From the explosion of Generative AI to the evolution of the hybrid workplace, disruption has become the “norm” for business. How will business and society be shaped by disruption looking ahead? Darden Professors Yael Grushka-Cockayne and Mike Lenox, who also host Darden’s Good Disruption podcast, joined in conversation with Devin Bigoness, Executive Director & Chief Client Officer for Darden Executive Education & Lifelong Learning (EELL), to explore some of the emerging technologies and trends, as well as ongoing concerns and top-of-mind issues for CEOs. Here are four key issues that emerged from that conversation.

1. Technology Trends (as reported by AI)

According to ChatGPT, the top five technology trends in 2024 are:

  • AI and machine learning
  • Renewable energy
  • Biotechnology and bioengineering
  • Augmented and virtual reality
  • Quantum computing

But what do these technology trends mean for CEOs? Grushka-Cockayne and Lenox point out that technologies like AI and quantum computing are not new and have been in the works for a long time, but we are at a point in time where they’re now becoming available to the masses.

Grushka-Cockayne expects more normalization of technologies like AI. Instead of discussing the technology and what its impact will be, organizations will start to realize that impact as they integrate the technology into the workplace throughout the year.

Lenox also pointed out that it’s critical for CEOs to understand the distinction between the technology cycle and the hype cycle when approaching these technologies. “There are a lot of people starting up AI companies. As the hype cycle starts to decline in the next year, you will likely see a lot of these companies fail. The media may interpret it as AI being overblown, but you must have the long view in mind [as a CEO] and understand the hype cycles of these technologies are different from the technology lifecycle.” CEOs should think about how a particular technology fits into their organization’s individual strategy and its use case when assessing how to leverage it.

2. How Technology Impacts What CEOs Focus On

There are external factors like technology, AI, macropolitical factors, the war on talent and more that are impacting organizations internally, making talent development top of mind for CEOs this year.

Bigoness points out that business is moving at a pace faster than ever before, leaving CEOs and other senior leaders feeling like they’re leading through the fog. Biogness, who works closely on talent development initiatives with government/military and corporate clients, points out that leaders at these different types of organizations may approach disruption and technology differently. Military and government clients take a longer view being mission-driven, whereas corporate clients face long- and short-term pressures and have to act more swiftly. “When you think about these different types of organizations the content may be the same – How do you drive value? How do you think strategically and make good decisions – but the context between the two organizations could be radically different.”

The role of middle managers is growing, and there’s a need to help them upskill to keep up with the pace of technology advances. There is a growing importance and urgency around succession planning. Questions exist around who the right people are to hire given the direction of technology. CEOs must continue to make lifelong learning a priority for their organizations.

3. Preparing for the AI Environment

AI and its continued evolution is a pressing priority for CEOs this year. How can you prepare for it? Bigoness, Grushka-Cockayne and Lenox all offered advice for approaching AI.

  • AI as an addition to your strategy: Think about how AI can help or accelerate your strategy. Now is the time to encourage experimentation at your organization, so that when it’s mission critical to be able to use AI effectively, you’re prepared.
  • Use AI to evolve your capabilities: You can’t throw everything out the window and start from scratch. The process of planning is invaluable. Begin to adopt the technology and build on your strategy with it.
  • Set up a solid system of teams: Empower teams to have diverse perspectives for the task that they’re trying to accomplish. Think about who you have around the table and what they bring to a specific task as it pertains to what you’re trying to accomplish with AI.

4. AI & Emerging Technologies in Professional Development

CEOs should place an even bigger emphasis on developing people’s soft skills in their organizations with the rise of AI and other emerging technologies. “In a more digitally enabled age, those distinctly human skills are becoming even more valuable than they’ve been in the past. AI is a prediction machine and what it allows you to do still requires judgement – a distinctively human characteristic. In a world where the cost of prediction is going down because of AI, the complimentary good of judgement increases. Organizations need to put more emphasis on it and training around it,” says Lenox.

Bigoness highlighted how Darden EELL is leveraging augmented reality (AR) and the metaverse in the classroom as a pilot in The Executive Program (TEP). “Leaders come to Darden to try out new things, new tools, and step away from the day-to-day pressures to reflect. The metaverse pilot in TEP gives awareness of what AR looks like and how companies are using AR.” AR presents organizations with the special opportunity to create environments that are complicated to duplicate, especially in spaces like health care or the military, and give people the ability to exhibit natural behaviors and then use the experience as a learning opportunity.

These technologies offer value to help organizations further develop decision-making and leadership skills. Using technology like AR can serve as a sandbox to practice.

Leaders come to Darden to try out new things, new tools, and step away from the day-to-day pressures to reflect. The metaverse pilot in TEP gives awareness of what AR (augmented reality) looks like and how companies are using AR.

- Devin Bigoness, Executive Director & Chief Client Officer

Embrace Lifelong Learning to Amplify Leadership Impact

CEOs continue to see shortened tenures. The data reveals 39% of S&P 500 CEOs have tenures ranging from one to five years, and 28% maintain tenures falling between five to 10 years.* CEOs can make the most of their time and amplify their impact by embracing lifelong learning.

Take the opportunity to invest in yourself and proactively plan for your professional development. Grushka-Cockayne says, “With the development of various modalities of learning, like asynchronous learning, people forget how much fun it is to be in the classroom. It’s valuable to spend time enriching yourself in a new topic. Some of the learning you do will be skills you need right away, but some of it will challenge you to push your thinking and think about the future.” Setting aside time for learning allows CEOs to be in environments that challenge them to grasp new ideas and technologies and set their organization up for success after their tenure.

Lenox says CEOs must embrace curiosity especially when it comes to technology. Instead of fearing disruption, look at technology and trends as opportunities. Curiosity is critical to be able to continue to learn and advance. When cost and distance are factors, leverage technology as a way to embrace and invite more people into learning.

Looking Ahead Through 2024 – Good, Bad or No Disruption?

There’s no denying that there will be disruption, but the direction is to be determined. The hype cycle will start to decline and advancements will be made in the application of new technologies. The implementation of technology will come into play in a more organic way and be embraced when organizations are ready. People will also see the intersection of these technologies and how they can work together. Technology is bringing the world closer together and hopefully conversations will emerge around how we can use technology to solve some of the complex challenges our world faces today.

If you’d like to listen to the full conversation, access the recorded webinar.

*CEO Tenure Rates, Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, August 2023