Data Poisoning: Screwing Up CEOs As Well As AI

Data poisoning causes artificial intelligence (e.g., ChatGPT) to create bad assertions. Because AI learns from the open Internet (or sometimes closed systems), and the Internet is full of lots of bad information, the result is predictable. “Garbage in, garbage out” is what we used to say in the before times. “Consider the source” is also still good advice. 

Organization leaders are just as prone, if not more so, to make decisions and be swayed by bad information. Is your new product really bad, or is it just the incompetent Sales VP who’s making you think that? Is the macroeconomic environment causing all the defections and difficult hiring, or has your senior team led you to believe that when in fact your culture is caustic? 

Leaders who spend most of their time on mahogany row and little time in the marketplace or talking to all levels of the organization are prone to data poisoning. And it’s their fault. They’re prone to drink poison.

I write this just after returning from an errand where I drove next to a car with two Labrador retrievers’ heads out the windows, taking it all in. The “data set” they received in a mile of busy road must be huge. With the windows closed, perhaps all they would’ve learned is that their owner had stinky deodorant. I’m prone to anthropomorphism with Labs, but I’m sure I saw a knowing smile on their wizened faces from all they were learning.

CEOs and other leaders need to stick their head out the window frequently to get a read on what’s happening in their environment. The truth is “out there,” more so than in the office. Does what you’re seeing when you explore match what you’re hearing from your team? Can you explain the discrepancy?

This does not mean you’ll now be the smartest person in the room, nor does it mean you can accurately dissect all complex issues. It does mean you can ask better questions and perhaps drive better performance. Being curious means you’re more relevant and less likely to get surprised. 

Respect your organizational chart and don’t muck things up, but go into Labrador retriever mode enough that you can converse with your senior leadership team about the critical elements of your business. If you drink poison, the results can be fatal.

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