Published DateAuthorDan Sullivan of Strategic Coach and Gord Vickman
Dan Sullivan and Gord Vickman discuss the importance of partnership between AI and humans—finding a balance between technology and the human touch. Dan also shares his insights about where ideas come from and the differences between creativity, wisdom, and intelligence.
In This Episode:
Dan and Gord talk about the importance of AI-human partnership, addressing concerns of AI replacing human creativity.
Where does Dan get his ideas? Through conversations with ambitious people and those who faced setbacks, as well as by thinking about his thinking.
Intelligence manifests in Unique Ability®, like Larry Bird's situational quickness and unpredictability in basketball.
Human creativity links unrelated concepts, while AI focuses on patterns and predictability.
What’s the difference between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom?
Journalism's decline linked to AI's inability to replicate the classic journalist’s three Ws: waiting, wondering, and wandering.
News reporter Barbara Frum interviewing the Shah of Iran's consort, tapping into the listeners’ reactions in a way that AI never could.
Dan sees AI as just another tool, not a replacement for human thinking, and emphasizes maintaining agency and partnership with technology.
Gord Vickman: Welcome to the next episode of podcast playoffs. We are so glad you’re with us. My name is Gord Vickman, here, as always, with my podcast partner, Dan Sullivan. Are you feeling technological or are we feeling human? We’ve cheekily titled this one human horsepower. We’re not rolling over for the robot, and that’s what we’re going to be discussing.
Dan Sullivan: I’m a focused human with an interest in technology.
Gord Vickman: If you stick with us today, you’re going to hear some insights and tips from Dan Sullivan about partnering with AI.
We’ve covered a lot of AI recently, because it’s on everyone’s lips and on everyone’s screens. But the partnership between AI Technologies and new SaaS offerings and whatnot still need that human touch. So here’s how you can finesse that into your own working life and your personal life. And that’s what you’re going to get from today’s episode of Podcast Payoffs. We cover the intersection of technology and teamwork, and we’re so glad you’re with us.
Dan, let’s start off with a big, juicy question. There’s been a lot of talk lately—both my sisters are teachers, they’re tearing their hair out because people are doing everything with ChatGPT now. They’re deferring everything to ChatGPT. Essays are being written, papers are being written, tests are being done, homework, and they are nervous. They’re trying to figure out ways that they can get kids to, you know, use their own brains and initiate that own creativity.
So the big juicy question is: In your opinion, where do good human ideas come from?
Let’s throw it back to ‘85 and pretend we do not have GPT, or MidJourney, or any of the other tools. Where do good human ideas come from? In the shower, in the bathroom, walking, waiting, wondering? In your opinion, where do you get your ideas from?
Dan Sullivan: I can only use my own experience, because I have ample evidence that other people have come up with good ideas. But I think it’s something unique that happens. I think people who are in the habit of coming up with good ideas, I think, develop their own unique methods from the standpoint of input, you know: What kind of input are they getting that triggers new thoughts?
For me, it’s two different worlds. One is discussions with individuals, and the richest source of discussions is really their ambitions. So I have a preference for ambitious people, and what they’re expressing that they’re guessing that this would be a good way to grow their future. And that what they’re not sure of is which guesses are really worth betting on. And it’s a fascinating discussion.
And another aspect of it is where they’ve had a setback. They’ve had a failure. They’ve been blindsided in some way. What is the thinking process that they go through to recognize the situation and realize that they have to have a new strategy and now they have to recover everything they’ve lost—time, money, opportunity, reputation. Then they say, “But since I’ve been inconvenienced, I want a 10 times payoff. So I don’t want to just get back to where I was. I want to shoot ahead.”
In both cases, what I’m talking about, both the ambition and the recovering from negative situations, they generate new ideas and I can ask them questions. So I respond generally, first of all, because I take in their experience and second thing is I ask them questions. Of what their decision-making, so how are they thinking about their thinking? And I’m mainly interested in anyone who has the ability to think about their thinking because I’ve prized this in myself as my most important ability, and that is to use other people’s thinking as raw material for improving my own ability to think about my thinking, and I’ve just answered your question: New ideas come primarily from thinking about your thinking.
Gord Vickman: Here’s another big juicy one, Dan, that sort of segues nicely from what you just said. So there’s three critical elements right now that I think people are using AI to either partner with or even replace. And those I believe, are wisdom, creativity, and intelligence. Many people use those interchangeably.
So in your experience and the way that you process information and the way you move it forward, what is the difference between creativity, wisdom, and intelligence? You can pick whichever one you’d like to go first, because I know they’re different, and they’re related obviously, but we can differentiate them. Creativity, wisdom, and intelligence. How do they differ?
Dan Sullivan: Well, I think intelligence comes first. And I think it’s factory installed. In other words, I think you’re born with intellectual capabilities, and I think it’s kind of on a bell curve. You know there are people who have unusual and unique kinds of intelligence, and this could show up in virtually any kind of different kind of activity.
So for example, it’s very, very clear that some people have phenomenal spatial and physical intelligence, and that shows up in various art forms. It shows up in very, very much so in athletics.
One of my favorite athletes growing up was Larry Bird. Great Boston Celtic basketball player. He probably was the player that opposing players worried most when he was next up on their schedule. And I remember Kareem…
Gord Vickman: Abdul Jabbar.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. And he said, who is the one that he worried the most about when the Lakers were playing other teams? He said it was one player. It was Larry Bird. And the reason was that you never knew what he was going to do next. You just had no patterns that you could anticipate what he was going to do next.
And in his day, he wasn’t the most physically gifted player. But it’s almost like two chess players, but one of them thinks like the chess board. He doesn’t think about the individual pieces. He thinks about the whole chess player, and I think probably in chess that’s another example. And Boston newspaper journalist, who had a photographer, they took a series of about 40 shots—pictures of Larry Bird at different points in the game. The photos were time-stamped, so “This happened in the first quarter, at the three minute mark. This happened in the fourth quarter,” and they had him look at the photos and he said, “Can you identify what you were doing when the shot was taken, at what point in the game was?” And he was about 80% accurate. That his understanding of that situation actually corresponded to their—wwell, that’s an intelligence that he had and just totally unpredictable. He was the famous example of “white men can’t jump,” you know.
Gord Vickman: Did he ever dunk a ball once, maybe twice in his entire career?
Dan Sullivan: Oh yeah. No, no. I mean, he was 6 foot 10. I’m not saying he didn’t have the ability. And he wasn’t so much fast as he was very, very quick, you know? And there’s a difference. There’s people who just have pure speed. But he had remarkable situational quickness. And this was passing. It was rebounding. It was defense, it was shooting.
And one game the other team had really insulted him, and the previous game they had attempted to insult him. And he said, “Next time I’m only going to shoot left-handed the whole game.” He got to 27 points in the third quarter, just shooting left-handed. He shot his foul shots, left hand that he did all of his layups left-handed. He did all of his hook shots left-handed, his jump shots left-handed. But then the game came down to crucial last minute and he says, “OK, I’m going to go to my right hand,” he says, “because they’ve gotten the pattern now that they only have to guard me when I’m shooting left-handed. So for the final minute, I’m going to shoot right-handed,” and came with the winning…
I mean, so I’m using that as an example of someone, and he played with great players, against great players, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, just all-star people who are in the Hall of Fame. And they said, “You were always, always worried. It didn’t matter where you were. You didn’t know what he was going to do next.” That’s a remarkable kind of intelligence.
Gord Vickman: Do you think as he went on in his career, the wisdom unfolded from that?
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. The other thing is he used far less energy than the other players and he was an enormous trash-talker. I mean, he was always in their heads, the other peoples’ heads.
Charles Barkley, who I find one of the most humorous individuals in sports. I mean, he’s just got a wonderful sense of humor. So Charles Barkley was telling the story that about halfway through the first quarter he could hear Larry Bird mumbling and, you know, kind of cursing. So there was a foul called. So the action stopped for the foul shots and Charles Barkley says, “What’s going on with you? Why are you so unhappy?”
And he says, “You guys are disrespecting me. I’ve never been so disrespected in any game.”
And Charles Barkley said, “Why?”
And he said, “You’re guarding me with a white guy.” And he was up to it about 16 points in the first quarter, and he says, “What do you have in mind, guarding me with a white guy?” But he had this ability, and I’ve really used him as a role model for doing what I do: Always be unpredictable, always be coming up with something new. And understand the whole game, don’t just understand you’re part of the game.
And so my intelligence, when you talk about intelligence, I think it’s the foundation. And then I think creativity is the next thing is that you have, like, riffs, you know, like great comedians have riffs, OK? And it seems like they are improvising, but in fact, they have hundreds of tricks that they’ve done. And then they start putting the tricks together in new ways. It’s completely unequal. It’s on a bell-curve, so at one end of the bell-curve people would just have massive intelligence. And then at the other end, they don’t have enough intelligence to buy a ticket to the game and be a spectator, you know?
And you had a third thing that’s… So creativity is putting what you already know together in new ways to create a new thing.
Gord Vickman: But that thing already exists. The things have to exist already.
Dan Sullivan: Well, not the new one that you’re creating, but the components that you’re using. Yeah, nothing gets created from nothing. You’re always taking your experience of previous things that work, things that didn’t work, and you’re trying to improve on the things that didn’t work and you’re maximizing the value of the things that didn’t work, but you’re doing it in a new way.
Gord Vickman: And that’s the difference between what AI is generating right now and, you know, human intelligence is creativity is the linking of unrelated things to form a new thing. But AI is only looking at patterns, and it’s only looking at the predictability of that which should come next. Whereas human beings, for whatever reason, maybe if you’re on psychedelics or something, you might find something to link another thing to that had no pattern before has never existed before.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah, right. Yeah. And AI, like all other things, is something that some intelligent creative human being created. They’ve created a new medium, and I think it’s a new medium of communication. You know? It’s that a new capability has been created which allows people to access all sorts of stored-up information, stored up knowledge, and have the technology itself put a lot of things together in response to your request. But the human being said, “I want you to put this together and this together and this together,” but it’s all in the realm of existing information and knowledge.
There is a big gulf, I call it DIKW, that basically what we use for communication is data. OK? So the stock market, if you think of the stock market, the big board, it’s called “the big board” in Wall Street. Dow Jones is a publisher, but when you hear people about stock prices, they’re usually referring to the price of stocks on the big board.
Howard Getson, who is a long time AI pioneer in the Strategic Coach Program, has kept track over the years of what’s the average duration of a price on Wall Street, how quickly do prices change? And on average, it’s every 14 seconds prices change. OK? Twenty-five years ago, it might have been a minute and a half, and then it comes down to a minute, and everything else.
So data is very perishable measurement. All data is a measurement of something. And it’s an interesting thing, but in itself data really doesn’t have any information. And then it’s put together, data points are put together, and they create a higher form, which is called information. And and it’s like products on the shelf, that data only last 14 seconds. Information might last a day, information might last a week. It’s useful for a week. But it also is perishable, to be replaced by better information.
And then a lot of it goes into the realm, you put a lot of information together and you can create understanding of a situation. “Is this the stock that represents the activities of a particular company?” To me, they’ve put a lot of very, very useful data into a lot of very useful information, and they’ve created some very interesting knowledge. And I would say that AI is at the level of assembled knowledge now. The technology allows you to assemble new knowledge very, very quickly. OK? But again, it’s only using a capability that was created by human beings, and all the knowledge are other things that human beings have created.
But I want to explain. Then there’s this huge gulf, OK? And that’s wisdom. And wisdom doesn’t come from AI. OK, wisdom is stored-up experience, very, very what I would say conscious experience, that a particular human has had, and it allows them to create filters about “What you’re talking about, this isn’t even worth paying any attention to,” OK? “Because it’s kind of superficial. You’re giving a a superficial explanation of something, and there’s many, many dimensions that you’re not comprehending here.”
And I think that human beings themselves, many, many human beings over long periods of time, and I’m talking centuries here, develop certain wisdom about whether something has value or not, and I think that’s entirely in the realm of wisdom. It’s not in the realm of data, information, or knowledge. It requires a build-up of those things, but there’s much else that has. So now you’re going to ask another question. So.
Gord Vickman: This was inspired by days in radio school many, many moons ago. We had this old grizzled, he was a news man. He was a journalist and he was the hardcore journalist. This guy was such a a stereotype of what you would picture a Seventies journalist. He was like a walking cartoon, you know, he had the ill-fitting grey suit, he had the fedora with the pencil and the feather and everything. And he was talking about how to find stories and how to generate stories. So he said it’s the three W’s: waiting, wondering, wandering.
So basically waiting. And that’s being bored.
Wondering, allowing yourself to think about things.
And wandering, just wandering around the streets. “Why is that building there, why does this thing look like that? How come this car has been sitting here all day?”
So this is how he would generate stories for newspapers. This is what journalists used to do when we actually had journalists who were doing journalism. That doesn’t exist anymore.
But these are three things that I thought that AI can’t seem to accomplish yet, because an AI program cannot be bored, it cannot move around, and it can’t wonder about anything. And these are three things that are remarkably human traits, and I think to give all that up and pass off your creativity to an AI, you’re basically stealing from yourself at least three things. These are just three of many that AIs can’t do, so those are limitations I’ve seen.
Dan Sullivan: That, yeah, I think it’s a function of what journalism is and how people can get paid for journalism. To a certain degree, any kind of trend in the marketplace, and if there’s a change in, let’s say journalism, if you compare it to today, and let’s say when I first came to Canada, one of my prime sources of information was the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In the evening they had all sorts of interview shows and talk shows, and what I noticed was that, and to exactly verify the model that you said, that the individuals who were on these programs and one of the great ones back then, the program was called “As It Happens”, the main host that I remember so clearly was a woman by the name of Barbara Frum. And Barbara Frum had just worked herself up from the streets, you know, over long, long periods of time. And she just had a phenomenal amount of wisdom, you know?
I remember it was 1979, and it was when the revolution in Iran took place. The Shah of Iran was overthrown. And there was a bloodbath. It was taken over by a fundamentalist Islamic regime, which is still in power today, but they were incomprehensibly wealthy, the Shahs were. The Shah and his family. They had to flee, and he died very shortly after they moved to the United States. They moved to New York. They had a 26-room penthouse on Park Avenue overlooking Central Park.
So the Shah had died, and the Shah-ess or whatever they called the female version of a Shah, the consort of the Shah, she was bemoaning how they were living in poverty with this 26-room penthouse on Park Avenue. So Barbara Frum said, “You know. Yeah, yeah,” she says, “I can really understand the change you’ve gone through, but you got to admit, when you were on top, you really, really had a good, didn’t you? I mean, you really, I mean, you just had a good like, other people just have never had good.”
Well, that didn’t come from an understanding of data information and knowledge. That was just sheer wisdom. And she was just telling the, “Yeah, there’s nobody out here that’s listening to this program who has any sympathy or empathy for you whatsoever.” You know? “If where you’re living and how you’re living now represents a form of poverty for you, we can’t even comprehend what you’re comparing to..” And that’s in the realm of wisdom.
And there’s two aspects that AI will never provide. And one of them is morality. OK? That you have succeeded so far beyond human comprehension that anything you say about yourself will not be received by a listener who are listening to the show. Not anybody will empathize with you. And what I would say is that what she was talking about was a complete absence and a complete scarcity of empathy on the part of everybody that she met. She was really poverty-stricken, because in Iran, everybody wanted to know her and be close to her, because everybody related to who she was. But she didn’t have that power anymore. She had wealth, but she didn’t have power anymore, and it was actually the power that was the wealth. It wasn’t all the trappings that came with power. She still had that, I mean, she had billions of dollars that they had put into Swiss bank accounts. She still had access to the Swiss bank. She could buy anything she wanted, but she couldn’t buy power. She was now without power. So Barbara Frum went right to the heart of it. You know, she went right to the heart of it. You know? That’s wisdom.
Gord Vickman: I’m sure Barbara did a lot of waiting and a lot of wondering and a lot of wandering—wandered into that penthouse to see what a dump it was.
Dan Sullivan: I was in a coffee shop in Yorkville. She came and sat down next to me. You know, I’m not a big fan-boy. And I had been listening to the program the night before, and she was talking to the author Solzhenitsyn’s wife the night before. This is after Solzhenitsyn had been exiled from the Soviet Union. And I said to her, “How were you able to get that interview? Because the wife didn’t come with Solzhenitsyn. And I mean, he had to run for the border, you know? He won a Nobel Prize for the—it was The Gulag Achipelago, was a very famous book where he just described what really went on in the prison system and the criminal system in the Soviet Union. OK? But he had been a KGB officer and the only reason he ended up 15 years in the Gulag is that he made a joke about Stalin in a letter. OK? I don’t care if you’re a KGB officer, you don’t make jokes about Stalin and write them down in a letter. It was frivolous. I mean, you know, he had enormous power as a KGB officer.
And when Barbara Frum was talking to the wife, she brought that up and she says, “Yeah, but you guys were the top dogs. You were the top dogs,” because she went into the victim act. You know, like we do that, and they weren’t going to kill Solzhenitsyn’s wife. You know, they had enough common sense about what it looked like in the rest of the world. And I just asked her the question, I said, “How did you get that interview? You know, what were the circumstances?”
And so I didn’t say who I was, I didn’t say anything. And I said, “You know, that interview you did last night?” And she was really pleased. I could tell she was really pleased because I just went to the heart of what she loves doing and asked her questions. So it was not about “Oh, wow. You know, I listen to you all the time. You’re one of my great thing.” I didn’t say anything like that. I just asked her a question about the actual experience, and I could tell she was really enthusiastic about having that type of conversation.
Well, that’s wisdom on my part, you know. And AI can’t do any of that.
Gord Vickman: Exactly.
Dan Sullivan: And I can’t comprehend how it ever could, because it doesn’t think.
Gord Vickman: Indeed.
Dan, you’ve always been a fierce and vocal advocate for partnering with AI as opposed to intellectual deferral on everything. Can you think of one reason why this is a critical path forward for people who are now becoming familiar with and using it? Why is partnership so critical as opposed to just handing everything off?
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. Well, I think we can use our own experience. We use other tools. This just happens to be the latest tool.
But as children, if we’re properly educated, we learn how to read, we learn how to write, we learn how to do math, we learn history, we learn geography and everything. So I don’t see any real radical difference between interacting with AI and interacting with a book. Because it’s your thinking about the book that matters.
I have this 25-year discussion group with about a dozen, mostly Strategic Coach-related discussion partners in Toronto, and somebody will bring up and say, “You know, I don’t think the title of this book really matches what comes out in the book,” and that’s as a criticism.
And and I said, “I don’t care what the writer intended in the book.” I said, “That’s their business. The only thing I care about the book is what happened to my thinking about reading the book.” So it’s a partnership.
And I don’t really care what AI intends or what the creator of AI intends. It’s what it does for my thinking.
So the fundamental principle here: Who who’s the agent of thinking and action and this is it, the technology or is it the human being? The one thing you always want to be holding on is that you’re always the agent. I mean, when you’re talking to other people, you’re the agent. OK?
Gord Vickman: Yeah, I can be the car wash, but you need to put the wax on yourself. The way of the future.
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Dan, always a pleasure. Thanks so much for being with me today, and thanks so much for listening, and on to the next.