When we want to reflect beyond any level of reality, we move into its meta phase as in meta-physical or meta-cognition.  With either example, when we reflect more deeply on the meaning of an activity or reality such as metacognition, we reflect on the process of knowing how we know or in physics as what is beyond the laws of physics.  The human mind is forever seeking to transcend itself in the meta-process of deeper and fuller understanding of what it already knows.  “Meta” is what the curious mind is constantly doing.

Marco Iansiti and Karim R. Lakhani’s 2020 book[1], Competing in the Age of AI, Strategy and Leadership When Algorithms and Networks Run the World, positions AI today in its meta phase and calls for AI management to undertake the meta-process of wisdom to deal with the exploding speed of AI’s horizontal collision of digital power with our traditional structures.

The authors’ book describes AI’s development over its first eight chapters, setting the stage for the need to understand AI’s meta phase.  They refer to the warp speed progress of AI as the collision of digital force with traditional firms triggered by the Coronavirus Covid-19.  What the world thought would take decades to morph, Covid-19 exploded into exponential growth.  A siloed organization like Mass General Hospital collapsed its silos into digital units “to rapidly build a centralized information-processing organization that could ingest data from any number of sources … to handle the Covid-19 surge” (p. xvi).  Mass General became a horizontal structure over night; work changed dramatically. “During the two weeks between March 14 and March 30, 2020, the United States may have experienced more digital transformation than it has witnessed during the previous ten years” (p. xv).  The age of AI is here, compelling businesses to urgently digitize to survive.

However, “without an enlightened leadership, the best data, analytics, or algorithms will not lead to wisdom” (p. xxvi). “In this new age of AI, many time-honored assumptions about strategy and leadership no longer apply” (p. 5). “The emergence of digital operating models is framing a mandate for leaders in both new and old firms.  We need to better understand how to manage, transform, grow, and control our businesses in an era of virtually unbounded potential impact” (p. 17).  Managers and leaders of modern AI-powered transformation will need to understand it, own it, and shape it with the wisdom that is required for managing this new age of AI.

This doesn’t mean that New Age AI leaders must be data scientists or analysts; rather our new leaders need to know how to bridge the transformations that happen with the digital impact of new technology so that the human side of the process receives the education, mentoring, and support to interact with new operating models.  These are the soft skills and issues of management and leadership.

Take away: The Meta Phase of advancing Artificial Intelligence requires the growth of leaders who possess a new wisdom to manage the collision of digital expansion with aging assumptions, biases, and traditions.  It’s a whole, “new ball game with new rules.”

[1] Iansiti, Marco and Kahhani, Karim; (2020). Competing in the Age of AI, Strategy and Leadership When Algorithms and Networks Run the World, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, MA.