Op-Ed: AI and the Evil of Time

Op-Ed: AI and the Evil of Time

As a board member and advisor deeply entrenched in the operating realities of organizations of all sizes, I’ve found myself engaged in more discussions about artificial intelligence (AI) at the C-level than any other topic. It’s fascinating to observe how leaders across different companies approach AI. Equally fascinating, is that the thinking on AI mirrors the attitudes I encountered back in the early 2000s.

There are three distinct prototypes emerging:  

  • AI is a Fad: The Cynical Leader. Some leaders dismiss AI as a passing trend, believing it to be overhyped and something they can afford to ignore. They choose to remain blissfully ignorant of its potential impact on their businesses. Shockingly, a recent study commissioned by Deloitte found that 48% of executives consider AI to be overhyped, potentially indicating a widespread skepticism towards its transformative power. I was once told by a c-level Sales executive that e-commerce was a fad, a risk and a distraction!
  • AI will Change the World: The random-acts-of-AI Leader. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who view AI as the ultimate game-changer, diving headfirst into implementation without necessarily understanding its nuances or potential consequences fully. This is the leader that reads the “this is THE ultimate game changer” reports, like the report by McKinsey that stated companies that fully harness AI technology could double their cash flow by 2030, and start spinning. 
  • AI needs to be harnessed thoughtfully: The Operating Leader.  Finally, I see a purposeful, thoughtful approach taken by strategic leaders who recognize AI’s immense potential when harnessed intelligently. They approach AI adoption calmly and with a laser focus on proof points and use cases solving specific business challenges first before scaling up. A survey by PwC found that 54% of business executives see AI as an essential tool for remaining competitive in the future. The key is finding the right tool for the right job. Recalling the adage “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks tantalizingly like a nail.” 

Having witnessed countless cycles of corporate restructuring, reorganization and resets over the past three decades, I’ve come to recognize a recurring pattern – a phenomenon that, when I get a little cynical, I refer to as the “Re-Industry.”

This cycle typically involves major initiatives aimed at revitalizing struggling companies, consuming vast resources, disrupting operations, and too often resulting in disappointment. Despite the grand promises, these endeavors frequently fail to address underlying issues effectively, perpetuating a cycle of rinse, wash, and repeat. I’m not saying these initiatives always end badly. However, I do feel that way too many end badly and we ought to step back and ask ourselves “why?”

In my view, at the heart of these failed initiatives is a failure of the initiative to get to the root cause underlying the symptom. When these initiatives go wrong they tend to focus on symptoms, take on a life of their own and get caught up in their own hubris. I believe that one of the most significant root causes is time. More specifically, a waste misallocation and lack of focus on how your most valuable resource, time, is leveraged. 

A significant portion of the precious time of your talent is squandered on mindless, non-value add, redundant tasks, bureaucratic processes, and futile endeavors. Employees find themselves buried under mountains of process, mired in unproductive meetings, and constrained by inefficient workflows. This chronic time deficit stifles innovation, drains morale, and hampers overall productivity.

However, AI presents a potentially compelling solution to this perennial problem, if harnessed correctly. Imagine an organizational landscape where mundane tasks are automated, talent is matched with tasks seamlessly, past experiences are leveraged efficiently, content is not recreated needlessly and resources are allocated judiciously – all thanks to AI-powered systems.

By harnessing AI in conjunction with well-designed automated workflows, organizations can unlock unprecedented levels of efficiency and effectiveness. A marketing agency, for instance, could streamline its operations by automating routine tasks, optimizing talent deployment, capacity utilization and leveraging past insights to inform current strategies. 


The potential benefits are staggering – enhanced productivity, shortened cycle times, improved margins, boosted morale, improved talent attraction and retention, and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to tackle root issues proactively rather than reactively.

However, embracing AI requires more than just technological prowess; it demands a strategic shift in mindset and approach. It’s damned that you don’t drive past foundational drivers on your way to more sexy looking opportunities. Organizations must carefully evaluate where AI can deliver maximum tangible impact now and implement changes incrementally, avoiding the pitfalls of hasty adoption.

In essence, the choice boils down to this: do you want to be a passive bystander, watching as others capitalize on AI’s potential, get caught up in random acts of AI or be an active participant, driving meaningful change within your organization? The decision is yours to make, but the potential rewards of embracing AI are limitless – there’s simply no room for fear or hesitation in the face of progress.

About the Author:

Clive Sirkin serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors at Screendragon. Sirkin is a veteran global CPG and agency executive with more than 30 years’ experience at large multinational corporations, a reputation as a change agent, and a track record of driving shareholder value. 

Sirkin most recently served as Chief Growth Officer at Kellogg Company, where he was a member of the Executive Committee and was responsible for R&D, innovation, sales, marketing, and research & analytics as well as for setting the company’s category strategy. 

Prior to Kellogg, Sirkin served as the Chief Marketing Officer of Kimberly-Clark, where he was also part of a leadership team during a time of unprecedented shareholder growth. He had previously launched and successfully exited his own consultancy after a 16-year advertising career at Leo Burnett that culminated in being named the Group Managing Director of Publicis’ Leo Burnett Worldwide. 

Sirkin has translated that background into an investment and strategic advisory role helping technology and food startups scale for growth and exit. He currently serves on the boards of Fyllo, UCAN, Jones Soda and 70 Faces Media. 

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