How Generative AI Supercharges the Six Key Corporate Innovation Skills

By Alex Slawsby |  December 14, 2023

Innovation leaders are already using Generative AI-based tools to support everything from the development of growth strategy to the creation of new products and services to the shaping of corporate culture. They’re even using these tools to help sell new growth initiatives to key stakeholders.

Alex Slawsby, Chief Growth Officer, InnoLead

Generative AI-based tools are proving useful across these applications because their capabilities align well with some of the most important skills that innovators must develop and deploy. Let’s start with five and, with a particular nod to corporate innovators, add a sixth.

In 2009, Clayton Christensen, Hal Gregersen and Jeff Dyer wrote “The Innovator’s DNA” in Harvard Business Review, and followed it up by publishing a book of the same name in 2011.

The Innovator’s DNA describes five skills that consistently successful innovators use:

  • Asking the right questions (Questioning)
  • Thoughtfully observing the world around them (Observing)
  • Networking with others to see the world through different lenses (Networking)
  • Learning through experimentation (Experimenting)
  • Making associations across a wide range of inputs (Associating).

Generative AI-based tools can be deployed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of each of these skills:

  • Suggesting (new and/or tough) questions that challenge the status quo
  • Analyzing visual content to observe information that humans cannot
  • Identifying new connections across disparate data sets and communities that lead to the creation of new relationships and building of new networks
  • Conducting virtual experiments drawing from a wide range of public and private data that generate new data that can be woven into the above and into further experiments
  • Generating novel insights through association at a scale and scope beyond human capability.

When it comes to corporate innovation, however, there’s a sixth skill that’s absolutely crucial – managing change.

Different key stakeholders respond to different sales pitches. For example, some need to see data; some need to be moved emotionally; and some need to understand ‘what’s in it for me?’ personally.

Organizations exist to perpetuate themselves. And the leaders at the top of successful organizations are often in power because they created the status quo. So those within the organization seeking to succeed as change agents frequently need to win over those who might stand to lose more than they stand to gain. When you get down to it, this is a sales process. And different key stakeholders respond to different sales pitches. For example, some need to see data; some need to be moved emotionally; and some need to understand “what’s in it for me?” personally.

Generative AI-based tools can help here as well. They can analyze vast amounts of data and run a wide range of scenarios to identify argument-supporting patterns. They can build presentations designed specifically for different audiences. And they can even analyze stakeholder feedback and then leverage those insights to revise and enhance those presentations.

So, it will quickly become table stakes to deploy Generative AI-based tools to force-multiply the core Innovator’s DNA skills listed above. But what’s more impressive is that such tools can also be used to help innovation leaders navigate the thicket of internal stakeholder politics and personalities that frequently derail promising initiatives — that important sixth skill, managing change. See an experiment below.

And, if you’ve not started experimenting broadly here already, it’s time to start.

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An Experiment in Using ChatGPT to Work with Key Stakeholders

1. I uploaded to ChatGPT a sample organizational chart (see above) that I found online – in this case, the 2018 – 2019 Des Moines Public School system organization chart.

2. I shared with ChatGPT that I am the Technology Director (near the bottom of the first branch) and that I believe our system should be doing more with Generative AI. I then asked who might be the key stakeholders I should engage in this discussion.

3. ChatGPT identified the individuals in the chart and suggested many at the top of the chart. I followed up by asking how I could figure out how to interest the Chief Operations Officer.

4. ChatGPT responded by suggesting many things that I could do, including:

• Access the COO’s reports or meeting minutes (if possible) to understand what might be important to them

• Have conversations with the COO’s direct reports to understand what matters to them and also have them suggest what matters to the COO

• Analyze the operational processes to identify applications that Generative AI could optimize.

5. I then asked ChatGPT to identify stakeholders who might react most negatively. ChatGPT responded by identifying several, including the “Employee Benefits Director” (who might be concerned about the implications of AI on staffing and privacy concerns), and the “Safety / Security Director” (who might be concerned about data security and the impact on student privacy and safety). ChatGPT also recommended that I do things like “Communicate Openly” and “Involve Them in the Planning Process” if I wanted to mitigate their potential negative reactions.

6. I then shared with ChatGPT the following observations from the Safety / Security Director’s office and I asked ChatGPT to help me further optimize my approach to winning his support:

• Pictures of his family behind his desk

• A certificate for completing an IT security training program on his wall

• A Machine Learning for Dummies book on his shelf

7. ChatGPT responded by sharing several recommendations including:

• Given his interest in self-education, as indicated by the Machine Learning for Dummies book, how he and his team could receive professional development training in Generative AI

• Building on his knowledge gained from his IT security course, discuss how Generative AI can be integrated with current IT security frameworks

• If appropriate, mention that Generative AI tools could help create a safer learning environment for students, which could resonate with his family-oriented mindset; emphasize the security of the students is akin to protecting one’s family

Alex Slawsby is Chief Growth Officer at InnoLead, and a former Director of Innovation at Embraer. He spent seven years as a team member at Innosight, the consulting firm founded by Clayton Christensen.