Human Storytelling Drives GenAI Adoption.

Our key takeaway from MIT’s The Future of Business with AI Summit: craft a strategic GenAI narrative that provokes innovation and builds trust.

Kate Greulich

Kate Greulich

May 17, 2024

Generative AI coverage has dominated headlines for the last year – but new evidence is pointing to ongoing difficulty in bringing this technology to people and work. Generative AI adoption remains clustered in large enterprises and a few geographic locations – and lags due to the difficulty of changing budgets and workflows. 

Overcoming adoption inertia requires addressing the complex emotions that people bring to this particular technology. People are expressing fascination and excitement about generative AI in almost equal measure with more negative emotions like fear, anger, uncertainty, confusion, and anxiety. And only 17% of respondents expressed trust in generative AI.  

When we attended MIT’s The Future of Business with AI Summit, we heard AI leaders and evangelists explore with nuance and creativity how to solve this fundamentally human problem. The refrain we heard on repeat: if you’re a leader in AI, you need to be able to tell the story of AI’s impact on your industry, customers, and business. 

In other words, the key to encouraging AI adoption means owning and developing what we call a strategic innovation narrative for GenAI adoption. Strategic innovation narratives are a critical tool in the innovation management toolbox. Typically developed by leadership, these documents are the North Star for the product, R&D, or innovation roadmaps, and provide the creative impetus for innovators to create and pitch new ideas. And when a disruptive technology like generative AI enters the chat, strategic innovation narratives contextualize that technology within the innovation roadmap and help build trust among teams – so that they will not only use, but innovate with a technology too. 

Narratives need to be crafted by and for the people who live out their promise every day. As a leader, you’ll need to understand your organization’s challenges, culture, mindsets, and roadblocks to craft a narrative that wins hearts and inspires minds. In this article, we’re sharing the four storylines, overheard at MIT, that resonated with our team – and which may move your people too.

Shift the story from productivity and cost-savings to business growth.

Cost savings and improved productivity are consistently measured KPIs for generative AI companies (including Narratize). This is a good thing - there are huge gains to be earned from deploying GenAI in the right contexts and the right workflows. 

But framing the benefit of GenAI exclusively through the lens of productivity carries a risk: it can tend to overemphasize the disruptive nature of the technology to the detriment of adoption. One way to shift the narrative is to help employees imagine how adopting GenAI strategically can grow the business – and their role in it. Ask every team to start imagining how GenAI can contribute to revenue-generating activities or can solve their unique pain points. Ask them to dream up how their days would look and feel with the support of automation for certain tasks. And continue to promote trust and psychological safety with transparent conversations around how GenAI is expected to change people, processes, and even the business model.

A pro tip: draw on expertise from your organization’s tech, science, and AI experts to help socialize a business-growth narrative. This is always good practice, but current research supports it from an innovation communication perspective too: scientists and company tech experts achieve some of the highest trust ratings. And don’t underestimate the power of peers as narrators: peers achieve top trustworthiness scores alongside SMEs.   

Take a stand for Responsible AI. 

One narrative that we heard loud and clear at MIT: business is taking the lead in bringing responsible AI to life. One senior leader at a web hosting enterprise put it this way: "We have a societal responsibility to have responsible AI established now." Another said, “We don’t want this to be Social 2.0.” 

The good news is that responsible AI is a significant, robust field of study in its own right, and that there is relatively widespread acceptance of its key principles: 

  1. Establishing and ensuring privacy governance,
  2. Creating and adhering to transparency standards, 
  3. Ensuring human oversight, and 
  4. Understanding and measuring AI’s impact on societal well-being – which means building AI from the ground up to be safe, just, and inclusive.

From here, practice strategic listening – curating ideas from across the organization – to craft an action plan for innovating responsibly with AI. This goes beyond simply crafting talking points; it requires looking closely at opportunities for using this technology, thinking through the implications on people (both employees and customers), and determining a governance framework that makes sense for your company and industry. 

Show how AI impacts every community. 

As AI innovators based in the Midwest, this takeaway from a tech leader in web hosting felt huge: “geographical diversity is crucial in AI investment to ensure no region is left behind in the tech revolution. This approach will help people feel optimistic about the future and its impact on the economy and jobs.” 

Here’s what we wished they had also shared: high rates of AI adoption are not isolated to the coasts, and in fact, there are already AI hotspots in the Midwest and South in addition to “superstar” cities and Silicon Valley. Cincinnati – our home town – is a case in point: in addition to boasting a bustling startup ecosystem, Cincinnati is also headquarters for several enterprises – ie. major regional employers – that are rapidly adopting and scaling GenAI. 

One key talking point that can help bring the impact of AI home to your region: share experts’ optimism in this technology’s potential to create jobs and make work better. 

A recent Pew Research Center survey of tech leaders suggests that job losses are not necessarily an inevitable outcome of GenAI adoption. While 48% of survey respondents agreed that GenAI would deeply impact jobs, the remaining 52% disagreed – and cited five convincing counterfactuals, including the observation that technology historically tends to be a net creator of jobs, in rebuttal.  

What is certain is that GenAI will change how people work - and that people can participate in creating that new vision for themselves, their companies, and their communities. 

Help audiences reimagine intelligence itself 

For much of human history, the concept of intelligence has been wrapped up in humans’ desire to understand our unique place in this world. 

But as many writers, scholars, and scientists have long argued, intelligence has often also been understood as a phenomenon involving human, machine, and ecological agents. At MIT, IKEA’s Paqui Lizana encouraged audiences to reconsider intelligence in precisely these terms, as a “combination of nature, human, and machine knowledge.” 

Consider sharing stories that frame intelligence as a more-than-human phenomenon to help audiences confront anxiety with curiosity – and imagine how technology can contribute to the development of knowledge work. Here’s a few of our favorites: 

  • Max Bennet’s A Brief History of Intelligence: Evolution, AI, and the Five Breakthroughs That Made Our Brains. Mariner, 2023. 
  • Paco Calvo’s and Natalie Lawrence’s Planta Sapiens: The New Science of Plant Intelligence. W.W. Norton, 2023. 
  • Jeff Hawkins’s On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005. 
  • Justin Gregg’s If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity. Little, Brown and Co. 2022. 

There’s an abundance of anecdotes within these texts – and so many more incredible works on intelligence and knowledge work – to ground your organization’s generative AI narrative: source those that speak to your team, culture, and mission. 

Partnerships will drive GenAI adoption.

Developing a strategic narrative is not a one-person job. It requires a ritualized effort to seek out insights from across the business. Leaders need to actively curate ideas from across the organization and incorporate those insights into their overarching GenAI vision. 

But partnerships can also help enterprises define these narratives. We think partnerships will be the true force of nature for this tech revolution. In the words of our CEO, Katie Trauth Taylor, “Innovation friends are everywhere you invite them to be.”  To learn more about how Narratize is partnering with enterprises to encourage innovation and adoption of GenAI, download our free guide, GenAI Governance for Innovative Organizations

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