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AI-enabled executives: how ChatGPT will sharpen strategic thinking

Published 30 January 2023 in Innovation • 5 min read

Combinations of executives and purpose-built AI systems will soon work together to enhance decision making, problem solving and strategy formulation

Strategic thinking has long been viewed as essential for leaders of organizations. The ability to anticipate and plan for the future, to think critically and creatively about complex problems, and make effective decisions in the face of uncertainty and change is more necessary than ever. These capabilities will be dramatically augmented and magnified by artificial intelligence systems such as ChatGPT.

With the ability to process large amounts of data, identify patterns, and make predictions, AI will provide fresh insights and perspectives that were previously unavailable to company executives. This will enable them to make more informed and accurate decisions – and to anticipate and plan for the future more effectively. But it won’t replace the human element in strategic thinking, which remains critical.

In the near future, I expect to see symbiotic relationships between executives and AI systems, in which they both work together to enhance decision making, problem solving, and strategy development. AI can already analyze vast quantities of data, spot trends, make forecasts, and help leaders identify and mitigate business risks. Soon, it will also simulate different scenarios and provide leaders with various options and recommendations for which path to take.

A breakthrough in AI development

This guidance will be underpinned by natural language processing tools such as ChatGPT, which will make it possible for business leaders to ask questions and receive answers in a conversational format. ChatGPT has become wildly popular since it debuted in November, attracting more than a million users in its first week. It has been hailed as a breakthrough moment in the development of AI, threatening to disrupt industries such as education and the world of work.

In January, Microsoft revealed that it had made a multibillion-dollar investment in the system’s creator, OpenAI, to develop new productivity software and transform its business model. These systems will soon provide leaders at Microsoft and elsewhere with real-time data, analysis, and insights which they can use to make better decisions and create superior strategies.

Microsoft has made a multibillion-dollar investment in the research company OpenAI

For example, AI will be able to analyze large amounts of data and use predictive analytics to identify future market trends; a business leader could use it to analyze consumer behavior and competitor activities, and use that insight to identify new business opportunities.

Another area of potential is optimization, with these tools strengthening numerous business processes and decision making in activities such as pricing strategy and marketing campaigns. Another example would be analyzing data on supply chains, production processes, and logistics to help leaders enhance operations and boost efficiency.

What is more, these tools will be able to learn from data and improve their performance over time, allowing them to provide more accurate and actionable insights that are more personalized, considering the unique characteristics of the company, industry, and market.

Impressive responses

I asked ChatGPT to simulate being a strategic business advisor to the CEO of a multinational corporation. The results were shockingly good. In successive queries, I asked the system to provide recommendations for establishing a unique brand identity and more detail on how to use social media influencers effectively, as well as plans for a multi-channel marketing campaign. The responses were impressive, even more so because the system has been trained mostly on a base of general knowledge and not optimized to give strategic advice, suggesting the AI could become even better.

The bot instructed me to: “Encourage influencers to create and share content that showcases their personal experiences and collaborations with the brand on their social media platforms. This can include unboxing videos, try-on hauls, product reviews, and behind the scenes footage of photoshoots.”

Moreover, these kinds of tools will eventually explain the reasoning behind the recommendations they provide. At present, most systems are a “black box, with little understanding of how they reach their conclusions. Making AI more explainable would, in turn, improve trust in the systems.

Even as AI becomes more powerful, leaders will still play an important part in framing the right questions and interpreting the insights and recommendations it provides. Moreover, leaders will provide context and contribute some creativity, as well the emotional intelligence and political savvy to adapt and implement the results. Beyond that traditional foundation of strategic thinking ability, the capabilities that leaders need in the era of AI are changing.

Working with data effectively

Given that these systems rely on large amounts of data for training and decision making, business leaders must understand and work with data effectively. They will also need to have a basic understanding of algorithms and programming languages to really understand the outputs of these systems.

I asked ChatGPT to simulate being a strategic business advisor to the CEO of a multinational corporation. The results were shockingly good

Moreover, business leaders must be aware of the ethical and legal implications such as data privacy and bias, and develop strategies to mitigate these risks. And, because AI systems also generate new data, business leaders will need the ability to think creatively and come up with new strategies, while being adaptable and flexible as new technologies continue to emerge.

Looking ahead, AI tools such as ChatGPT will soon have a deeper impact throughout the business world. Far from replacing human judgment, combinations of executives and purpose-built AI systems will work together to enhance strategy formulation. The AI systems will provide executives with real-time data, analysis, and insights that they can use to make better decisions, while the leaders will provide context, creativity, and emotional intelligence to put that insight into practice.


Michael Watkins - IMD Professor

Michael D. Watkins

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at IMD

Michael D Watkins is author of The First 90 Days, Master Your Next Move, Predictable Surprises, and 11 other books on leadership and negotiation. A Thinkers 50-ranked management influencer and recognized expert in his field, his work features in HBR Guides and HBR’s 10 Must Reads on leadership, teams, strategic initiatives, and new managers. He taught at Harvard, where he gained his PhD in decision sciences, and INSEAD before joining IMD, where he directs The First 90 Days and Transition to Business Leadership programs.


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