Avoid These Common Mistakes When Using AI

Before leaping into an artificial intelligence strategy, business leaders need to be aware of crucial steps to ensure a proper balance between technology and humans.

Jon Alferness, EVP, CPO, Walmart US

June 28, 2024

4 Min Read
the words common mistakes written in illuminated lightbulbs
Artur Szczybylo via Alamy Stock

One of the biggest innovations in retail has been the quick adoption of artificial intelligence technologies. Yet, there are three common mistakes to avoid when business leaders harness the power of technology and AI specifically, whether you work in my industry or any other industry using AI (and you’d be hard-pressed to find one that isn’t). 

Mistake: AI without human insight and interaction. There are certainly many tedious tasks that AI, and specifically generative AI, can do for all of us, in some cases more accurately and quickly. But let’s face it: GenAI has limitations. It lacks judgment, has a limited understanding of context and is only as good as the data it’s trained on. This is changing rapidly and it’s going to get dramatically better and faster. But it’s also important to note that GenAI is trained on existing patterns and information, and it builds ideas from them. For outside of the box, truly brand-new thinking, that’s what humans are good at doing.  

It would be a mistake to substitute AI for human leadership. We believe the power of GenAI is fully realized when we combine the strengths of our people and our tech. Ideally, the technology helps free associates from mundane, repetitive tasks, so they have more time and headspace for innovative thinking and problem solving. And, while our AI-powered chatbots engage customers, we also prioritize in-store interactions. The goal is to create seamless experiences that blend technology and human assistance. 

Related:Do’s and Don’ts of GenAI Spend

I’ll give you one simple example from my world of product at Walmart. Let’s say you want to throw a unicorn-themed party for your toddler. You’ve always been able to walk into a Walmart store and ask an associate for help with where to find the appropriate décor --balloons, streamers, maybe a colorful cake and glitter. But now, you can also use GenAI to ask the same query on Walmart.com. Rather than running several separate searches for paper napkins and more, you can do one search such as “what items should I buy for a house party with a unicorn theme?” That’s the goal: Your experience may be enabled by technology, but it’s led by human thinking. This, of course, is just the beginning. GenAI advances in the retail world will get better to someday be on par with the conversation you might have with an associate in store.  

Mistake: AI without proper training. OK, let’s say that you’ve embraced the philosophy of human-led AI in your organization. The next step is to ensure you have proper training in place. Training must be interactive, easy to understand, relevant to everyone’s day-to-day jobs, and continually updated.  

Related:Supply Chain Leaders Turn to GenAI

We’ve all sat in on mandatory trainings throughout our careers. They can be boring, overwhelming, or even ignored. Your AI training is too important to fall into this trap. Think about how you can show, not tell; demonstrate, not train. 

I’ve found that speaking in too much jargon about AI doesn’t resonate with anyone until you show them what it means. Many associates have told me that our hands-on approach really brings GenAI to life. The best way to experience this is firsthand. Putting our associates in front of the technology not only gives them an idea of what it can do, but we get unfiltered ideas on how it can be even better. We can test, learn, and improve without limitations. 

Mistake: AI without properly communicating to all audiences about your perspective. This perspective is great, but how are you communicating your overall position on AI? That shouldn’t be the job of a single person or department. Every senior leader in an organization should take the lead in communicating far and wide to all audiences: customers, associates, investors, and stakeholders.   

You must make sure to articulate your commitment to privacy, data security, and your overall perspective on using technology, with all its promises, risks, and limitations frequently. It is not good enough to share just a single blog post or mention it once in response to a question. Your position on technology, specifically GenAI, should be continually expressed to all audiences. Stay ahead of the curve, doing everything you want with GenAI but also keeping data safe.   

Related:Special Report: What's Next for the GenAI Market in 2024?

GenAI can be very powerful for your organization with the right approach, articulated clearly and frequently. The path ahead is an exciting one, and I cannot wait to see what we achieve, not just at our company, but in our entire industry and beyond. 

About the Author(s)

Jon Alferness

EVP, CPO, Walmart US

Jon Alferness is executive vice president and chief product officer for Walmart US. He is tasked with moving the Walmart US business strategy forward by bringing to life digital and physical experiences and capabilities for members, customers and associates. 

Before joining Walmart, Jon was the chief product officer and executive vice president of technology at Varo Bank, where he led engineering, product, design, and science to further Varo’s mission of providing banking for all. Prior to Varo Bank, Jon was vice president of rideshare at Lyft, where he led engineering, product and revenue and was responsible for the strategy, development and growth of the ridesharing product and business teams. Before that, Jon spent 13 years at Google as vice president of product management leading teams for shopping, travel, mobile ads and search ads. 

Jon has over 20 years of experience in the Silicon Valley product and technology space. He has a passion for leading cross functional organizations to build and grow businesses. Jon lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children. 


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