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Leveraging Technology to Anticipate and Create New Opportunities

By Joey Havens

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If you are an accountant, lawyer, doctor or really almost any knowledge worker today, you can’t scroll a line of tweets, check out LinkedIn posts, read a blog, headline or web conference without reading about IBM’s Watson or some bot or other artificial intelligence (AI) replacing you. Although I have a passion for anticipating the future to work on strategy and initiatives to help our clients and firm grow, I suspect you are like me in that we get fed up with the constant barrage of AI and Watson taking over our lives. 

Recently, I had reached my morning saturation point of reading about Watson and headed out in the neighborhood to get in a mid-morning jog before going into the office that Watson will surely soon be occupying. I really needed this run to clear my head and just get offline. Heck, I was even planning on running hard enough to sweat to ensure I cleared my mind and focused on something else. 

What a beautiful morning it was—sunny, yet we had an unseasonably cool breeze flowing through the neighborhood. As I laced up my running shoes outside under the patio, I could feel the crispness of the air. This was going to be great (I actually hate to jog) and I planned on putting some miles (loose use of the term “miles”) and minutes between me and that thing called Watson. 

I was a good 35 minutes into my run when I decided to loop around the small lake on the outside edge of our neighborhood. As I made my first lap around, I met a lady coming in the opposite direction. I immediately noticed her as she was walking fast and talking on her phone so I started to ease off the sidewalk to give her plenty of room. I’m sure you have met some of these dangerous pedestrians before too. As we met each other, I greeted her with a good morning and she smiled back at me. Just as we passed each other, I thought—did her shirt really say what I think it said?  “Watson engages with people!”  No, it had to be my imagination.

I sped up to put some distance between us, but I could not get Watson off my mind. I simply had to know. Why was she wearing that shirt and what did it mean? So yes, I turned around and plodded (probably a more accurate description of my running speed) my way back around the lake to catch up with her. 

Breathlessly, I waved to her and said, “Excuse me just for a moment.  First, I am not a serial killer, I saw your shirt and just have to ask you what ‘Watson engages with people’ means and why are you wearing it?”

She smiled and replied that she works for IBM in New York on the Saks Fifth Avenue account. “Watson engages with people” is IBM’s strategy to leverage Watson’s power to understand what individuals might want or need. He builds buyer profiles on people as they shop in a store or online and we provide Saks the information to reveal what products an individual has an interest in. IBM is constantly looking for other ways to engage Watson with people. 

I started laughing as I shared that I had left the house that morning to get away from Watson and here he was jogging around my neighborhood. We both laughed as we visited on Watson and IBM’s plans to penetrate various industries and markets with Watson. She took my number with the promise to have someone with IBM call me so I can meet Watson. 

I must admit, it was a little freaky and certainly brought my focus back where it needs to be. We have tremendous opportunities going forward as no one engages people better than other people. Humans simply need and desire another human connection. We are created to be social. I also know that we will have the opportunity to be creative and work on things that have not been done before. Watson uses data that provides trends based on what has happened. He can’t create the future like you and I can. He can’t dream and co-create a new business model that hasn’t been developed yet. Our logic in understanding various trends in context of humanity is another big advantage where we will use our new skills to connect the dots for a long time to come. 

Watson may be jogging around my neighborhood with lots of data, but he is a long way from moving any of us out of our offices. In fact, I plan on using Watson and other AI to help our clients, team members and firms achieve results that were not possible before. I’m excited about the new powerful technology that will enable us to anticipate more and co-create new opportunities. I have already identified a cubicle for Watson. I might add, it pays to watch for who is jogging in your neighborhood.