“AI is one of the most profound things we’re working on as humanity. It’s more profound than fire or electricity.”Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet
We’ve all been there – staring blankly at our computer screen, willing ourselves to get through the massive task list that seems utterly daunting. The thousands of mundane tasks that our work seems to require day after day. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some super-powered assistant to help lighten the load?
Well, that future is closer than you think. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been hyped up in the media, with talk of how it will disrupt giant corporations and eliminate whole industries. But on a more personal level, AI is poised to be an incredibly useful tool for individuals like you and me just trying to do our jobs better.
AI is not a threat to human workers; rather, it is a powerful ally that can augment their skills and capabilities. AI can improve productivity, innovation, and well-being in the workplace, in theory, in reality, it comes down to you, not it.
“The most exciting thing we’ve all witnessed is how when digital technology was required out of necessity it was adopted at scale across every industry.”Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft
An end to rinse and repeat?
On an average Tuesday, you might need to analyse last quarter’s sales figures, process 50 expense reports, write next week’s newsletter, and finalise the agenda for Friday’s client meeting. Most of us can barely find enough minutes in the day for our core responsibilities, let alone innovate and move the business forward. We get bogged down in the mundane.
Now imagine having an assistant that could take on repetitive, time-consuming tasks like processing those expense reports, transcribing your meeting notes, or even writing first drafts of basic documents. AI promises to take the busy work off our plates so we can focus on high-value priorities.
As I’m sure you are aware, these technologies are developing fast. Big tech companies like Google, Meta, Anthropic, and Microsoft already offer tools that can analyse data, understand natural language, and generate text. While in the past, this capability was limited to wealthy enterprises, now it’s accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
For instance, historically, Amazon’s CodeWhisperer tool can auto-generate code to handle basic tasks, freeing developers to work on more complex programming challenges. Microsoft’s PowerBI enables rapid data analysis and visualisation, allowing everyday business users to spot trends. More recently Google’s Smart Compose for Gmail suggests complete sentences as you type emails. And Anthropic’s Claude, Microsoft’s Bing, Meta’s Llama, and of course OpenAI’s ChatGPT allow you to have natural conversations – the idea being, talking to a virtual assistant the same way you would chat with a colleague!
“Computers only have chips, men have the heart. It’s the heart where the wisdom comes from.”Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba
The Key Is Human Critical Thinking
Of course, there are significant limitations. These tools rely on algorithms created by imperfect humans like you and me. So while they can accelerate and enhance our work, it takes a critical-thinking human to provide direction, ask tough questions, and make judgment calls. AI augments human intelligence, but so far, absolutely doesn’t replace it.
Imagine you need to create a proposal for a prospective client. Your assistant could analyse past proposals and existing client data to generate an initial draft. But only you have the strategic perspective to refine the messaging, highlight unique value, and tailor the pitch. The technology handles the grunt work while you provide the creativity and strategy.
Or perhaps you need to uncover insights from five years of messy sales data. PowerBI or something like ChatGPT can rapidly process and visualise trends. But you still need a critical eye to interpret what it all means and decide where to focus next. The AI brings efficiency, while you bring sense-making.
The individuals who will thrive with these new tools are the ones who keep asking “why?” and push the algorithms’ assumptions. Rather than just accepting an output at face value, we need to scrutinise the underlying biases and limitations. AI should spark more questions, not shut down thinking.
For instance, if an analysis of social media sentiment shows customer dissatisfaction rising, you should dig deeper into the root causes. Is it a temporary blip or indicative of a persistent issue? Does the AI have enough historical context to interpret the finding? What other data sources could you examine to validate the insight? A critical perspective prevents blindly following the machine.
When you ‘play’ with these tools you will quite often be disappointed by the results. They often do the best they can but without clarity, context, and a clear vision of the answer they get things comically wrong or worse, confidently wrong. This comes due to you, not it. You provide it with the wisdom to provide you with the answers. Never forget, AI, in itself is not as ‘intelligent’ as the name would suggest.
“Some people call this artificial intelligence, but the reality is this technology will enhance us. So instead of artificial intelligence, I think we’ll augment our intelligence.”Ginni Rometty, former CEO of IBM
You’re the Boss
It’s tempting to anthropomorphise these technologies and imagine them making autonomous decisions. But make no mistake – you are in charge. An AI assistant has no intent or initiative beyond what a human user gives it.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella captures it perfectly: “The partnership between computers and humans is based not purely on raw compute power, but on the human ability to describe situations and dilemmas.” We provide the messy human context.
So don’t fear AI taking over your job. Instead, get excited about how it can make you better at your job! Augmenting human strengths while reducing drudgery benefits workers and businesses alike.
The Benefits Are Real
So what are the benefits of using these tools in your work? According to a recent report by Deloitte, AI can help us achieve:
- Higher productivity: Complete tasks faster and more efficiently by automating routine processes and providing intelligent assistance.
- Higher quality: Improve the accuracy and reliability of their outputs by reducing errors and enhancing performance.
- Higher innovation: Generate new ideas and solutions by providing inspiration, insights, and feedback.
- Higher well-being: Reduce stress and increase satisfaction by alleviating workload pressure and enhancing personal growth.
That’s all true, however, it all starts with the individual and the willingness to embrace and understand where the value is.
“We’re not going to get caught up in the hype of AI — we want to make products that really help people. We see AI as a technique to enable that.”Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
Skills for an AI-Driven World
To take full advantage of the AI revolution, focus on building skills that complement algorithmic approaches:
Interacting with an AI
- A prompt is not a single question, it is a set of instructions that will enable the machine to automate part of your day’s work. If you want to automate data entry from text, you’re the one who comes up with the initial idea.
- Master the art of asking the right questions and how to structure them logically.
- Direct creatively, when seeking insight, don’t just ask the right questions, provide context, without this your AI is a blunt instrument. For example, if it does not know who you are, your objectives, what you’re selling, or who you’re selling to, how can it be expected to generate meaningful insight?
- Judge ethically, and ensure outputs align with your organisation’s values and societal good.
- Always fact-check outputs especially if your instructions included web-based research.
- Think critically, learn to spot limitations, biases, and assumptions baked into responses, and ask if this is a characteristic of the model you are using. This should include reviewing your question and considering alternative structures or syntax that might yield a better response.
- Ask follow-up questions, and instruct the AI to take a deeper dive into specific areas to further build your understanding.
- Apply your knowledge of your objectives, those of your business, and trends in your sector with the insights generated by the AI, before sharing the work with your team.
Interacting with other humans
- Evangelise wisely remembering to communicate clearly the concepts and limitations to colleagues without technical backgrounds.
- Advise strategically, and provide recommendations on how AI can create business value and competitive advantage.
- Adopt an entrepreneurial approach, and find new ways to incorporate these technologies that may not be obvious yet.
- Mitigate risks, anticipate potential pitfalls of relying on AI, and develop appropriate safeguards.
- Learn continuously to stay on top of developments in the market and the introduction of new capabilities relevant to your work.
- Maintain context – Given AI’s limitations, ensure it complements but doesn’t replace human judgment.
“AI is a tool. The choice about how it gets deployed is ours.”Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn
The future is here. With the right mindset and skillset, AI can transform you into a workplace superhero! Stop dreading the tedious and start dreaming of how much more impactful work you could now achieve.
That said… it doesn’t actually matter what all the lords of technology say about how great it’s going to be. In many ways, it’s absolutely irrelevant. The big question is how will you put this game-changing technology to work… for you? If you want to learn more take the summer course on AI here.
Credits: Idea & Outline: Jon Bains (who has been thinking about this for a while) Tone of Voice & Structure: Claude + 50k words of JB articles. Research and first draft: Bing from Claude TOV + JB outline. Rewrite to match TOV: Claude (90%) & Jon Bains (10% that’s the point)