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Imagination deficit: Generative AI’s impact on organizations

The phenomenon that is Artificial intelligence (AI), with its considerable promise and potential, gained prominence in 2023.

With 90% of chief financial officers (CFOs) projecting higher AI budgets in 2024, according to a recent survey by Gartner, Inc., and 71% of surveyed CFOs planning to boost spending on AI by 10% or more compared to last year, more corporations worldwide are likely to adopt AI by default this year.

While the integration of AI into business functions and operations offers significant benefits, ranging from improved cash flow forecasting and decision making to enhanced productivity and risk identification, the potential upheaval brought by generative AI might be advancing faster than the capacity of many organizations and their employees to envision new approaches to work that effectively harness the combined strengths of humans and technology.

Deloitte’s 2024 Global Human Capital Trends report underscores this challenge, revealing that “73% of respondents say it is important to ensure that the human capabilities in the organization keep pace with technological innovation, but just 9% say they are making progress toward achieving that balance. Consequently, many organizations may find themselves with an imagination deficit.”

The 2024 Global Human Capital Trends survey by Deloitte polled 14,000 business and human resources leaders representing diverse industries and sectors in 95 countries. The survey explores the steps needed to help organizations create a future full of possibility and hope amidst the uncertainty of a boundaryless, and lightning-fast world of advancing technology and AI.

Four signs that your organization may be encountering an imagination deficit

According to the Deloitte survey, there are four indicators that your enterprise might be experiencing a paucity of imagination. These are:

  • Your workers, managers, executives and board members recognize the need to reimagine work in the age of generative AI but are unsure about where to begin.
  • Your hiring managers are underlining the significance of soft skills in prospective candidates, seeking human capabilities such as divergent thinking, collaboration, and social intelligence.
  • Your company is increasingly leaning towards hiring or acquisitions to inject fresh thinking and new ideas.
  • Your firm is witnessing a noticeable decrease in entry-level job openings within its ecosystem.

Addressing the imagination deficit is imperative, because “AI cannot replicate the curiosity and empathy that fuel imagination and lead to creative invention. This involves the drive to explore, to craft narratives, and to team—work that requires thinking like a researcher and asking the right questions as much as delivering on preprogrammed objectives”, as per the survey report.

The key differentiating factor between generative AI and human intelligence is the imaginative capabilities of humans. Going forward, it is unlikely that AI will truly or fully replicate the depth and breadth of human imagination. Thus, harnessing human capabilities to foster imagination becomes paramount. To do so, corporations must strive to cultivate, operationalize, and amplify key human capabilities, as highlighted by the Deloitte survey. These are:

  • Curiosity and empathy

Prioritizing human capabilities, notably curiosity and empathy, can empower organizations and their employees in replenishing the deficit of imagination, the Deloitte report suggests.

In an era of finance AI, empathy stands as one of the core pillars of human leadership that finance leaders will need to demonstrate, as stated by Gartner last year. Gartner defines “Empathetic leadership as moving beyond the articulation of a kindness, into taking the time to cultivate a deliberate understanding of the motivations and experiences of someone else, while leaving their own biases behind.”

Another crucial aspect of nurturing human imagination within organizations is nurturing a spirit of curiosity. This involves creating a culture or ecosystem of continual learning and development that encourages questioning and explores possibilities, thereby helping to differentiate from competitors. According to the Deloitte survey, curiosity can thus “Improve communication, team performance, and innovation while reducing conflict and decision-making errors.”

  • Informed agility

As outlined in the Deloitte survey, informed agility is described as “The ability to continuously accumulate, filter, and integrate information, and pivot quickly to address new needs or environments.”

Incorporating informed agility to enhance human capabilities helps deliver insights that support decision making, change management, and reskilling initiatives.

  • Resilience

In a world powered by generative AI, business leaders, finance chiefs and corporate treasurers will need to strengthen human capabilities by building resilient companies that exhibit the resolve to persevere through rapid change and challenging conditions, and to recover from difficult situations.

Furthermore, the Deloitte survey suggests that “Resilience can be aided by taking stock of support mechanisms and pausing during and after action to identify what is and isn’t working.”

  • Connected teaming

Connected teaming involves collaborating effectively across geographic, organizational, and other boundaries to tap into and harness the power of collective human intelligence in your organization.

Connected teaming, which includes collaborations between humans and machines, according to Deloitte, is a way of working that “Builds empathy and allows teams to tap into the strengths and motivations of various teammates.”

  • Divergent thinking

Divergent thinking, as defined by Deloitte, is “The ability to think differently; specifically, to look laterally, find commonality in seemingly different things, and generate new ideas through synthesis.” This way of thinking pushes the limits of employees’ imagination and propels organizational performance.

Divergent thinking is particularly effective when an increased openness to ideas and perspectives can advance innovation, creativity, and inclusivity.

  • Social and emotional intelligence

Social and emotional intelligence can have a profoundly positive impact on the workplace.

“The ability to recognize, regulate, and express emotions while interacting with others in an empathetic and morally grounded manner”, the Deloitte survey report refers to is not something generative AI can easily replicate.

In an AI-driven future world, social and emotional intelligence will likely remain the distinctive human advantage that enriches growth, leadership, decision making, and interactions.

To conclude, with generative AI expected to permeate virtually every business and industry in 2024 and beyond, it is poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the corporate world.

As AI becomes more deeply embedded into multinational companies operations, the role of human imagination becomes increasingly crucial.  

“To harness the extraordinary potential of this moment, organizations and workers alike should counter their fear with curiosity and imagination”, the Deloitte survey report recommends. To do so, enterprises and their employees must focus on nurturing and bolstering curiosity, empathy, informed agility, resilience, connected teaming, divergent thinking, social and emotional intelligence, and other human capabilities.

Organizations that aim to build an “imagination-rich future”, as per Deloitte, will leverage the key human capabilities outlined above in a technology dominated world.

According to Deloitte, this will also involve “Hiring for faculties such as curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking; developing them throughout the workforce; providing safe spaces where workers can come together to experiment and practice; and rewarding workers who harness their autonomy to reimagine what’s possible for themselves, the organization, and its stakeholders”, so that when imagination is embraced at all levels of a company, it paves the way for ongoing reinvention and innovation.

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