘Whoa!’ ‘Wow!’ and ‘Hmm… Yes!’ reactions.

3: Make a Plan

Create a plan to make all of the above happen, most especially, how to cause customers and clients to respond with:’Whoa!’ ‘Wow!’ and ‘Hmm… Yes!’

To do that make your products and services deliver on the best user experience which includes the following qualities:

  • Relevant in the future – This won’t be easy, but it will be necessary. It’s hard to satisfy what a customer wants and will want versus building irrelevant products and services that are obsolete by the time you build and sell them.
  • Simple – The world makes everyone feel stupid outside what they know. And it’s getting worse. The more people reach outside what they know, the more those outside products and services need to be simplified to use. In fact, many great services in IT and cybersecurity are avoided because they are too complex to implement.
  • Reliable – People also don’t like getting frustrated when something doesn’t work. In fact, their initial reaction is to almost become panicky before they yell back at the product or services company that sold them on something that breaks down.
  • Convenient –The world is becoming more impatient and people want products and services to be available on demand (Amazon Prime anyone?) Therefore, don’t make anything that’s inconvenient. People are just too impatient to tolerate that.
  • Fun – Whatever you build, make sure it puts a smile on people’s faces and is enjoyable. People may tolerate it if it isn’t, but they’ll run to your competition if they provide more of an enjoyable experience than your products and services.
  • Beautiful – If fun puts a smile on people’s faces, beautiful and elegant takes their breath away as they experience awe. Awe is a much more lasting experience than “Gee, how neat!”
  • Socially Redeeming – The upcoming generations are really committed to making the world a better place. Make sure you don’t hurt the world. The world doesn’t need your help to be more dangerous, scary and disappointing than it already is.

4: Assign Tasks

Words like “roles” and “responsibilities” are often too abstract to many of your people who are literal. Everyone understands the word “tasks.” Therefore, figure out what tasks are needed to be done to accomplish the plan above.

5: Allocate Skills and Resources

After you come up with those tasks, determine the skills and resources that would be needed to accomplish them. This may mean needing to move people around who had different “titles” because they had the skills to accomplish the tasks in some other part of the company.

6: Make the Right Casting Moves

Identify, hire and place people with the skills, ability to access resources and a track record of successfully doing both to perform the tasks above. This includes discovering someone in one department with amazing skills that weren’t being used and moving them to another department to make the most of their potential value to the company. This is usually under the auspices of talent recruitment and development.

7:  Follow Through and Follow Up

Focus and remaining focused is the single key element in accomplishing anything significant. By the way, “follow through” and “follow up” are much better “employee experience” words than “accountability” which immediately puts most people on the defensive.

8: Keep Up the Motivation

Create an environment that is clean, convenient, filled with great food, etc. Keep employees motivated by having them feel pride, enthusiasm and passion for the companies’ products and services.

  • Pride is associated with creating exceedingly high-quality products – that have the “Whoa! Wow! Hmmm… Yes!” and the seven aspects of great user experience listed above.
  • Enthusiasm is associated with execution. If you have great ideas but can’t get anything accomplished, people feel frustrated and become demotivated.
  • Passion is about being part of disruptive innovation and being along for a journey into the future. Being part of the future can make up for a lot of sacrifices people make. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos know exactly what that is about.

9: Initiate a Review

This goes back to maintaining focus. Institute regular, productive and non-time wasting meetings to stay on top of steps 1 – 8 above.

10: Create a “Go To” Crisis Team

Realize that even with the best practices, crises are unavoidable. To not have a group of key “go to” people at the ready to pull together can cause waves of anxiety and “sky is falling” panic to set in. Have people you can always go to when a crisis hits.

If a company is running like a well-programmed piece of software and is following the above 10 steps in this proven formula, why does a human CEO need to constantly espouse them?

Photo – Shutterstock

Establish relationships outside the company that can lead to investment, strategic partnering or even mergers or acquisitions.

So you may be convinced that a human CEO isn’t necessary to articulate a vision of success or create a strategy to achieve it. But you may be thinking that human relationships with other CEOs, financial types and influencers will save that CEO’s job.

Are you so sure of that?

Once your products and services become known for solving unsolvable problems or providing customers and clients with irresistible “gotta have it” experiences that meet all the user experiences outlined above, those relations may develop on their own. Why can’t a chatbot negotiate a big deal with another chatbot while everyone else has lunch?

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It may be true that human relationships may be the last to succumb to technological disruption and structural unemployment, but if this component can be automated, so can the big boss.

The point of this article is to bring CEOs back down to earth if stories about automation and AI are causing them to ponder a future of a fully-automated workforce. If they don’t like the feeling of being replaceable, then they shouldn’t be so sanguine about their employees facing a similar fate.

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Dr. Mark Goulston is an award-winning business psychiatrist, consultant for Fortune 500 companies and the best-selling author of seven books. His latest, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with Irrational and Irresponsible People in your Life can be found on Amazon. Catch up on Dr. Goulston’s previous articles here.

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