Innovate with AI or Stagnate and Die:

Embracing the New Strategic Imperative

By Rowan Gibson  

In February 2023, Time magazine enthusiastically announced that Generative AI (the best-known example today being ChatGPT) represented «the most significant technological breakthrough since Social Media.» Looking back on it now, this may have been one of the greatest understatements in history. By May, just three months later, a Time cover article was already asking if AI might signal the end of humanity. 

Artificial Intelligence is not a new concept. Enterprises across various industries have harnessed its formidable power in various ways for years, primarily for applications such as:

  • Data mining
  • Analytics
  • Customer service
  • Recommendation algorithms
  • Business process automation
  • Supply chain optimization
  • Fraud detection
  • Natural Language Processing (think Amazon Alexa or Apple Siri)

What is genuinely new, however, is the explosive growth in the mainstream use of Generative AI. Sophisticated algorithms, like ChatGPT, can create novel content, including text, images, audio, or other forms of data, often without explicit human programming. While AI was previously deployed to automate repetitive, predetermined processes, it can now be used in powerful ways to automate creative processes, producing original, human-like content of astonishingly high quality. This is the real game-changer. 

Enterprises that promptly and effectively leverage this rapidly evolving technology will possess a potent catalyst for creating new value and building competitive advantage. Those that do not will quickly find themselves falling behind. Thus, the new strategic business imperative is to rapidly discover and deploy the most effective ways to innovate with AI.

What does it mean to innovate with AI?

There are three broad ways in which companies can innovate with AI, particularly with Generative AI:

  • AI integration

The first way is to integrate AI or Generative AI functionality into the company’s current offerings and across other parts of its existing business model. Examples include Microsoft’s early integration of ChatGPT into its Bing search engine and its 365 apps in the form of Copilot for Windows, or Google’s embedding of AI technology into its own products, including Search and Gmail. There are already dozens of APIs openly available to facilitate this type of AI integration across your own business model. 

  • AI-centricity

A second important way to innovate with Artificial Intelligence is by creating entirely new kinds of offerings and business models that are completely AI-centric, meaning that AI technology forms their core foundation. 

Examples include apps like MidJourney, Synthesia, and StarryAI for image creation, Luma AI for 3D rendering, Seeing AI for assisting the visually impaired, Replika AI for creating tailor-made AI friends, or Wombo AI, which transforms users’ photos into animated pop singers. Consider what kinds of new products, services, or businesses you could develop, either individually or as part of a team, by using AI as the central starting point to address unmet market needs.

  • An AI-powered innovation process

The third method of innovating with AI is to embed Artificial Intelligence into the organization’s innovation process itself. This entails harnessing the power of AI to significantly enhance the way the company actually innovates. Innovation is inherently a creative process, requiring flashes of insight, inventive thinking, and the ability to spot opportunities that others may have overlooked or ignored. 

For the first time in business history, companies can supercharge this creative thinking process with AI technology, with the express purpose of generating bigger and better ideas. This isn’t just about saving time, money and effort, and it’s certainly not about replacing humans with ‘artificial innovators’; it’s about augmenting the brainpower of a company’s workforce with a tool that can dramatically enhance their ability to innovate.

Harnessing 'Innovation Intelligence'

In essence, every company’s innovation process involves six key sequential steps: 

  1. Capturing insights
  2. Generating new ideas based on those insights
  3. Aligning ideas into a strategic portfolio
  4. Properly evaluating each idea
  5. Allocating resources to the most promising opportunities
  6. Executing ideas from prototyping through development to launch and scale-up

Now, imagine applying the power of AI to each of these six key steps. This is a concept that I refer to as ‘Innovation Intelligence.’

All innovation begins with insights. These are the fundamental building blocks for big ideas – the raw material out of which every innovative opportunity is built. At this initial stage of the innovation process, AI can serve as a powerful tool to help generate, capture, explore, and share a broad portfolio of novel strategic insights across the entire company. These insights can originate from both inside and outside the organization, contributing to a comprehensive central repository of ‘Innovation Intelligence,’ which, in aggregate, becomes proprietary to the company.

The next step in the process is to join the dots between these insights to inspire new ideas. This is exactly how the human creative process works. However, AI possesses the capability to rapidly connect far more dots than our brains can, which means it can effectively assist humans in generating new ideas based on vast datasets, or multiple datasets. This represents the true and revolutionary potential of ‘Innovation Intelligence’, the AI-enabled capacity to generate original, high-quality ideas inspired by a proprietary knowledge base, differentiating a company’s strategy in a way that builds competitive advantage. It forms the foundation of my own AI-enabled enterprise innovation platform called Zatory – an advanced software tool for capturing and managing strategic insights and then using them to inspire big ideas.

Artificial Intelligence can also clearly assist with the remaining four steps in the innovation process: 

  1. Strategic alignment of the idea portfolio
  2. Effective evaluation of ideas
  3. Efficient resource allocation
  4. Development of promising opportunities

But it is at the very front end of innovation, in the process of generating and managing insights and ideas, that the power of Artificial Intelligence can be applied in unprecedented ways to augment the brainpower of the organization. It will not – and should not – replace human creativity but will serve as a tool to enhance our own inventive capabilities.

An exciting new era of AI-powered innovation

This is the next threshold for innovation, an entirely new use case for AI that I believe will ultimately make the difference between those companies that thrive in the future and those that do not. By harnessing AI to elevate our ability to generate insights and inspire creative ideas, we are entering uncharted territory in the realm of innovation. AI’s role is not to supplant human ingenuity but to act as a catalyst, a force multiplier that enables us to explore, connect, and conceive ideas at a scale and speed previously unimaginable. The Economist magazine recently observed that in this way AI ‘could help humanity solve some of it biggest and thorniest problems… by radically accelerating the pace of scientific discovery, especially in areas such as medicine, climate science and green technology.’

As we stand on the precipice of this new era of innovation powered by AI, the imperative is clear: innovate with AI or risk stagnation and decline. If your company embraces the potential of AI as a partner in the creative process, you will be far better equipped to navigate the rapidly evolving global landscape of business and technology. The companies that seize this opportunity to integrate, innovate, and enhance their human potential with AI will be the ones that shape the future and continue to thrive in an ever-changing world.

Rowan Gibson

Rowan Gibson is one of the world’s most respected authorities on strategic innovation and organizational transformation. He is the internationally bestselling author of several influential books, and a sought-after keynote speaker and innovation consultant. He is best known for his groundbreaking work in the field of innovation management, particularly the development of the ‘Four Lenses of Innovation’ framework. With a career spanning several decades, Rowan has made significant contributions to helping organizations foster a culture of innovation and drive meaningful change.