One of the most impressionable moments in Camilla Olson’s life happened when she was a young schoolchild at an all-girls Catholic school and one of her favorite teachers was ousted for freely voicing her opinions. Since then, Camilla has vigorously pursued her passions, tackling perceived limitations with confidence and conviction.
After five startups, including two exits and one IPO, Camilla has launched a new business, Savitude, which uses artificial intelligence to personalize clothing designs for all body types. Savitude was named one of Forbes’ 60 Women-Led Startups That Are Shaking Up Tech Across The Globe.
Camilla recently shared three strategies for building a business in the artificial intelligence space with me.
Know enough to be dangerous.
Once an electron microscopist, Camilla has built companies that leverage a wide array of different technologies. Throughout her career, she has embraced a “good enough to be dangerous approach”. That is, Camilla believes that in order to start and successfully lead a company, she needs to know enough about a technology to understand where it is most useful—and, especially, where it is more useful vis a vis an incumbent technology—but doesn’t need to be fully versed in the technology. What’s more important is that she leverage her strength as a lateral thinker.
The importance of lateral thinking—indirect or unorthodox problem solving—in the artificial intelligence field cannot be overstated. Despite much technological progress over the past few years, machines cannot replicate humans’ lateral thinking. By harnessing her lateral thinking skills, Camilla is able to identify where technology will be useful and apply it in unconventional ways so as to give rise to something disruptive.
Hire right-brain technologists.
Hiring technical talent is difficult, especially in the artificial intelligence field. It’s not enough to find a capable candidate who knows the technology in and out. Camilla recommends taking the time to find technologists who are not only adept in artificial intelligence technology, but also exude empathy and other right brain traits. With so much of artificial intelligence focused on left-brained activities—logic, facts, and rules—a right-brained mindset is critical not just in terms of developing innovative projects, but also in terms of developing artificial intelligence tools that are ethically sound.
Minimize technology overload.
Especially for leaders building businesses in the artificial intelligence space, it’s tempting to cling to a hodgepodge of tools—Google Docs, Dropbox, Slack, Evernote, and the like—as part of the daily grind. According to research by Asana (full disclosure: I work for Asana), on average, knowledge workers use ten apps and software programs every day.
Camilla believes she has a critical role in minimizing technology overload and setting a strong example for her team. She is a strong believer in setting up good habits. To combat email bloat, for example, Camilla only checks email during certain hours of the day. To ensure she and her team are clear on priorities, she encourages everyone to manage their to-dos in Asana. And to ensure she is laser-focused on the big picture, Camilla plasters her team’s high-level mission on a physical Kanban board on her desk. Each Sunday serves as a reset point for Camilla when she refreshes her to-dos and primes herself and her team to productively and mindfully conquer another week.
Camilla didn’t set out to build an artificial intelligence-powered technology. By leveraging lateral thinking, hiring a team with complementary skillsets, and carefully selecting technology tools to guide her along the way, Camilla is developing a business that has all the makings of another success story. Her approach is one that all aspiring founders, especially those building companies fueled by artificial intelligence, should consider.