Meet Me In The Middle: Navigating AI And What It Means To Make Things
Published DateAuthorDan Sullivan of Strategic Coach and Gord Vickman
Gord Vickman and Dan Sullivan dive into the concept of "Geometry For Staying Cool & Calm" and its relevance in the emerging age of AI. Drawing on a recent MIT Sloan study on the impact of AI in the workplace, they explore how anyone can thrive when they focus on constantly creating new things.
In This Episode:
Dan and Gord share the concept of "Geometry For Staying Cool & Calm" as a mindset for living in the digital network economy.
An MIT Sloan research paper showed that AI can significantly boost productivity for less experienced workers.
Academic credentials are being left behind in a networked world where people only care if you create value for them.
The current educational system is stuck in an industrial economy that makes little sense to continue following.
Podcasting invites everyone to have their voices heard without needing permission.
Dan makes an important distinction between efficiency and effectiveness.
Productivity in the future won’t be contingent on tenure but rather on one’s ability to leverage AI and embrace the habit of always creating new things.
Gord Vickman: Welcome to the next episode of “Podcast Payoffs.” Gord Vickman here with Dan Sullivan, as always.
Dan, welcome to the show.
Dan Sullivan: Thank you very much, Gord.
Gord Vickman: We’re creeping up now to 50 episodes of Podcast Payoffs. I think we started this show to get to know each other, and here we are creeping up on 50 episodes now and it never really runs out. We could probably do-
Dan Sullivan: How have we done?
Gord Vickman: Very well.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah, yeah.
Gord Vickman: Pretty well, I think.
So Dan, Geometry for Staying Cool and Calm is the newest quarterly book. If you’d like your copy of the ebook or the soft cover. It’s gorgeous. Hamish MacDonald is our cartoonist here, and he knocked it out of the park once again. You can get your copy at strategiccoach.com, click “Store”, and it’s right there in front of your face. Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy.
Dan, I’m going to link this together, and this is one of these podcasts, when I was structuring it on a Fast Filter as I do every time when we get together to chat on “Podcast Payoffs”, I wasn’t even sure how I was going to link it together, but I know that when you and I get together, we always find a way to bring it together and we wrap it up with a nice little bow at the end. So this is a thinking process for me, and I think I’m going to be surprised as well.
So before we get into the reason I wanted to bring this book into the discussion today about AI, there was a research paper that came out from MIT, a highly respected institution of learning, and they were talking about AI and how it affects younger workers.
But to introduce that we need to have a foundation first on the Geometry for Staying Cool and Calm and the three simple rules that you have introduced in this book. It’s a real quick read. I read it last night for the third time, takes about an hour. There’s cartoons there from Hamish MacDonald, our fantastic long-time cartoonist here at Coach.
So if you could just unpack that concept and the three simple rules, and then I’ll bring it back to where the MIT research fits into this, just so people have a foundation if they have not had a chance to read the book yet.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. Well, I’ll just give context here, a big context, of taking a look at what I see happening in the world right now. And I believe that the educational system has remained the last institution to change from an industrial economy to a digital network economy. So more and more, they’re pointed not towards practical good after people graduate, but they’re indulging in very, very highly theoretical concepts. One would be the environmental movement, which is entirely not measurable. They say we have to save the climate. Well, the climate’s always going to be there. So the real issue, we have to give some thought about specific environmental damage and make it into practical projects. There’s all sorts of technologies for taking things which are deemed to be pollution, and through technological means, you can remove the negative impact of existing technologies. And other things, the whole notion that we have to have a global government where borders don’t matter, there’s just a single government, and of course it’ll be headquartered somewhere in Europe, because the Europeans are really into global domination, at least global bureaucratic domination.
So they’re moving jobs towards these highly impractical lifetimes where people will get highly paid for having meetings so that they can plan some more meetings. Every meeting calls for three more meetings, and calls for more employment of people who are meeting multipliers, and that’s it.
But what I really think is that, what’s really happened is we’ve gone to a network economy where unique individuals can now create enterprises, and these enterprises can grow into bigger enterprises and gradually they become corporations. All the first companies to hit a trillion dollars are these big digital network kind of companies, Apple, Google. They’re not industrial, old industrial, they’re not steel companies, they’re not big manufacturing companies.
So the thing that I feel very, very strongly is that entrepreneurs are the pathfinders for this new digital econ-
Yourself, Gord, you’re always exploring new ways to expand our podcast series, and there’s lots of new existing apps that you’re discovering, and many new apps are being created with artificial intelligence.
And I just feel that we’re thinking too big about the whole artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence, first of all, if you look up the word ‘artificial’ in the dictionary, one of its main meanings is that it’s phony. “This is artificial,” it’s not real. People have artificial hair, they have artificial eyelashes, they have all sorts of artificial things. And I believe the word ‘artificial’ and the word ‘intelligence’ doesn’t really describe what’s going on. I think they’re faster computers with more custom-designable software. That’s what they really are. And that individuals who are doing a specific task and they’re working to achieve practical results in the world can take advantage of the faster computers and the more custom designable software.
So I think that’s what’s up right now.
Gord Vickman: So the three rules for geometry.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. So that was a long way of avoiding an answer. And anyway…
So I’m looking at the general public and we seem to be in what I call The Age of Rage, that people are very, very confused about what’s happening in the world, what’s going to happen to their future, and they’re raging. Fortunately, technology has created a thing called social media so they won’t just rage to three of their friends, they’ll rage to 5 million of their friends.
Gord Vickman: And it’s limitless, the amount of rage.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah, and I think it’s a general confusion that’s just part of the switchover from an industrial economy. And the entire school system, top to bottom is still an industrial system, okay? They’re in the 1950s, 1960s industrial economy, but the whole world outside where money is made, where results are achieved, where new things are created is working in an entirely new economy.
So I came up with three rules to have a mindset. I call it a geometry mindset. The way geometry is really understood, working with space in terms of structures and angles and lines and circles and that to create useful things, and so what I think is happening here is that we need a geometry for mindset for living in this new economy which consists of digitally empowered networks.
So there’s three rules. The first rule is “Everything is made up,” which means that everything that you encounter in thinking about things and doing things and everything else, what you’re doing and what you’re thinking about was made up by someone at some place at some time. And there isn’t anything that constitutes reality for us that wasn’t made up someplace sometime by someone. So that means that you too can make up new things. There’s limitless opportunity, and I think that technology is empowering people to make up new things.
Gord Vickman: Everything around you, when you think about it, it’s trippy because our brains don’t process information but drywall, carpets, doorknobs, microphones, laptops.
Dan Sullivan: Plants, bookcases, books-
Gord Vickman: Plants, yes.
Dan Sullivan: Pictures on the wall.
Gord Vickman: Electricity.
Dan Sullivan: Earphones.
Gord Vickman: Eyeglasses. This was a thought in someone’s mind at some point.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah, somebody discovered this thing under your nose is a mustache, what you have on your chin is a beard. And that was made up, and a word was made up for it. So a lot of the ways we make up things is with words and we give names to things and new things deserve a new name. So that’s going on in the world.
But in the industrial economy, only the system-made things, you were just a worker bee in the system. As a matter of fact, you were fired if in any way you tampered with the way that new things were being made.
And so I think we have to understand that this new age sort of favors individual uniqueness, especially individual creative and productive uniqueness. I think the reward is there, but that’s not what people are learning in nursery school, grade school, high school, undergraduate school, and graduate school. People are in school from the age now of three until they’re 26 or 27, and then they go out into the world and they want to impose the school system on the world but the world doesn’t care about the school system, doesn’t care about your grades, doesn’t care about your credentials, but it would like to know, “Are you able to create new things that have value for other people?”
Gord Vickman: Who’s the boss of all this making up, Dan? Can we get a word with this guy or this gal?
Dan Sullivan: No, no. Nobody’s in charge.
Gord Vickman: Can we book a meeting with her?
Dan Sullivan: Nobody is in charge, but something is in charge and that’s rules. There are rules for cooperation, there’s rules for creativity, there’s rules for creating value, and rules are in charge. And in order to be capable in this new world, you have to know what the rules are.
So we got two, “Everything’s made up” and “Nobody’s in charge”.
Then the other thing is you can take charge. Anything new you want to create, you can take charge of that. The world doesn’t owe you anything. It doesn’t value you for your essential value as a human being, but it does reward you for being a creative, productive human being who comes up with useful new things.
Gord Vickman: The people who do this are going to do it. That’s not fair.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah.
Gord Vickman: Or is it?
Dan Sullivan: Every new thing, if it takes hold, will suddenly create new advantages for some people and it will take away old, no-longer-useful advantages for other people. And I think the thing that used to be really useful was that you had a degree after decades of education and doing what you were told to do and following the industrial rules of the educational system. And I think all new things disadvantage someone who spent their last 20 years in a classroom. The making up of new things disenables you because you were taught that it was your degree that was going to be the most useful thing you have, and it’s like a pass card or a key card that would get you into the biggest, best clubs by having your credential as a card that you slip into the door or the bouncer at the door says, “Let me see your credential,” and they don’t let you in.
And that’s all being bypassed. That’s all being bypassed. So it’s not fair. All new things are not fair to people who thought the old things were their lifetime guarantee of being paid and being honored and being praised and being admitted to very, very exclusive clubs. So I think that’s really what’s happening right now.
So I put them together. If you think of it as a triangle, which is the strongest geometric figure in the world, you have one side, “Everything’s made up”. On another side, you have “Nobody’s in charge”. And on the third side, you have “Life’s not fair”. So don’t sweat all that stuff. Just go about making up new things. When you make up a new thing that works, you’re in charge. And in doing so, everything new that you make up will advantage certain people who find it really useful and it will disadvantage the people not making up new things and thinking they’re in charge. They will be disadvantaged.
Gord Vickman: And that’s not fair.
Dan Sullivan: And that’s not fair.
Gord Vickman: And that’s fine.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah.
Now, how does podcasting come into this, this being the 20th anniversary of podcasting?
Gord Vickman: How does podcasting come into it? Nobody’s in charge. So when you hear people say, “Well, my voice is not heard,” guess what? You can buy a microphone for about $40. If you don’t want to do that, every computer has a... Okay, you do need a computer, all right? That’s what someone’s going to say. “Well, I don’t have one.” Okay, well, get one, okay? They’re not that expensive now.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah.
Gord Vickman: Nobody’s in charge of the podcast you make. Everything you say is made up. You can literally talk about anything. You can have a podcast about Pokemon cartoons, you can talk about algorithmic trading. It’s all up to you. And if you succeed and someone else who spends way more money than you, that’s not fair and that’s fine.
Dan Sullivan: But you have to discard a lot of your previous beliefs and you have to discard a lot of what you thought was going to make value valuable in the world. And that’s a hard pill to swallow for people who’ve been told that they are the ultimate in-charge people in the world.
Gord Vickman: So Dan, the MIT study that I came across that I thought was interesting, and it reminded me of the book that I had read, The Geometry for Staying Cool and Calm, was MIT went into a call center and they were trying to figure out, “Well, who’s really benefiting the most from generative AI?” So they went and they looked at people who had been at the call center for 10 years. These are people who, realistically, should be better than the people who’ve been there for a year or less. So they found that the people that they had given AI models to and these tools were leapfrogging people who had been there for 10, 15 years because they weren’t using these tools. So there was a 14% boost in productivity only for the people who were the lowest level at this call center.
With using AI, they had gone from resolving about 1.5 customer complaints per hour to 2.5, and that was now on the level of people who had been there for many, many, many years.
So I wanted to ask you, what will this mean for productivity? Now, the book was written for entrepreneurs, but Dan, one of the things that happens when you release these quarterly books is you have no control over who gets their hands on them. So entrepreneurs will read this, but team members will read this too, and entrepreneurs excel and exceed expectations with great teams around them. So you release these books, entrepreneurs get them and they benefit from them, but team members do, people who are building content, a podcast, video, whatever. These books are beneficial to everyone.
When I’m thinking about productivity, what will it mean for entrepreneurs in the future when productivity and the expectation of productivity within their companies will not be contingent on how long a person has been there, but how wise and how efficient someone will be in using AI and considering these rules? Because they’re not thinking about, “I can’t be resolving 2.5 calls an hour. I haven’t been here long enough,” because using these rules, “Everything’s made up”, Nobody’s in charge”, and “Life’s not fair”, if you embrace that, that’s your Euclid building. You don’t need to be somewhere for 10 years anymore. So what will that mean for productivity in the future for entrepreneurs and the teams that are working with them?
Dan Sullivan: I’ll just give you as an example. You found something resonant in the new book for you and you could immediately see that this actually applies to you personally, okay? So now your mindset can be, “So what new things can I make up?” And nobody’s in charge of giving you permission whether you can do that or not, okay? You don’t have to ask for approval, but also nobody’s obligated to help you. So what you have to think about, “This new thing that I’m creating, how does this help someone else become...?”
And you used the word ‘efficient’. I think this bypasses efficiency. I think people who meet to create more meetings are really efficient at doing it. It’s just that they’re not effective. I don’t think efficiency is the goal here. I think effective increases in productivity are the end result.
In other words, something that’s valuable and it takes this much time, takes this much effort, and takes this much talent, the talent is now automated, so where it took your time, maybe two hours, it’s done in 15 seconds and you just got two hours freed up where you can redeploy that time. And that’s what productivity is, is that we get the same result or a superior result with less time, less effort, and less cost.
And I think this is what all technology, if it’s useful, is useful for. It’s all about productivity.
But podcasts are one of the most productive uses of your time. You might be talking to one person and it’s a great conversation and certain practical results come out of that conversation. But if you simply take what you’re saying to one person and expand it to a hundred people, to a thousand people, to a million people, then the productivity hit is exponential.
Gord Vickman: And that was an excellent distinction about efficiency and effectiveness that you made there.
Dan Sullivan: Well, I think the school system is very efficient in making people useless.
Gord Vickman: Yeah, I’ll accept that. They haven’t caught up yet.
Dan Sullivan: My sense is the school system won’t catch up because the nature of a system is to prevent itself from being changed.
Gord Vickman: That’s the nature of it.
Dan Sullivan: It’s unionized, it’s bureaucratic. You’re rewarded on the basis of seniority and you’re based on your best use of things everybody else knows. You’re competing with other people to utilize what’s in the past better than they use what’s been created in the past.
So my sense is the very idea of systems... It isn’t systems anymore, it’s networks. The whole notion of ‘system’ was an industrial concept. You did have systems and the systems had to be flawless from start to finish, but you couldn’t change them. A hundred years ago, if you were building a new steel mill, you would build it and the cost of that steel mill would not be realized in 50 years. You couldn’t change anything. It was locked in. And I think the problem is that we’re leaving behind vast numbers of three or four generations who were educated in a way that made them totally unfit to live in a digital network and be increasingly valuable in a digital network.
And those networks form and they un-form and they expand and they merge and deepen. So there is no fixed system. The educational system is a fixed system. It resists change. So my feeling is that people are saying, “We have a crisis in the educational system.” I said, “No, we have only a crisis for people who think they’re in charge of the educational system.” They’re going through a severe crisis because they can’t believe that the way they were taught to make their way to the top of social class, political class, economic class doesn’t exist anymore. Well, it doesn’t. And nobody outside who are working with digital networks has their goal to disrupt the educational system. They’re just creating new kinds of value and creating new types of cooperative and collaborative relationships. You got to be able to make up new things that are useful to everyone else in the network.
Gord Vickman: I mean within the confines of the education system, I’m looking at the cover of the book here, and it would be representative of the complete opposite of the geometry of the rules. School system: Nobody’s in charge. “Yes, the dean’s in charge, the principal’s in charge.” Everything’s made up. “No, it’s not. It’s been like that forever. So that’s how we’re going to teach it.” Life is not fair. Now they’re trying to shoehorn fairness into classrooms and into higher education. “We’re going to make this fair if it kills us.”
Dan Sullivan: Yeah.
Gord Vickman: You talked about networks in the book as well. Eight billion people on Earth and you only need your 150. Is there one specific thing that entrepreneurs can do as they’re trying to weed through or weed out those who may not fit that which they’re looking for? Is there some specific thing that they can identify and say, “Okay, you have this mindset right now, I need you in my 150?” How deep do they have to dig?
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. Well, I think it’s all new-project-based. In other words, you yourself are creating up a new project that has productivity gain in it. And does this individual have skills right now that I can utilize?
I had reached the point where I had created a lot of podcasts, but there was no order to it, there was no organization to it, there was no strategy to it. I was born on the planet talking, and I like to talk. And I find that when I get to talk, especially in discussion with another person, new things get created.
So at a certain point I said, “I’ve got to find someone who has extensive background in this type of activity.” And it happened to be... The activity before podcast was radio, and you came along and you had vast radio experience as a technician, as a live-mic host, and you understood how radio stations were put together, you understood how radio networks were put together. And it just seemed to me that that was just perfect training for just putting a new template on podcasting. Treat it like a global, free radio network, treat it as a totally free radio station, and treat all the podcasts as program series on the radio. It just seemed to me to be perfect. And I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how to do that, nor do I want to learn how to do that because I can just say, “Gord, make it so.”
Gord Vickman: Hop to it. And there’s a little sprinkle of “Who Not How” salt on the discussion of Geometry for Staying Cool and Calm.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah.
Gord Vickman: Dan, as we wrap here, any final thoughts on how entrepreneurs could be thinking about this when the whole idea of productivity and creativity is going to be thrown on its head?
If you believe the MIT study that in a short period of time, the least experienced team members will be lapping those who are not using these tools, who have much more experience. Is there anything that entrepreneurs should keep their eyes and ears open for or any way?
Dan Sullivan: No, no. They shouldn’t be looking for outside opportunities. I think they should be looking for inside capabilities that they are already comfortable with, already confident with, and they can make up new things with this confidence. I mean, all they have to do is look at one day’s work and say, “If I did another day like this, where could I save time? And where should my focus be just on what I did in this new day? And I can do more of that. And then who has to cooperate with me that takes care of things that I myself don’t want to do tomorrow?” And that’s it. That’s all you have to do. And lather, wash, rinse, re-lather from day to day.
I mean, the thing that people hate about this is that at its surface, it is a very small thing, it’s a very immediate thing, and it’s a very common-sensical thing, and you can measure increased progress in it day to day.
So I think what defeats people, they’re kind of looking for a technological messiah. “This changes everything.” I said, “Well, everything was already made up and people are already making up new things.” So the world outside isn’t changing. It’s just that how do you find success, how do you find progress, how do you find growth, and how do you find bigger rewards? Just what you’re doing anyway.
Gord Vickman: Lather, wash, rinse, repeat.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah, I mean, not one of the steps of progress that you and I have made in our podcasting capability that required the theories of a university professor.
Gord Vickman: And neither of us have those credentials, because it doesn’t matter.
Dan Sullivan: No.
Gord Vickman: That makes them furious.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah, it doesn’t matter.
So my sense is that the world has always been changing in the direction that we’re talking about, and this is just a new higher capability that’s sort of emerged, but this new capability only exists because of all the other capabilities that were already made up.
Gord Vickman: I think that’s a good place to wrap, Dan.
If you enjoyed this episode, share it with a friend, share it with someone you love. Share it with someone you don’t like at all. Maybe they’ll come around and you’ll become friends. Maybe they’ll be in your 150. Maybe they have the same mindset as well.
Geometry for Staying Cool and Calm, if you want to get your hands on the book, if you’re listening to the show on Spotify or Apple, just click More on the Episode. I’ll put the link to the book down there. I’ll also put the link to the MIT study if you want to read that.
If you’re streaming rather from our homepage, Strategic Podcasts, with an S, strategicpodcasts.com. Just tap “Podcast Payoffs” and we’ll get the links to everything we talk about. We’re not going to make you go on a safari to find anything. We’ll put it there and make it nice and simple.
Dan Sullivan: One thing I would say that every book comes with a number of communication tracks. So there’s the text or cartoons. There is an audio, which you can just link on and listen. And the audio is not me reading the text, it’s me being interviewed on the text. So I expand and add more material, and we have a shorter video, which captures the key points of the book.
So I’m very familiar that there are some people who are visual learners, some people are reading learners, some people are listening readers, and some people are watching and listening. That’s how they take in information, and that would describe entirely our entire entrepreneurial audience within Strategic Coach and around the world.
Gord Vickman: On that note, Dan, it’s been a slice. Thanks so much.