The Italians first invented pizza roughly 1,000 years ago. We can only assume the first developer meeting was scheduled for ten minutes later. Otherwise, whatever did they need the pizza for?
Now, seriously, it’s fair of you to ask what in the world pizza has to do with AI and digital strategy. A lot more than you might think. Here’s why.
Pizza was one step into the future, a dish that would last a thousand years. AI is another step into the future. Just the far future. In fact, it’s a reality right now. One of my favorite quotes says “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” It took centuries for the chewy, wonderful goodness of pizza to make its way around the world. It will take time before AI is “everywhere.” But don’t think it’s not around just because you don’t see it every day.
Google, YouTube, and Facebook use AI in the algorithms that determine which websites, videos, and shares you see on their respective platforms. The Associated Press, Washington Post, and other media outlets routinely use AI to develop content and create rough drafts — and not so rough drafts — of articles for publication. And one of these days, you can bet someone’s going to teach an AI to develop the world’s perfect pizza.
The point is that it’s time for you to start thinking about how you plan to use AI to improve your business. And the best way to do that is to order a couple of pizzas.
Jeff Bezos at Amazon popularized the idea that to get something done effectively and efficiently, think in terms of “one pizza teams” and “two pizza teams.” By which he meant that the best teams — where best is defined by quick and effective — were teams that you could feed with no more than two pizzas. Any more than that and you’ve got too much overhead, too much cross-talk to truly be effective. There’s a bunch of well-understood math that explains why two pizza teams make sense. (BTW, Fred Brooks’ classic project management text, “The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering,” said the same thing almost 45 years ago. He just didn’t use the terms “one pizza team” and two pizza team.” I suspect that Brooks was probably more of a chateaubriand guy than a pizza connoisseur).
The reason some companies are struggling to figure out where AI fits into their businesses is that they either have too few people working on the problem or — far more likely — too many.
The right way to figure out how AI is going to work for your business is to assign a small group, one that you can feed with a single pizza (or two, tops), to investigate business problems that:
- Have clearly defined outcomes. You know what you want in terms of results. And…
- Currently flummox your organization. Even if you know what you want to accomplish, the issue to date has consistently resisted efforts to automate and improve.
There’s an old joke that claims a camel is nothing more than a horse designed by a committee. Want a better horse? Kill the committee. Focus on the folks who add value and ditch the rest.
If the puzzle you’re trying to solve requires a group larger than a two pizza team, break it into smaller pieces — kind of like “slices” — and assign those to your small, nimble team. When successful companies talk about “agile,” “lean,” or associated methodologies, that’s what they’re doing too.
Artificial intelligence isn’t some magic pixie dust you sprinkle onto existing initiatives in hopes that it will make some spectacular difference. It takes work. That work can be at enabled by focusing your team’s efforts in an effective direction and reducing the friction that frequently limits success. And, of course, fueled by a slice of pepperoni, mushroom, or plain ol’ cheese pizza.
So grab a pizza. Or two. But no more. Then round up a few folks at your company who like pizza and like learning to get started on putting AI to work for your future.
Happy Pizza Day, everyone!
- Footnote 1. Yes, I’m aware pizza had a number of precursors like flatbreads that probably existed for thousands of years before the date I’m citing above. I’m using Wikipedia’s dating. Go fight with them if that matters to you.
- Footnote to Footnote 1. Also, the stuff we think of as “modern” pizza probably only dates back to the 1800’s before emigrating to New York and New Jersey where we perfected it. [Editor’s note: We also think Chicago deep-dish is pretty delicious.]
- Footnote 2.Though I’d argue that the folks at Razza in Jersey City already have developed the world’s perfect pizza. Fight me.
- Footnote 3. Just please, dear God, no Hawaiian. Yuck. [Editor’s note: Our correspondent could not be more wrong on this one. Who doesn’t like pineapple on pizza?]