Competing in the Age of AI Book Summary: Strategy and Leadership When Algorithms and Networks Run the World

by Accessory To Success December 23, 2020

Competing in the Age of AI Book Summary: Strategy and Leadership When Algorithms and Networks Run the World

Table of Contents app: Jump Links

Main Takeaway

AI definitely has the strength to take the reins in today’s economy. Yet few allow artificial intelligence to manage the organizational core. Competing in the Age of AI challenges upper management’s resistance, a resistance grounded in ignorance of technology vs. traditional practice.

What You Will Learn

  • Learn how organizations can redefine creation, share, capture, and deliver through artificial intelligence
  • See how tech broadens scope through simplified connection to a global digital network
  • Read about challenges facing leaders of traditional and digital firms
  • See the ways AI removes constraints on learning and scale
  • Discover pros and cons created by digital firms

The Book Summary

Separately, the authors have written about and studied hundreds of firms. They are advisers and professors of technology and business, making their arguments worth considering by both business and layman.

The authors hover over the impact of Ant Financial being grounded in a digital core. No workers. No managers. No employees, yet still capable of running an operation with dynamic growth and impact, while disregarding constraints limiting traditional firms. i.e., the human element and that element’s potential for flaws and misjudgments.

Competing in the Age of AI comes back around to Ant Financial often, using it as a prime example of how AI can change the business world, and, in turn, the world altogether.

Everyone’s heard of Capital One and Bank of America, but Ant Financial doesn't ring any bells. Yet this financial company provides services to more than 10 times the customer base of any of this country’s largest banks. And it’s managed to reach this plateau utilizing one tenth the workforce.

The breath of Ant Financial’s reach and it's almost meager costs to achieve this position has been attributed to the corporation’s extensive and enthusiastic embrace of data and AI (artificial intelligence) to manage Alipay, the company’s core mobile payments platform. A good book to read about focusing on what is important would be The ONE Thing.

Iansiti's and Lakhani put forth the idea AI -- leaning toward a digital slant -- is not to be feared. In a recent post on Harvard Business Review, the professors said “AI that can drive the explosive growth of a digital firm often isn’t even that sophisticated.” They do not advocate the replacement of humans, but put forth the benefit of computers performing traditional tasks, and the significant benefit to production.

They discuss successful tech deployed by the likes of Amazon and Ocado. Robots performing actions as opposed to humans. But they do consider this “weak” AI, processes and operations that have no true impact on growing a company.

Using the term "AI centric," Competing in the Age of AI argues organizations need to put aside trepidations about new tech - and waiting for the other guy to do it first - and - like Ant Financial - to take the leap and get on the bandwagon.

The book's core plan for AI is broken down into four components: data pipelines, algorithms, experimentation, and infrastructure that connects tech processes. Unify processes - regardless of consumer experience - that brings businesses to customers. To successfully focus on implementing AI in your company you will need a narrow focus. Learn to shed some responsibility and focus on this important initiative read the book Essentialism.

Competing in the Age of AI asks the power players, the influencers, to reconsider waiting for the competition. Data science and machine learning is the next phase for all industries. According to one report from Emerging Jobs at LinkedIn, these fields are in the top 20 fastest growing professions. If you’re looking for a job in AI read the book Who.

The authors tackle the idea that what seems like a big task (it is) would not necessarily be an expensive one, considering the bottom line returns. They lay out a foundation: new teams may not necessarily be required to implement a digital revolution within the company. Have current commercial teams break down the data to collect, putting each point through testing.

The authors as industry professionals, both technical and non-technical, want CEOs and department heads to recognize the accessibility of AI and the reward for the simple process of implementation.

Businesses typically shy away from revolutionizing technology, preferring to wait for everyone else to make it worth their while. The book Innovator's Dilemma is all about this. Even as artificial intelligence and big data continues to prove itself through companies like Ant Financial, business in general remains skeptical.

Is this tech as revolutionary and inevitable as the Industrial Revolution? The authors would debate in the affirmative. They embrace the idea that the AI economy is pretty much “infinitely scalable” and that “self-reinforcing loops” of learning and networking encourage enhanced returns. Another book on revolutionizing an industry is Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built.

About The Authors

A David Sarnoff Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, Marco Iansiti’s expertise lies in digital innovation with a focus on business and strategy, and operating model transformation.

He is also the head of Harvard’s Technology and Operations Management Unit. He works with Global 1000 companies, guiding their digital strategy and transformation. Prof. Iansiti’s research has covered Facebook, Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft.

His Other Books

  1. One Strategy: Organization, Planning, and Decision Making (with Steven Sinofsky)
  2. The Keystone Advantage: What the New Dynamics of Business Ecosystems Mean for Strategy, Innovation, and Sustainability (with Roy Levien)


Of the more than 100 cases, articles, and notes from the author, highlights include "The Truth About Blockchain" (with Karim Lakhani), "The Ecology of Strategy" (with Roy Levien), "Managing Our Hub Economy," and "Digital Ubiquity," Each of these pieces, published in Harvard Business Review, was distinguished a top ten article of the year.

Karim R. Lakhani is Harvard Business School’s Charles E. Wilson Professor of Business Administration as well as a Dorothy and Michael Hintze Fellow. Codirector and founder of the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard, Prof. Lakhani is principal investigator for Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science at the NASA Tournament Laboratory.

He is also faculty cofounder for Harvard’s Digital Initiative. Chair of the Harvard Business Analytics Program, his specialties are innovation and technological management.

He’s authored case studies and articles on the changing nature of companies and the workplace, and digital economy. He coedited Open Innovation and Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software, and Revolutionizing Innovation: Users, Communities.

In his portfolio is over 100 articles and case studies, including research published in Wired, The Boston Globe, Inc., BusinessWeek, The New York Academy of Sciences Magazine, The Washington Post, Science, Fast Company, and The Economist.

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