CEOs and their leadership teams need to understand the technologies that are driving today’s digital transformation in far more detail than was required of them in the past. Why is that? In contrast to previous waves of technology adoption, digital transformation goes to the very core of how organizations operate and what they do.
If you are an auto manufacturer, for example, is your business fundamentally about making cars—or is it about delivering transportation and mobility to your customers? And what is more valuable: Your IP around powertrain design, or your AI-based self-driving algorithms fed by real-time telemetry and usage data generated by the vehicles you make?
Leaders in every industry need to ask such questions and thoroughly examine how these technologies will profoundly change their market and how they do business. As a CEO, you will need to infuse your executive team and your employees with new skills and a new mindset to succeed at digital transformation.
My advice is to start with an executive reading list. I recommend every CEO and executive team consider the following six books to become familiar with the historical context of how these technologies evolved and are changing today; the underlying theory of AI and IoT; and how to succeed at applying these technologies.
- The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, James Gleick. This book takes you back to the beginnings of information theory, putting today’s innovations into historical context.
- The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, Walter Isaacson. Isaacson’s history of information technology, from Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage in the 19th century to the iPhone and the internet, enables you to consider your digital transformation as a natural evolution of a process that has been accelerating for the past 70 years.
- The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World, Pedro Domingos. If you want to demystify AI, read this book. Domingos provides you an evolution of the underlying theory and promise of AI in the context of the statistics, math, and logic courses that you took in college and high school. Really enlightening.
- Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier. A most pragmatic discussion of a highly misunderstood topic. This book allows you to think about big data in a practical manner devoid of spectacle, extravaganza, and hype.
- Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence, Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb. A down-to-earth discussion of AI and the problems it can really address.
- The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. This is a visionary work that addresses the art of the possible. Motivating and inspiring.
This list may seem a bit daunting, but all of these are highly approachable, good to great books. If you want to play this game – if you want to succeed at digitally transforming your organization – you need to invest some time and energy to acquire domain expertise. It’s not magic and it’s not mysterious. But you need to learn the language to engage thoughtfully, manage the process, make good decisions, and lead change management.
A majority of what you will be told about AI and digital transformation is sheer poppycock delivered by self-proclaimed experts who have accomplished little to nothing in the field. You need to be able to distinguish signal from noise. I recommend always traveling with a book in your hand and encouraging your management team and key employees to do the same.
Learn more about Tom Siebel’s views by checking out his Wall Street Journal Best Seller book, Digital Transformation: Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction.