gothamculture logo

How Will Leadership Change in the Cognitive Era?

leadership in the cognitive era

Technological innovation is continuing to accelerate on a hockey stick growth curve. Companies like IBM, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon are bringing cognitive computing capability to the masses. And it’s only a matter of time until nearly every aspect of our work and personal lives are impacted.

These advances are still relatively new. Time will tell when and how they change things, but it will happen and it will happen relatively quickly. In a recent article, Steve Denning reminds us that a repeating pattern of massive transformation has occurred regularly over the last 250 years.

With massive change at our doorstep, now is the time to begin a collective discussion to help leaders navigate this new age.

Thomas Freidman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “The World is Flat” and “Thank You for Being Late”, suggests that cognitive computing and artificial intelligence will help people stay abreast of these accelerating technological advances without becoming completely overwhelmed by them. By augmenting the human experience, this technology will allow people to live in the eye of the “technological hurricane” as Friedman puts it, rather than being swept away.

My question is, what will this mean for leaders of the next generation? How will leadership change in the cognitive era?

Leadership And The Cognitive Era

Leadership isn’t easy. Anyone who tells you otherwise probably hasn’t ever been in a leadership position.

Leadership behaviors that yielded success in the past may no longer be effective as the way we work changes over time. As leaders, we must evolve with the times to inspire others to achieve what they otherwise would not accomplish on their own. The pace of the evolution of work means that leaders will be increasingly challenged to provide clarity and direction in a continuously changing and complex environment.

Effective leadership will take on new meaning as the cognitive era gains momentum. And to begin this conversation about the future of leadership, I spoke with a few prominent leaders on the cutting edge of cognitive to explore this groundbreaking shift.

“We’re all overwhelmed,” said Harriet Green, general manager of IBM Watson Internet of Things, Commerce and Education, during her presentation at IBM’s World of Watson conference last year. “It’s becoming impossible to separate the signals from the noise.” Green believes cognitive technology will enable leaders to focus on the truly important signals to make better decisions and remove clutter and noise from the day-to-day.

“Technology will create richer work environments where people can apply themselves differently,” Mike Ettling, president of SAP Success Factors explained during our recent conversation. He feels technology at work is still lacking some ideal capabilities, but it will undoubtedly change the way organizations engage their employees.

“You and your organization have to be open and ready for change,” says Faisal Masud, EVP of e-commerce and customer experience at Staples. Masud and his team recently partnered with IBM to enable their Easy Buttons with the cognitive capability of Watson. He believes artificial intelligence is here to stay. So rather than resist the change, organizations need to understand how they can best use it.

My advice to leaders is to keep paying attention to these changes as they unfold. There are key events happening around us that are forever changing leadership and talent management as we know it. One example is Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance’s move to replace 34 redundant insurance claim workers with artificial intelligence.

Still, we have a long way to go before AI takes over completely. “Many jobs include tasks that can and will be automated, but by the same token, almost all jobs have major elements that—for the foreseeable future—won’t be possible for computers to handle,” writes Julia Kirby and Thomas Davenport in Harvard Business Review.

Proponents of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing explain that the goal is to create new opportunities to draw out the full capacity and potential of the human spirit by relieving people of transactional and mundane tasks.

Unfortunately, these advancements also threaten the status quo and will undoubtedly create anxiety as people understand how they will be personally affected. Whichever side of the discussion you may fall, as a leader you must acknowledge that what works today may not work in the future. You must be willing to rethink the way you lead to continue to drive results in this new, cognitive era.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.