Let’s be honest: FOMO and FUD drive companies to take action.
I will never forget an InnoLead breakfast we hosted in 2019, with 30 of our friends in Boston. When talking about what really causes companies to move fast and invest in forward-leaning projects, one dynamic rose to the top: the CEO reads a Wall Street Journal article about a competitor that is already launching something.
It gives them serious FOMO.
And a lot of other things generate FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) in the C-suite, spurring them to shift from “listening and learning” mode into “let’s do something” mode.
Over the decade from roughly November 2013 to November 2022, unicorn startups created a lot of FOMO and FUD inside Global 1000 companies. Uber, Lyft, Cruise, and Tesla were going to change how we got around, threatening the dominance of carmakers. Stripe and a zillion crypto startups were going to change how banking and payments worked. Airbnb was going to disrupt hotels, and WeWork commercial landlords.
A lot of consultants, gurus, and keynote speakers — myself included — pointed to these unicorn companies, how much capital they were raising, and how fast they were growing (forget profits), and branded them a serious threat to the incumbents in every industry. I confess that I had a slide that posed this question to audiences: if startups like Hyperloop One succeed, what does that mean for established players in short-haul transportation like Amtrak, Greyhound, and Southwest Airlines? (Hyperloop One, also known as Virgin Hyperloop, croaked in December 2023.)
But venture capital funding for startups began to crater in 2022, and some of the companies started to run into real-world potholes. The autonomous driving startup Cruise, acquired by GM in 2016, the heart of the “fear the unicorns” era, is a prime example, as is WeWork, which probably generated more profits from Hulu and Apple TV documentaries chronicling its downfall than as a real estate business.)
And all through 2022 and 2023, economists, CEOs, and boards continually discussed a recession that was just around the corner — but never seemed to materialize.
The FUD and FOMO that spawned hundreds of innovation labs, Chief Digital Officer and Chief Innovation Officer roles, and scouting outposts in Silicon Valley and Boston probably was already pretty much played out by November 2022, the month that OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT.
The FUD and FOMO that spawned hundreds of innovation labs, Chief Digital Officer and Chief Innovation Officer roles, and scouting outposts in Silicon Valley and Boston probably was already pretty much played out by November 2022, the month that OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT. We certainly saw a lot of those jobs and places start to vanish — a trend that unfortunately has continued into 2024.
We’re now in the era of AI FUD and FOMO. It was sparked by ChatGPT and some of the other generative AI services that followed. But for smart companies, this era will also be about leveraging all kinds of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation.
If you work on an innovation, product development, R&D, or digital team in a large company, or you consult to large companies, you may be thinking, “Sure, AI is buzzy now. But it’s one of many things that should be in our portfolio.” Or, “Maybe this is just the trend du jour, and companies will get distracted by something shiny and new, like quantum, or the Apple VisionPro.”
I don’t think so. We are in for a good stretch of time — a decade is a good guess — when companies will be worried that they are insufficiently intelligent about artificial intelligence. And they’ll be hunting for ways to build competitive advantage.
They’ll be asking:
• Do we have the right people to make this transition successful?
• Are we focused on the highest-value use cases?
• How do we balance opportunities with risks?
• Are we moving fast enough relative to our competitors?
• How do we whip our data into shape?
• What tools and infrastructure do we need?
• What impact will this have on our people and our processes?
• What kind of organization do we want to be on the “other side” of this? What’s our vision?
If you’re a leader or team member (or an outside consultant) involved with helping to answer those questions, you’re in a good place.
If you’re part of a ‘general purpose’ innovation group that is getting boxed out of those discussions, I would be sweating.
If you’re part of a “general purpose” innovation group that is getting boxed out of those discussions, I would be sweating. Same for consultants offering “general purpose” innovation advice and support that does not plug into the AI transition.
Obviously, companies will still need new products, new packages, new ingredients, and new service offerings to grow — but even if you’re working on those things, it’d be wise to be an enthusiastic embracer of new AI tools that can help you level up your outcomes.
“Fear of the unicorn” is over. We are now in an era where companies fear — and should fear — being insufficiently intelligent about AI.