Practical Guide to Good Business Shortcuts With AI

Business woman with mobile device behind a man wearing a VR headset sitting in front of a computer monitor in an office

People have a love-hate relationship with the word “shortcut.”

What does the word “shortcut” conjure up in your mind? Productivity or cheating?

I don’t use this word often myself. But I’m thinking about it more often. Especially now, I hear how the allure of AI is promising shortcuts to success in business.

I have mixed feelings about business shortcuts with AI. However, I do think good business shortcuts are appropriate with the right leadership guidance.

I have some practical principles to suggest for business leaders and AI policy makers about when to use good shortcuts in business.

What’s the Deal with Shortcuts?

On one hand, we all love using shortcuts.

  • Taking the elevator instead of the stairs
  • Keyboard shortcuts, automatic bill pay, and sometimes auto-complete
  • Express lanes to checkout at stores, to board airplanes, and to get on amusement park rides

Many shortcuts save time and effort for people who have access to them.

On the other hand, we are suspicious of other people and companies using shortcuts at our expense.

Consumers lose trust in these companies when the public is burdened with risk and potential harm from the perceived shortcuts.

The challenge here is that the term “shortcut” is a loaded term. By comparison, the words “timesaver” and “productivity” don’t evoke as much visceral reaction as “shortcut.” They all have the similar meaning of getting more done with less time or effort. Yet a “shortcut” feels more like bypassing the norm with a special advantage.

Society Encourages Shortcuts

Whether with the label of shortcuts or not, our society has an inherent drive to get more done with less time and effort. This drive spurs innovation and technology to bypass the established norms. For historical examples:

  • Water pumps for growing more crops and providing healthier sanitation
  • Printing presses for distributing knowledge and ideas, and to enable education for more people
  • Planes, trains, and automobiles to move people and cargo around in less time with less effort, along with physical shortcuts like the Suez Canal, Panama Canal, and any transcontinental railroads.

These technological advances to save time and effort seemed like marvelous shortcuts when they were first introduced. These shortcuts to solve life’s challenges spawned entire industries.

When a shortcut is fully adopted by the mainstream users, then it ceases to exist as a shortcut. The shortcut has transitioned into normal expectations that society often takes for granted.

Along a similar path, Artificial Intelligence has now been introduced and marketed as a new shortcut for businesses.

Like other shortcuts, people have a love-hate relationship with the use of AI as a shortcut too.

  • Use AI to generate new art and photos and videos? Yeah! Have someone else use AI to copy my art and photos? No fair!
  • Use AI to write my employee self-review? OK! Have my employer give me an AI-generated performance review? No thanks.
  • Use AI to write marketing content? Sweet! Read AI-generated marketing content? Ugh!

As society enabled the creation of businesses to serve people, we also need society to give business leadership principles for applying AI and other shortcuts to continue to serve people.

Good and Bad Shortcuts in Business

I believe businesses can adopt good uses of shortcuts and avoid bad uses of shortcuts. The same fundamental principles can apply to both AI-based shortcuts and any other shortcuts.

Avoid Bad Shortcuts in Business

Avoid illegal and unfair shortcuts at work, as they have would have a negative impact on others.

  • Follow regulations: For example, don’t do illegal dumping of toxic wastes, manipulated financial reporting, and inappropriate workplace favors or harassment. As AI regulations get approved, honor those regulations too.
  • Be careful even in gray areas: Apply the “New York Times test” for business practices which are questionable even if they’re not outright illegal in today’s legal system. For example, how would you feel if your shortcut were publicly exposed and reported openly on the front page of the New York Times newspaper? If your shortcut, AI or not, won’t be able to withstand public scrutiny, then think twice about using it.

Avoid shortcuts at work which shift effort and risks to other people. These types of shortcuts don’t help society overall, and will often backfire on the short-cutters when people find out about them.

  • Simple case of bad shortcut: Skipping the erasure of the conference room whiteboard, resulting in requiring the next users to wipe clean.
  • Complicated case of bad shortcut: Skimping quality control in airplanes, cars, deep-sea vessels, and other safety equipment, resulting in danger to the public. Even when there’s quality control, the public may still resent becoming inadvertent “guinea pigs.” For example, see the AI backlash in San Francisco against AI-enabled self-driving vehicles.

Shortcuts with limited upsides and big downsides are not worth it.

  • Avoid shortcuts with bad risk-benefit ratio: When hiking or skiing, the shortest path down the mountain may be the steepest gradient descent straight down a vertical cliff. The risks of injury and fatality are huge compared to the limited gain from taking the shortcut down the cliff. Similarly at work, avoid shortcuts which offer little benefit relative to the huge risks (e.g. skipping reviews of AI-generated legal or marketing content, or doing dangerous publicity stunts on social media).

Take Good Shortcuts in Business

Instead, pursue shortcuts which are unambiguously legal, fair, and offer good risk-benefit ratio. Fair shortcuts are openly available to all who choose to take them. Since not everyone will prioritize these shortcuts, these good shortcuts remain a competitive edge for businesses that use them well.

1. Use standardized processes: checklists and templates.

  • Following a checklist consistently is a shortcut to reduce costs and produce better outcomes. Checklists are used by pilots, surgeons, and marketers and anyone else who needs to follow complex steps consistently. In the Checklist Manifesto book, Atul Gawande wrote how hospitals saved lives with checklists.
  • Also templates of all sorts will save time. Templates include business forms, boilerplate text, software code libraries, and even manufacturing jigs and molds.
  • These standardized processes save time and increase quality. Prudent businesses will still keep checklists and templates when they delegate tasks to AI.

2. Use appropriate technologies including AI. As mentioned earlier, society has always invested in beneficial technologies for shortcuts to get more done.

  • AI techniques have recently accelerated cancer detection, drug discoveries, and robot-assisted surgeries, all which promise to reduce healthcare costs while improving patient outcomes.
  • Streamline meeting organization at work. AI-based business productivity tools can assist with scheduling the meetings, recording meeting notes, and summarizing the meetings. They’re worth trying so that people can focus on the meeting discussions.
  • AI is now embedded into many business tools. Watch for new regulations though.

3. Run continuous improvement programs. Feedback loops accelerate the organizational learning process and spur innovation.

  • In my previous company, factory line workers received cash bonuses when they submitted productivity or safety improvement ideas that got approved and implemented. Everyone benefited from these types of shortcuts.
  • In another company, I both participated in and judged hackathons and hackday projects. These events encouraged employees to prototype new creative solutions to help the business and customers, including with the use of AI.

4. Remove duplicate systems and other wastes.

  • Large enterprises can save costs and streamline processes by standardizing on tools. I was at a company that used both Google plus Microsoft office suites, Slack plus MS Teams, MS Teams plus Zoom, and multiple project management tools. Confused employees needed extra time to juggle the many overlapping systems. Costs for licensing, interoperability, and training could have been shortcut by removing the duplicate systems.
  • As new AI-based tools proliferate in the enterprise, look for opportunities to standardize on the best tools when they mature. Be ready to dismiss other tool options to reduce complexities and costs.


While some shortcuts are risky, unfair, and/or illegal in business, there are still many good acceptable shortcuts that businesses can take.

Some of these shortcuts are simple like following checklists rigorously, and then finding ways to continually improve those standard processes.

Other shortcuts involve the use of appropriate technologies including AI. Watch out for emerging regulations and gray areas though.

As you reflect on the use of AI in business, what AI applications do you believe are fair shortcuts, and which ones could potentially raise ethical concerns? Join the conversation by sharing your perspectives.

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Originally published on aijimmy.com. Feature image by Freepik.

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