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Business leaders in the Middle East need to stand out in an AI-driven crowd

The key, experts say, lies in tapping into innate humane qualities— emotion, genuine purpose, and a deep cultural understanding of the real world

Business leaders in the Middle East need to stand out in an AI-driven crowd
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

“The age of AI is upon us,” Microsoft’s CEO and chairman Satya Nadella said last year. It certainly feels this way. It’s a world where every business and professional is using AI in one way or another – for sharper insights, automating processes, and utilizing GenAI for everything.

Global spending on AI is expected to surpass $300 billion by 2026. CEOs in the Middle East consider GenAI a top investment opportunity. And money has been pouring in. The growth is expected to be exponential. 

For businesses, AI is an advantage now. Although not all are riding the wave of change with equal success, soon, it will be a level playing field. 

How can then business leaders truly stand out in this AI-driven crowd? 


At its most basic level, the key lies in tapping into innate humane qualities— emotion, genuine purpose, and a deep cultural understanding of the real world. 

For leaders, tapping into unique human experiences must be a vital element of their strategy to distinguish themselves in the AI age.

“Businesses can gain a competitive advantage by blending the computational power of AI with unique human qualities such as emotional intelligence, creativity, and ethical judgment,” says Dr. Akram Awad, Partner, BCG.

“This combination allows business leaders to make more nuanced decisions, promote innovation, and stay ahead of the competition.” 

What technology enables is remarkable, and with the increasing importance of AI and its impact on society, it will revolutionize innovation. Yet, a human-centered approach is essential to creating more impactful experiences across all stakeholders. 

“By integrating purpose and deep cultural understanding, leaders can build stronger brand relationships and connect authentically with diverse audiences, resonating with them in meaningful ways,” says Mohammed Amin, SVP, CEEMETA, at Dell Technologies.

The most iconic brands and influential leaders know authenticity is a cornerstone of meaningful connections. Former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg emphasized that “leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection,” while Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks, noted, “The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”

AI can support businesses’ pursuit of authentic connections but doesn’t replace the human role. The ability of leaders to speak both technical and business language and align the use of technology with business goals will distinguish winning companies from the rest. 

AI will follow, not lead.

“While AI excels at data analysis and automation, it often lacks human analysis. This is one area where business leaders can stand out by emphasizing empathy, intuition, and emotional intelligence in their business operations,” says Amin.


For example, AI doesn’t know what makes an investor trust an entrepreneur or delight customers with sincere service. This is where humans will have to step in.

“Focusing on building trust through ethical AI practices, aligning AI initiatives with business goals, and creating tangible benefits can help drive additional value, setting leaders apart in an AI-driven world,” says Amin.

Connecting to stakeholders through shared values helps distinguish a company in an AI-crowded field. While AI can be useful in some aspects of content creation, building trust requires a human perspective. 

Customers and stakeholders value trust.

“When leaders operate through the lens of purpose, we’re better able to drive positive impact and build trust — with our employees, customers, partners, and the communities in which we do business,” says Guy Diedrich, SVP & Global Innovation Officer, Country Digital Acceleration & Cisco Networking Academy.

“Trust is the currency of the digital age. It’s not money. Trust comes from shared vulnerability and a shared set of values. It comes from understanding each community’s unique assets and challenges and then working together to develop the right solutions to address them. When it comes to AI, you need a trusted partner as much as an algorithm,” adds Diedrich.


AI can be a game-changer in keeping your connections and content real. Yet, the reality is that though businesses are riding the AI wave, it’s not AI but about how powerful human creativity is in employing it.

The surge in GenAI tools, from text-to-image generators to AI-assisted music composition platforms, has illustrated this point. 

“These tools have opened new horizons for creative expression, enabling individuals to bring their imaginative visions to life with unprecedented ease and flexibility,” says Awad. “This shift represents a significant democratization of creativity, where the barrier to entry is not one’s technical skill but rather the breadth of one’s imagination. By skillfully melding AI with human ingenuity, we can transcend traditional boundaries and explore new realms of innovation and artistic expression.”

Most agree that AI has the potential to elevate or alienate a large portion of the world’s population from the digital economy. 

The advent of AI is creating uneasiness across the global workforce. The World Economic Forum predicts that 83 million workers will be displaced by digitization, but 69 million new jobs that require different skills will be created.

But with this upheaval comes opportunity.

“AI will enhance jobs that require problem-solving and creativity and de-emphasize those that are more rote or repetitive. That means it’s even more important for workers to have the foundational skills necessary to adapt to the changing AI landscape. The potential to apply AI for good is limited only by our imagination. It’s imperative that we securely connect everyone so everyone can participate,” says Diedrich.

Ultimately, Amin adds, the fusion of AI’s analytical power and human creativity leads to the most impactful and transformative outcomes.

Meanwhile, reports have shown that even though companies plan to increase their digital investments this year, many leaders struggle with unclear realized value for the business and justify investments in AI.

Those leaders who find a way to invest not only in smart technology but also in their people, processes, and culture to realize value from their investments. Leaders who use AI creatively and showcase their humanity will lead the pack. 

“You’ve got to have diversity around the table as you develop AI. So it’s not just about putting the right information in—it’s about ensuring that the right people are able to actively participate in developing AI. If you don’t have diversity around the table, it won’t be reflected in the code, and you are just perpetuating bias,” says Diedrich. 

Ultimately, leaders who apply high-fidelity concepts, such as embodied cognition and multisensory learning, into AI development and leverage knowledge across mediums and cultural insights will be more successful in creating authentic AI.

“Embodied cognition, the idea that our thoughts are deeply rooted in our physical experiences, suggests that AI, too, can benefit from a more human-like way of learning and interacting with the world,” says Awad.

With advanced concepts coupled with a deep cultural understanding, AI can avoid biases and more effectively communicate across diverse populations, enhancing the user experience and ensuring that AI solutions are more equitable and inclusive.

And as AI becomes more integrated into our lives, a brand’s genuine purpose becomes crucial for acceptance. Brands that articulate and live by a purpose that aligns with their audience’s values, rather than just selling products, will foster a deeper emotional connection and earn trust. 

“This alignment with user values and culturally sensitive personalization will distinguish successful brands in an AI-driven marketplace,” adds Awad.

While AI can serve as a good thought starter and idea generator, a human perspective is critical for a leader’s communications to resonate —connect to others meaningfully and thoughtfully.

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Suparna Dutt D’Cunha is the Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She is interested in ideas and culture and cover stories ranging from films and food to startups and technology. She was a Forbes Asia contributor and previously worked at Gulf News and Times Of India. More

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