Artificial Intelligence - Walk the last mile to value with storytelling


This day and age, when enthusiasts of emerging technologies are jumping up and down about the promise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) claiming its time has finally come, a better narrative needs to emerge from lessons learned from the past. But, other than the early adopters, who are visionaries and technology enthusiasts themselves, businesses don’t seem to be adopting it in droves as one would think it should. What gives? Critics are screaming that AI is all hype with no substance once again. Mind you, this is the 3rd time that the excitement and enthusiasm for AI is raising its head again through an 80 year span - first in the 60’s, second in the 80’s and then, now. Once again they all claim that this time it is for real and that the stars are all lined up right.

Technocrats are certain that with the advent of Big-data, increased processing power, huge storage capacity and exponential growth of connectivity, the game has changed. The enthusiasts and visionaries for the technology are burning up the social media platform with content showing projections, technical solutions that are feasible, use-cases, and testimonials of early-adopters of AI, and the like. However, still not any mention-able traction with businesses across other industries beyond technology. Why?

Let’s start with an anecdote:

On March 22nd, 2017, Daniel Sandford, a Home Affairs Correspondent, at BBC News posted a tweet on Twitter with a GIF clip (see it on Twitter Handle below) that reads the transcript of the 4 year old boy’s 999 call. This 4-year-old boy saved his Mum’s life said police. An ambulance got to her within 13 minutes and she recovered. “Siri” dialed 999 for him. As of March 29th, this tweet garnered 347 likes, 376 retweets and 12 replies.

Twitter handle for Daniel Sandford‏ Verified account @BBCDanielS Mar 22

This is a story that emotionally connects. You have a personal and emotional connection with the audience after delivering this anecdote. Everyone in the audience can relate to this story. If you were getting them to commit to “Siri” as the AI-based solution for their problem, the game is over. You are the winner! Not so fast.

Where is the value from AI?

Digital technology is all around us now and we are only starting to the see the beginnings of how digital transformation is disrupting industries everywhere. Digital is changing the very premise by which a business creates, delivers and captures value, leave alone re-imagining of their offerings and rethinking of the entire value chain. Now one would want to believe that AI is going to be significant player, along with all the other emerging technologies in the pipeline like – Internet of Things (IoT), Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), Big Data, Advanced Analytics, 3D Printing, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Robots, etc., all trying to gain traction with the digital transformation bandwagon. But is their real business value in any of it?

With the experience of the past few decades behind us, we have learned that technology adoption goes through various stages, captured well by Geoffrey Moore in his popular book “Crossing the Chasm.” See graphic below. The early adopters of a technology are technology enthusiasts and visionaries, who implement technology for technology sake and are gung-ho about their implementation of a solution with it. However, before getting through to the early majority of adopters, the technology has to cross the wide chasm and land on some beachhead business adoptions that will demonstrate significant business value. That is where AI is now on the technology adoption cycle, in the chasm. It has been there for over 8 decades now. During the last 2 times of enthusiasm shown for AI, they failed to cross the chasm and everybody went back to the drawing board accepting the fact that AI had not arrived for prime time yet. So would it be different this time?

AI adoption by “early majority” of adopters

Why is it that technology company’s who have AI solutions (or other emerging technology solutions) not able to sell their offerings and gain traction for it with businesses, when the early adopters or visionaries can claim they so readily did. Because the buyers in the “early majority” stage of the technology adoption are a different kind of animal all together. They are pragmatists and keep asking the same question – where is my business value? No, not what are the use-cases or what do the early adopters (visionaries, technology enthusiasts) say about it. But, how can your technology solution bring me value for my business in my industry while solving my greatest problems?

This is where technology solution companies and technology enthusiasts everywhere miss the boat. IBM has advertisements that talk about Watson helping out doctors, teachers, scientists, etc. So, do other companies who have AI solutions that they are trying to sell. But the challenge is that the businesses in the early majority stage don’t care about any of that. They want to know - what does it all mean to my business in terms of business value, not just what novel or cool things the technology can do. They want a complete solution with convenience of use that includes the entire exceptional experience journey, not just the products and its novelty. It is very clear that in this day and age, where businesses are challenged with “disrupt or be disrupted,” they are looking for any advantage they can get through innovation, but they are cautious and pragmatic in their approach while looking for references from peers in their industry, not visionaries in the technology industry.

So what do technology companies do to gain traction with their emerging technology solution?

First of all, the technology companies need to realize that they should change their approach significantly from how they got traction with the early adopters of their offerings. AI, currently is getting technology enthusiasts everywhere excited about the possibilities. Large companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are all working on incorporating into their offerings. They all are mostly technology businesses and they have vested interest in being gung-ho about AI. But businesses in other industries stay cautiously optimistic at best, when the technology companies with AI solution offerings continue to peddle their AI offerings very diligently to them.

Here is what these technology companies got to do. You have to identify one or two large companies that have very important job to be completed, with a lot at stake, with lot of pain in getting it done and are unsatisfied with the solutions they have for it so far. The sense of urgency within your client business to solve this job at hand should be high. These are the high value jobs that may be your key accounts where you have some credibility already. Geoffrey Moore calls them the “beach-head accounts.” Bring together some of your best partners from your client company that is facing the problem, and put your best technology experts to co-create, may be a “hackothon” on your dime, some very customized and exciting solutions for their business problem. Having the empathy for the client’s business problem is critical here. Your commitment, energy and passion to the solve the problem should be palpable.

Joint customized value-proposition design

Assuming that we have a high-value job to be done with the business, the next step would be to craft that ideal value proposition based on mutually crafted AI-based solution for the target customer. In a B2B relationship continuum, you should not just be a commodity supplier, or even a reliable supplier, but a problem solver, or trusted advisor yearning to become a trusted partner to your client. So, not only would you be addressing the defined set of issues, or be specialized in scope, or be an innovator, but you should be readily available to help think through other issues, design overarching plans with inter-dependency, even go as far as sharing costs and risks with long-term commitment with them. The goal is to be able to gain an exceptional overall client satisfaction rating from them, willing to recommend your business and continue bringing you in on other engagements.

The joint working sessions with the client where you brainstorm every aspect of the job at hand will have to use agile principles for speed and innovation. To clearly articulate the value proposition for the client, you need to have a good understanding of the customer’s job, their extreme pains and what are the gains that matter most to them. Step into the customer’s shoes and visualize the job and what really matters to them. Sometimes the emotional and social job is even more important than the visible functional job. Park your offerings to the side during this interaction. Make the job, its pains and gains tangible and clear to grasp for all the participants. This is your clients' profile.

Now create the value map of what you would propose as a solution for the client profile. It is essential to acknowledge that your AI offerings may not have direct relevance to your clients' situation. So map the relevance your AI component on a scale from essential ingredient to nice-to-have. If you are finding that your client is hovering around considering your AI solution to be a nice-to-have, then you will only have another technology enthusiast with whom you may not be able to convert the opportunity into the beach-head account your seek. You have to map explicitly how your AI solution is going to create value for your client with the solution set that is aligned clearly to the client profile. Outline how your AI solution address the complete job at hand and how it will relieve the pain the client has by eliminating the undesired outcomes, obstacles or risks. Outline how your AI solution will provide additional desired outcomes and benefits for the client. Rank all of these jobs, pains and gains in order of importance.

Attain the fit between your solution and your customer’s need

Getting to the optimum fit is extremely critical for your success with the client. You achieve this fit when your client is excited about your AI solution for their very important job, while alleviating their extreme pains, and also create essential gains they are seeking and they care about. It is going to be difficult to attain the optimum fit, but is absolutely critical to get there. You clients are going to be the judge, the jury and the executioner of what you have to offer with your AI solution for them. They will be merciless if they do not find the right fit at this stage.

Another, aspect you got to consider here is the ability of your business to deliver that AI-based value proposition around the solution that you crafted for the client. It needs to be validated that your business hypothesis is going to work. Do you have the right resources, activities, partnerships at the back-end, right cost model and right revenue model to make the solution you crafted work seamlessly for the client? Prioritize your hypothesis with various alternative solutions, design and run tests, capture learning’s, and zero-in on the optimum model to deliver value for the client while capturing value for your business. To create value for your own business, you need to create value for your client. To sustainably create value for your client, you need to create value for your business. It is as simple as that.

We have crafted the optimum AI-based solution for the client and established “desirability.” They definitely like our solution and want it. Now, ask yourself if you can build it, with the right partnerships, activities, resources and check for “feasibility.” Finally do the sanity check for “viability.” Does your cost model and revenue model make it a profitable proposition. And you have arrived at the moment of truth.

And here comes storytelling to the rescue. You have the right fit between the client’s burning platform and your customized AI-based solution. It is time for your findings and recommendations presented to the stakeholders with decision-rights at your key account. You cannot afford to have a bunch of slides with graphs and numbers that falls flat on the audience here. You will need to connect with them at an emotional level and give them a compelling narrative of your solution that has no other substitute. You have to move them so that they make the emotional commitment to your solution and act on it in your favor.

Exquisite storytelling – the last mile to value

As you open with your presentation, how can you draw the audience in emotionally and then keep them engaged with your plot, characters, the story world, messages (dialogues), scenes, climax, and resolution? This is what the craft of storytelling enables you to do. Set up a hook at the start which would be a promise to your audience that what they are about to experience is going to be worth their while.

We could start your presentation with the anecdote we heard from the BBC News Correspondent at the beginning of this post. That could be hook to emotionally connect with them and get them invested with your story.

You have your specific, customized AI-based solution you jointly crafted for your client. You have their emotional connection and attention now. What comes next in your presentation should be your compelling narrative of your story about your solution to their problem. You literally would have to put together a plot with storyboard that parallels that of a movie, only that this would have slides for scenes. For sure, you don’t want your presentation to be 2 hours long. So, keep it brief with prudently picked slides. You will use a lot of subtext, very little text on the slide. Think Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone from Apple.

Decide which slides you will have in Act 1 to establish the setting with the inciting incident that catapults the protagonist into the Act 2. Try different paths. You might start with the client profile or your value proposition or vice-versa. It all depends on the story-line you decide to choose with the extensive knowledge you have of your client. You will have all kinds of storytelling tactics at your disposal such as, sub-texts, reveals, setups/payoffs, goals, motivations, conflicts, obstacles, emotions, etc. that will come into play towards taking the audience on a transformation journey through the story. The idea is to make your story tangible and compelling enough with the presentation, so that the client commits with a buy-in of your AI-based solution.

Once you have that buy-in, you create and deliver your value proposition for your client, and in turn capture value for your business. Now you have a reference-able key account in that industry. Use it to get another peer from the same industry who might get interested in a similar AI solution. You now have two reference-able accounts. If done right, Geoffrey Moore says it can have a tornado effect with multiple accounts in an industry. This will peek the interest of other industries and soon the AI-based solutions will take hold across multiple industries, making them part of the early majority group on the technology adoption life-cycle of your AI offerings.

Conclusion

The story of your findings and recommendations presentation about the AI-based solution to your client, is the critical mile to value. It does not have to be complex or heavily laden with research or setting detail. It can have the simplest conflict, and still hold the audiences’ interest if they care enough. You can get them to care enough by using the storytelling craft. They must be able to root for the characters in the story. The emotional investment you garner from your audience must be powerful enough to carry them from the beginning to the end of the presentation, all the while making them care about the outcome. If the storytelling is done right, your AI solutions will take hold of the early majority of its adopters and your business would be in the forefront of that digital disruption along the digital transformation journey.

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