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Trick or Treat: Strategy in the Era of AI

“Trick or treat; smell my feet; give me something good to eat!”

This ‘classic’ Halloween mantra continues to make my kids giggle. Luckily they’ve learned that it’s not a line they can actually use to accrue candy. As we went house-by-house through our neighborhood – racking up more sugar than they’ll ever be allowed to eat – I counted how many times they said that line joking between themselves. I lost track after 50.

The Gawels Halloween 2023

In another #StrategyIRL moment, I thought about generative AI. If an AI program was asked ‘what’s the best strategy to get candy on Halloween?’ and had only my kids’ trick-or-treating conversation as its data source, the response would be highly misleading for a candy collection plan. We all know that AI relies on good data and successful strategies are founded on data-backed insights. So how can leaders use AI to ensure their growth strategy is a treat and not a trick?

Developing your company’s strategy relies on diverse external and internal inputs. Externally, data and insights on the market landscape, competitive positioning, socio-political and information regarding business performance, CAPEX, OPEX, backlog, and supply chain - for example - inform the timing, resourcing, and investment posture for strategic plans. With so much definable data, the opportunity to apply AI to develop a growth plan may at first seem plausible. I’d caution, however, that this is where you’re likely to end up ‘smelling feet.’

Knowing when and how to apply AI tools is critical to ensure your resulting strategy positions you for growth and not stagnation. Some rules of AI trick or treats for strategists include:

  • Understand when AI streamlines strategy inputs and when it derails – If looking to synthesize significant historical data quickly to validate generally held market understanding, AI tools are time saving treats. If looking to model a novel strategy for market entree or disruption, AI algorithms will likely trick you up. Even the most notable breakthroughs in predictive AI come from highly ‘trained’ algorithms that have been exposed already to numerous data sets. They are tools working against a hypothesis, not developing the hypothesis itself.

  • Scale AI tools cautiously to avoid damaging competitive positioning – If the security of the AI tools you’re using doesn’t align with the intellectual protection needed for the data you enter, you’ve (perhaps unknowingly) already been tricked. Publicly accessible AI tools such as ChatGPT don’t discern who else gets to benefit from the query information you share. If you’re looking to develop analyses specific to your company’s internal data, earn yourself a treat by doing the work yourself or with approved tools so as to protect your IP from the competition’s AI results.

  • Remember, it’s just a tool – AI tools offer both tricks and treats, but the people who make decisions ultimately enable its impact and value. Don’t trick yourself into believing just because you have a new tool it will address the people-centered challenges. Strategy success requires changed behavior through a realistic plan that includes new decision frameworks – and maybe some incentivized treats.

The key to developing a measurable strategy rests in the unique applicability of the plan’s potential to leadership commitment to embrace it. Ensuring that your strategy is developed with AI ‘treats’ rather than ‘tricks’ can bolster its support, adoption, and ultimate success.

NBG Strategy Consulting helps leaders avoid the spooky challenges of strategy development and implementation by unmasking the ghosts and goblins that can hold back any organization’s success.

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