Like the rest of the world, I’ve been fascinated by the recent emergence of Artificial Intelligence into the mainstream of work life. Over the past few months, we’ve all watched in amazement as hundreds of new A.I. tools have flooded the market. These programs can refine and even create brand new images, videos, presentations, written content, data analysis, and more. You can’t spend more than two minutes on social media without being inundated by self-proclaimed “experts” telling you how A.I. has revolutionized the workplace and if you don’t get on board, you’re going to get left behind.
If you’re like me, all of this noise can create a lot of anxiety and overwhelm. If you’re an office professional (and not necessarily a “tech” professional), A.I. can sound like some kind of mysterious monster that’s coming for your job. You may be tempted to bury your head in the sand and ignore it, but it’s a reality we all have to face.
In this video, I’m going to share some realistic steps you can take to start slowly easing your way into this new world of Artificial Intelligence.
The article below summarizes the video content.
Let’s start with the most basic question:
What is Artificial Intelligence?
The simplest explanation comes from IBM: Artificial Intelligence is a type of computer science that leverages datasets to enable problem solving. It simulates human intelligence because it learns from experience and gets smarter (which sounds wild!). It’s able to analyze, interpret, and identify patterns. It’s able to make decisions, find connections and process information in a very sophisticated way.
In practice, this means it has the capability to take over the world. Just kidding…It’s not quite there yet, but you can definitely see the potential.
A.I. has a wide range of applications across the business world. However, just recently, I had the realization that A.I. is as much a skillset as it is a tool. It’s a lot like Microsoft Excel in that way. The software itself is amazing technology. It can basically do anything you want it to. The trick is, you have to know what you want it to do…and you have to be able to communicate that with the technology. MS Excel is truly a language all its own, and in many ways, so is Artificial Intelligence. Having access to the tool is not enough. We also need the right skills to make the tool work.
With that in mind, here are some strategies you can employ to start building these critical A.I. skills.
Practice & Play
The absolute best and easiest way to learn something new is to get your hands dirty. There is no time like the present to start playing with Artificial Intelligence—and yes, I do mean “playing.” Don’t expect it to generate anything useful at first. If it does, great. But that’s not the purpose of what you’re doing. Your goal is not to save hours of work in the first few minutes of using a new tool. Your goal is to just test it out, see how it works, and start thinking about how it could be useful.
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of A.I. “experts” claiming that new tools have saved them hundreds of hours, but don’t be fooled. That level of proficiency requires a huge investment of time on the front-end. You have to learn how to leverage the software fully and figure out how to implement it into your day-to-day workflow. You might not have the same luxury of time that the experts have. Huge time savings are definitely possible with Artificial Intelligence, but most of us won’t experience that immediately. Like anything, there’s a learning curve.
You want to spend enough time playing to know which software has potential and which ones just aren’t for you (or aren’t for you right now). That might mean working with a tool for a few hours or even a few weeks, trying different features and watching video tutorials. You may spend a lot of time playing only to discover that a program isn’t actually a good match for you.
A.I. itself is revolutionary, but not every tool will revolutionize your work.
And that’s okay! You’ve still gotten smarter in the process. Keep your expectations in check and stay curious.
You may find that many of the tools you use already now have A.I. components built into them, and certainly more will be added in the future. When you see new options to use A.I. in your existing tools, try it out and see what happens.
To give you a few examples…The platform I use for my website had a recent update and now it allows you to generate A.I. text and images in certain places or use A.I. to improve your existing text with a click of a button. It’s a small but useful addition.
When I can’t find an image I want, I now can use the “text to image” app in Canva and tell A.I. to generate the exact image I’m looking for. Sometimes it looks a little weird, but usually it’s pretty good.
Google, Microsoft, and pretty much every other major technology developer has been incorporating elements of A.I. into their existing products and likely will continue. Now is the time to experiment inside of your commonly used tools.
If you want to try new AI technology, Chat GPT is a good place to start. It’s probably the most well-known A.I. tool and the easiest to use. It basically simulates a chat conversation, only you’re talking to A.I. You can ask it to do anything—teach, write, edit, outline, you name it. Of course, the more information you give it, the better the outcome. Providing context and background details will help ensure the results are worthwhile. For example, you might enter something like this:
I am a senior executive assistant at a small wealth management firm in Northern California. Please help me write a professional email to my boss, the senior managing partner, to ask for funds to attend the Project Management Learning Lab in September. This is a full-day interactive virtual training program designed to help non-project managers understand the methodology to lead projects from concept to completion. The email should explain why this training is a valuable investment for my organization and the benefits I will receive from attending.
Chat GPT will generate a response and, from there, you can refine it. In my experience, the results aren’t usually perfect, but they are a useful starting point. Most of us do a lot better when we’re not starting with a blank slate. You can also ask Chat GPT to make some adjustments for you, or just click “regenerate” to have it to try again with the existing information.
Some of my favorite AI applications (and apps with AI features) include:
- Otter AI (transcription)
- Copy AI (writing)
- Canva (graphic design)
- Notion (digital notes management)
- Asana (task and project management)
- Lucid (visual collaboration and workflow mapping)
It’s worthwhile noting that I’ve spoken to several individuals lately who tell me their organizations don’t currently allow A.I. tools to be used. If that’s the case where you are, don’t let it stop you from playing. Instead, just use your own personal computer at home. At some point in the near future, your organization will allow these tools, and when they do, you’ll be one step ahead of the game.
Be Mindful of Privacy and Confidentiality Concerns
All new technology runs the risk of opening us up to new privacy and confidentiality concerns. Whenever you’re sharing data electronically, it helps to use caution. Follow your organization’s policies and don’t share any private information, whether personal or business-related. This includes personal identification information (like phone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, etc.) and proprietary organizational information (like intellectual property, client data, business plans, etc.). Assume that anything you do in an open A.I. system will be made public. If your organization uses secure enterprise A.I. software, the rules may be different, but always err on the side of caution.
Legal Concerns, Bias, and Misinformation
Any tool like Chat GPT, which is running off an invisible set of data, can potentially offer information that is inaccurate or tainted by some intentional or unintentional bias. When it tells you a “fact,” you still need to apply your skeptical mind. At this point, we just don’t know the validity of the data it’s using. It’s like the Internet itself. Ultimately, people created it so it’s inherently flawed.
Additionally, all kinds of legal questions have arisen regarding the ownership of information generated by Chat GPT. If the system itself is learning from material it doesn’t own, and possibly sampling legally protected materials, who actually owns the output? These are big questions that will be addressed in the coming years. But for now, we have to be cautious. Generally speaking, you probably don’t want to use Chat GPT output verbatim. Use your common sense and good judgement, and again, always follow the policies set forth by your organization.
Explore Use Cases
Probably the most important thing any of us can do to navigate the new world of A.I. is to talk about it with our colleagues. Ask other office professionals what systems they’re using and how they’re using them. You’re likely to be surprised! I’ve heard from people using A.I. to optimize scheduling; streamline customer service; transcribe meeting minutes; edit documents, photos, and videos; create dynamic presentations and graphics; even plan and organize multi-city travel.
I’ve also been surprised to hear people share how they use A.I. in their personal lives. For example, a friend shared the other day that she knows someone who uses Chat GPT to meal plan. She tells it her dietary restrictions and preferences, asks it to plan meals for the week, and then has it generate a grocery list for those meals! I also read an article a few weeks ago from someone who uses Chat GPT as a kind of unqualified therapist. She journals about her life and then asks for feedback, advice, and support…and the software provides it.
We’re only limited by our imagination and our willingness to experiment.
Stay Up-To-Date (Within Reason)
Let’s be real: it’s impossible to stay fully up-to-date with all the advancements in A.I…and (thankfully) it’s not necessary. Nearly every day, new A.I. tools are launched, and A.I. features are added to existing tools. The pace of innovation is only going to increase, and more than likely, some (or many!) of these new technologies won’t last. This space is incredibly competitive because we only have so much time and attention to go around.
Regardless, in the coming years, A.I. will be seamlessly integrated into every aspect of life and work. Some of it will feel like a very natural progression; some of it will be harder to assimilate to.
We will adapt, nonetheless.
We can make the process smoother by staying informed. We don’t have to obsessively monitor tech news or try out every new tool on the market. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open. Be willing to see the possibilities. Start by following a few A.I. experts on social media (I strongly recommend Zain Kahn and his Superhuman Newsletter). But also remember to take everything the experts say with a grain of salt. They are hype machines and it’s very easy to get sucked into the noise.
Most importantly, when something piques our interest, capture it. You might not have capacity to explore every interesting tool right now, but you never know when you might have the opportunity in the future.
I keep a list of tech resources I might want to investigate in Notion. It’s a simple database that includes the name of the software, a short description, and a link to access it. Whenever I stumble upon a new technology that grabs my attention (often found in Zain’s newsletter), I capture it. If you’re interested, here’s a screenshot and a downloadable PDF export of my list.
Obviously, this list is curated to meet my needs and interests, so yours might look a little different.
The real trick is remembering to investigate these tools if and when the opportunity arises. All too often, we end up working on autopilot. We do things the way we’ve always done them, and we miss out on efficiencies. The risk is that our peers will find those efficiencies and, consequently, perform at a much higher level, leaving us at the back of the pack—the outdated slow-poke who still works like it’s the stone ages.
But remember: it’s also not about wedging a tool in just because it seems cool or because you want to look advanced. Adding technology isn’t always the best way to optimize a workflow. Be strategic about what you choose to incorporate into your work and why.
Here’s what I’ve come to realize about Artificial Intelligence: We are currently only scratching the surface of a very big, very deep iceberg. The more it grows, the harder it will be to adjust. The more you ignore it, the bigger and scarier it will become. And yes, if you’re not careful, it could sink you. The best way to deal with it is head on.
Pay attention. Ask questions. Get curious. Get excited. Take notes. Play. Explore. Share.
And remember that no tech tool is perfect. Humans must always verify what they are doing and ensure they are working properly for the situation.
We’re still in the early days of Artificial Intelligence. We all have a lot to learn, and the possibilities are endless.