Watson could keep business and world leaders from looking like idiots

Columnist Rob Enderle writes that an AI system like IBM’s Watson could help assure that U.S. Presidents and CEOs apply the hard-learned lessons of their predecessors to cut down on failures and repeat successes.

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The U.S. government is behaving as if it were a newborn child. Centuries of hard-earned experience is getting tossed aside as yet another leader seems to feel he needs to create a strategy that assumes there was no government before they took over.

This isn’t uncommon in companies either. You’ll often see a firm fight its way up to the top using a set of hard-learned skills only to fall to the bottom because it gets institutional Alzheimer’s and forgets everything it should already know.  

IBM [Disclosure: IBM is a client and former employer of the author] is one of the few companies designed for longevity with a set of rules put in place to assure survival, but even they nearly failed in the early 90s. With Watson, it may have the ideal cure for institutional Alzheimer’s, but only if the system is trained to ensure critical institutional skills that are learned are never forgotten.

Example: Affordable Health Care Act

Let’s start with some examples of the problem and use the U.S. Government as the primary one. The most pertinent example is likely the Affordable Health Care Act. This was a core part of the reason that the Democratic party lost control of the house and it became a rally cry for the Republican party that replaced it. It was forced on its opponents, delegated to the then speaker of the house who made a mess of it, and it represented one of the key reasons that the Democratic party was nearly completely removed from power.

The lessons should have been to not muck with a national level entitlement if you can avoid it, and if you must muck with it personally assure it through execution. That lesson was lost as the Republicans are now mucking with it, it has again been delegated to the Speaker of the House, and the effort to assure a positive result isn’t in evident. In fact, it looks right now like even a bigger train wreck than the program it seeks to replace.

[ Related: Why Trumpcare will be worse than Obamacare ]

Here is another example: With Afghanistan we saw Russia, the USSR then, attempt to do nation-building and the effort not only failed it was a major contributor to the break-up of that nation. The lesson should have been to not attempt nation-building unless you can fully assess its cost and your ability to execute.

The U.S. not only attempted the same thing with Afghanistan, but with Iraq as well, and with no more forethought or any better execution than the Russian’s did, and it nearly bankrupted the U.S. No apparent institutional learning going on here. It should also be noted that the when those in the military tried to point out the costs would be in excess of what the country was willing to spend, they were ignored and removed from office.

In companies, perhaps the best example is Apple. Using a relatively basic formula of creating an iconic name around a simple but focused product that addresses a widespread problem you could turn a failing company into a leading one. The iPod model was used to create the iPhone and iPad. Yet if you look at the Apple Watch things change.

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