Who wants to be a decision-maker extraordinaire 



In the popular quiz-based television show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? contestants must answer a series of questions, which grow progressively more difficult, as they climb the ladder towards the ultimate prize of winning the competition’s riches.

At various points along the way, contestants may be taken out of their comfort zone, needing to find the answer to a question they have not come across nor dealt with before.

This is not unlike the journey of an entrepreneur. In the same way an entrepreneur would consult to find external assistance, or confide in a trusted confidante, or use technology to refine the possible route forward, contestants are armed with the Ask the Audience, Phone a Friend and ’50-50’ lifelines.

Crowe Global sits down with Bruce Davison, CEO of GoSpace AI, to explore artificial intelligence (AI) and the need for businesses to balance the individual and the collective, the technological and human, and virtual and physical.

About GoSpace
GoSpace is the first software of its kind to use AI to optimize commercial real estate using dynamic resource allocation. It enables organizations to proactively manage their office space needs, reducing space, cost and time.
Business Lifelines: The Smart Decision Toolkit

Ask the audience – for consensus building, but also to gather a diverse range of views.

Pros: Allows consensus-building. Gathers a diverse range of views. Avoids confirmation bias or echo chambers.

Cons: Need to analyse, interpret, synthesise information collected. Need to understand context for each audience member

Phone a friend – drawing in, or calling on, a specific expert source because you think their skillset is suited to solving the problem at hand.

Pros: Share decision-making burden with trusted source(s) – “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Leverage specialist expertise.

Cons: Potential for over-reliance on one voice, or small group of voices (and pressure on one set of shoulders). Greater risk of echo chamber.

50-50 – for removing choice, or narrowing down the number of possible routes forward, which then enables a deeper-dive into the remaining options before a final decision is taken.

Pros: Narrows focus. Refines options to streamline decision-making.

Cons: Caution necessary to avoid dismissing good options prematurely.

Balancing human and technological 

Davison recalls the ‘lifelines’ used on the quiz-show and sees how these translate to the support functions that business leaders rely on to become successful.

“Contestants can ‘Phone a Friend’ and you always feel sorry for the poor person on the other side of the telephone. But ‘Ask the Audience’ usually resolves things with the correct answer – it’s never even close.”

There’s a business lesson, here, about the potential danger of relying on one or two advisors, versus gathering a diverse range of views. It’s why focus groups exist, for example. Sometimes consensus creates a clear path; sometimes nuance reveals another solution. Putting the pressure of decision-making solely on one person’s shoulders, particularly in a time-constrained scenario as in Phone a Friend, can create an undue burden.

Successful people do not turn ideas or advice away. Treat everyone’s comments with the same value. But understand the context, then qualify and synthesize,” says Davison. “Don’t let ego or your sense of hierarchy dull that ability to recognize opportunity and good ideas.”

Fortunately, the artificial boundaries of the show – that the audience’s choices must be relayed as clear-cut, definitive answers, with no supplementary analysis, context or reasoning – do not apply in business. In the real world, stakeholder feedback can be much more nuanced. You are not simply advised to go with option ‘A’ or ‘D’. You are presented with the pros and cons of options A through D, along with a recommendation.

This is the sweet spot. Let the data tell you something, and use your human intelligence and experience to add layers of analytical nuance which will apply context and look at the ‘how’ and ‘why’, not just the ‘what’ and ‘when’ that data provides.

“Balance is key,” says Davison. “Technology empowers us to move at pace through large data sets, however you can easily be lulled into a false sense of security. More data does not solve the issue of judgement or replace vision.”

The same principle of balance applies to gathering not only diverse viewpoints, but also diverse attitudes.

“We have this incredible knowledge and wisdom held by older generations, and we also have spirit, adventure and this sense of ‘anything is possible’. Both camps have pre-conceived ideas and structures they operate within,” says Davison. “Many people are turning their backs against history and assuming that technology holds all the answers. If you want to make smart decisions faster, the ability to synthesize these two insight sources is critical.”

The Power of AI

AI is a powerful tool in business. But Davison says there is misunderstanding about how it can impact our ability to make smart decisions. He breaks AI into two categories: linear or non-linear, or in layman’s terms: reactive and proactive intelligence. At present, he fears business is leaning too heavily on the reactive.

“With AI, large data-sets can be mined for insights and clues. In terms of decision-making, this backward-looking data reminds me of the statement that if you keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result, that’s a sign of madness. This is the issue with looking at historic data-sets and trying to determine future behavior.”

Proactive intelligence comes through simulating forward-looking ‘what if’ scenarios. Simulation techniques imagine different things and how these may affect possible outcomes.

“We all know the examples of the butterfly effect. In business, we have to balance the understanding and insight of the past with our innate ability to synthesize an idea from seemingly unrelated things, formulate a vision and belief, and then will this new reality into existence. Most of human progress has occurred because of this tension between linear and non-linear thinking.”

Data and analytics are great, believes Davison. But you have to keep in mind what you are trying to achieve, rather than blindly pursuing more and more data.

“When we look at proactive intelligence, that’s when we can really use technology as a partner, not a threat. Artificially assisting decision making, but augmenting human skills with the analytical capabilities brought through data.”

While humans can draw on memory and experience, AI can create the maps and scenarios to allow us to see patterns, predict outcomes and make decisions.

“We can then look at our own situation and say we have the same pattern occurring here, right? And that can influence your decisions, but so too should your experience and understanding of context and circumstance.”

The GoSpace Experience

At GoSpace AI, Davison tries to put this into practice. He wants the business to harness the benefits of AI to better manage resources and increase efficiency. But he is conscious of the pendulum swing that occurs when technology provides breakthrough moments. There is a risk of over-reliance on the shiny and new, at the expense of things that have worked well in the past. This can be detrimental to success. 

For GoSpace AI, the problem was clear. Davison kept hearing the same cry from business leaders: “How do I get my people together?” and “How much space do we actually need?”

“We were trying to solve this problem with space, but space is a static thing – no matter how well you design it. There’s a graveyard of architects that have tried to design flexible offices with walls and furniture that moves and re-configures. The Eureka moment came in realizing this was a people problem, not an architectural one.”

The real solution to workplace engagement was in managing people in space in a more dynamic way. But balancing the aspirations of the individual and the effectiveness of the collective is easier said than done.

In days gone by, working models and practices were more straightforward. People began their career, and 30 years later they were doing the same job.

“Workplace and workforce were symbiotic, so architects designed buildings accordingly,” says Davison. “Over the past 25 to 30 years, we’ve seen the emancipation of the autonomous worker, with people leaving the traditional workspace.”

This has led to strong virtual communications networks, but physical engagement has suffered. Non-verbal communications cues are lost; virtual connectivity is not enough.

“Everyone is floating in the ether and we miss the connection. To harness the power of individual freedom and increase social capital, space is a huge factor in achieving dynamic interplay between virtual and physical worlds. AI can be the link to restore discipline and bridge the engagement gap. There’s this assumption that technology and innovation is fantastic – and it is. But people get carried away without remembering to harness that human touch.”

Despite all of the workplace technology in play today, the reality is that people are more predictable – and less dynamic – than they like to think. Working models may have changed, but the reality is that offices are at their busiest between 10.00 and 11.00 and between 15.00 and 16.00, as they have always been.

Human nature takes much longer to change, compared with technology. The two must work in harmony to produce the best results.

“While digital transformation has empowered people to work in different ways, we’re observing distinctive trends across all our clients; from completely different sectors, locations and sizes. Whether people are assigned desks or they’re hot desking, almost all still gravitate to working together as a team, and that’s not about to change anytime soon.”    

The Universal Challenge

GoSpace AI is an innovator. And innovation does not just apply to technology.

“How we communicate and socialize is evolving,” says Davison. “That’s a form of innovation,” says Davison, who also keeps diversity at the core of the business. 

“With our software development, we pull together groups of people that technically would probably not be collaborating. It’s a generalization but mathematicians tend to be drawn to linear well-ordered models. Physicists on the other hand have to be comfortable with the non-linear, fuzzy logic or chaos theory, and the notion of multiple realities, that there is never one solution but many.”

GoSpace AI has brought these two groups together well, and the business is reaping the benefits of AI. But they have had to overcome communications challenges and review their own findings in light of the other group’s research. For the benefits of AI to truly extend across industries, inter-team interaction is vital.

“While it’s critical that teams have enough space to work together effectively, enabling inter-team collaboration cannot be overlooked. It’s where creativity and innovation have the opportunity to thrive.”  

Davison believes that, by balancing the individual and the collective, the physical and virtual, human and technological, AI can help people to work better together, to manage resources better and to achieve more.

Above all, we must resist the temptation to look for a silver bullet and keep in mind the desired outcome. 

“We’re moving beyond the age of data and analytics, into the age of solutions. In order for AI to empower humans to make better decisions it needs to address both the reactive and pro-active realms. It will still be up to us to plant the seed of a vision, after which we will work with our AI Partner to extend this into possible realities beyond our wildest imaginations. AI will free us up to focus on our innately human abilities.  It’s a powerful combination.”

“While we can now provide the answers to how much space is really needed, and how teams can work together more effectively, there’s another factor that’s even more important. If organisations can reduce the wasted office space they currently have, which, based on what we regularly see is between 30-50%, they can have a significant impact on reducing global carbon emissions.”   

It isn’t easy, but if you can keep these checks and balances, and use your business lifelines wisely, you can climb the rungs of success to become a smart decision-maker extraordinaire.