The Danger of the Fake Future

I am fortunate to be in a position in which I have copious opportunities to work with business and technology leaders to help them identify and capitalize on emerging growth opportunities in this Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is amazing to observe and understand the ways in which C-level executives think about and wish to prioritize artificial intelligence (AI), bots, and algorithms for their businesses. My favorite question to these professionals is: “Tell me your digital vision in one sentence?” At times, thankfully not often, they tell me that their mission is to become like Google or Uber of their industry. My biggest worry is that they are increasingly falling into the trap of pursuing the fake future, and the irony here is that the most ignorant leaders are generally those who are most sure of themselves. Pride comes before a fall.

Of course, one could argue: what’s wrong with aspiring to be like the FANG foursome (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google), or the technology company unicorns (Airbnb, Dropbox, and others)? After all, they are today’s digital masters, and we look to these players with the respect that is owed to them. Well, nothing wrong with that. The problem is that not only does this approach not work, in several cases it has been shown to be highly counterproductive. These firms come from different industries than those that seek to ape them, and have different start and end points; they have their sights set on different horizons, and it should not be forgotten that they built their digital businesses from the ground up, with the aim of creating a purely digital company.

My colleagues, Malcolm Frank, Paul Roehrig, and Ben Pring, of the Center for the Future of Work, recently launched their new book, What to Do when Machines Do Everything, in which they refer to this mimicking behavior as “the FANG Trap.” They argue for a large organization that attempts to imitate Uber is actually a misguided belief and oftentimes a dangerous one. The chances are good that such an endeavor will destroy more business value than it creates, at the cost of time, money, and personal reputation, all in an attempt to become “the Amazon of our space.”

There is no doubt that you need to transition from being an industrial leader to commanding as a digital/industrial hybrid organization. However, your starting point is different; you have an industrial-era installed base of existing processes, products, and culture. Probably more importantly, your end goal is different. Your challenges are different from those of a digital middleman such as Airbnb or a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter. In addition, the FANG vendors have a strong corporate culture that trusts deeply in data. However, in large companies, there are many different models for decision-making, and often the culture is driven by a chosen few at the top of the tree.

There are certainly some important lessons to be learned from the FANG vendors in terms of providing an elegant digital experience, mastering the art of monetizing consumer data, and harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and algorithms. You are not playing their game, but you can certainly absorb some pointers to find your true direction. It is important to ask yourself (and your team): what does AI mean to our customers? What is the opportunity and what are we doing about it? And most interestingly, what does it mean for our industry?

There are rules to be followed if one wants to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution; the problem is, nobody knows what they are. Luckily, our new book offers a framework, termed “The AHEAD Model,” which acts as a field guide by which you can survive and thrive in the Digital Economy. There is no one approach to becoming “truly digital” in a corporate environment. There are, in fact five – Automation, Halo, Enhancement, Abundance, and Discovery, which are explained in the book thoroughly, together with examples relevant to your industry. Get your copy today, as tomorrow waits for no one!