Humans and AI: How gray-area thinking is a competitive differentiator

Welcome to the Gray Zone: the murky space between dangerous and safe, right and wrong, black and white. Chances are, you’ve spent a lot of time here as you encounter daily questions and dilemmas that don’t have easy, clear-cut answers. The Gray Zone isn’t a place to be feared or avoided; it’s a playground where humans unpack ideas, solve problems, engage with others, and create the best possible outcomes. And in a world being transformed by artificial intelligence (AI), gray-area thinking helps humans differentiate.

Gray areas are a fact of life and business

Imagine you’re a salesperson at an internet service provider (ISP), paid on a commission basis. You’re on the line with a potential customer who needs a new internet package. After you explain the available options, the customer outlines a need that requires a more flexible solution. You know that a direct competitor offers exactly what the customer needs. What should you do? 

In life and in business, we’re often faced with dilemmas that involve competing priorities—in this instance, do you walk away from the business? Encourage the customer to reach out to the competition? Learning to think outside the box is a vital business skill that demands high levels of critical thinking and emotional intelligence. The beauty is that it opens up new avenues of experimentation and problem-solving. For example, in the ISP scenario, you could perhaps find a way to tailor a new package to the customer’s requirements so that everyone benefits (other than your competitor, that is!). When you get into unclear spaces and your thinking is challenged, you have the potential to come up with solutions to problems you may not have previously identified. 

Gray matter sets humans apart 

Many processes and business decisions can be automated—particularly if they’re clear, repeatable, and can be translated into an algorithm. Those are the tasks that the current generation of bots can easily take on. The question is, what are the things that we, as humans, can do that machines can’t? Gray decision-making is one of the daily occurrences that require a human touch. When you use your human brain to play in the gray, you are doing something that AI can’t do well. Gray area decision-making is typically more subjective, and often requires empathy and/or critical reasoning to result in optimal outcomes, as we saw in the example above. 

Simulations encourage learners to play in the gray

Simulations are commonly used to help people learn how to navigate dilemmas that lack clear-cut answers or have both positive and negative consequences. The benefit of using simulations to give learners the opportunity to play in the gray is that they provide a safe environment for them to explore different possibilities and experience different outcomes. 

Simulations rooted in real-life scenarios challenge learners to think deeply, meaningfully engage with peers, and consider different ideas and perspectives; ultimately developing their capacity to maximize the impact of decisions that don’t have a single right answer. Playing in the gray helps people think divergently, develop empathy, and work through problems in an organic way to come up with innovative solutions. Conversely, if you limit learners to right or wrong answers, you miss the opportunity to develop these critical thinking skills. 


Blueline is on a mission to help people grow their uniquely human skills and future-proof themselves and their organizations. We welcome the opportunity to discuss how immersive learning simulations that encourage learners to play in the gray could benefit your people and your organization. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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