Saturday, April 27, 2024

The Great Hall - where now with AI? It is not 'Human Connection V Innovative Technology' but 'Human Connection + Innovative Technology'

Interesting talk to those who train Lawyers in ‘The Great Hall’ of the Headquarters to The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). The hall was packed and I have to say, although my talk was challenging, it was a great crowd, open to the idea that they really do have to change in the face of AI. Then again, I would say that… but let me explain.

The theme of the day was Human Connection V Innovative Technology. I see this a lot at conferences, setting up the human connection (social) against the machine (AI). I think this is ALL wrong. It is, and has always been a dialectic, human connection (social) PLUS the machine. Everyone had a smartphone, most use it for work, comms and social media. The binary between human and tech has long disappeared. 

We need more human connection in the workplace was the cry, yet, when I asked how many worked at least part of the week at home, the entire hall put their hands up. My point was that when it comes to action, people vote with their feet and use tech at home to do their work. For the last 38 years taking the train from Brighton to London, absolutely no one talked to me. This is the culture of London and the SE. The train passengers were all on their phones talking, messaging, posting, reading and listening to music and podcasts! AI is no different, as in speaking to ChatGPT you are speaking to ‘US '– it has been trained on data we created over generations, the hive mind.

After showing the astounding case study of Moderna, perhaps the most successful case study in the application of AI in the workplace, with 400 expert Chatbots performing a vast range of assistive, performance support functions within the organisation, led by the C-Suite and the CIO, not L&D, I explained that their greatest take up was in their ‘legal’ department at 100%. Why? It is largely documentation and process informed by expertise.

We tend to sanctify the idea of human connection but when I travel I love the automatic Customs' Gates at Gatwick and Heathrow. I have been dealing with lawyers all of my life and love ‘Docusign’ as it means fewer meetings with… lawyers. 

After explaining the naivety of the position that AI will just ‘augment roles and jobs’ by showing actual case studies and job losses, my appeal was to L&D to step up to the plate and get on with helping organisations to use AI to scale their people. Not by carpet bombing them with yet more AI produced courses but helping implement ‘performance support’, just as Moderna has. They are not using AI to create yet more courses but encourage agency to learn and perform among their staff.

Flannel on the panel

After my Keynote, we had an interesting panel. Chris Papworth was excellent. He’s doing real stuff in the legal profession and it was clear that many in the room had engaged with the AI issues. But the conversation took an odd turn when the main topic swung into ‘creativity’. These were all nice people, including the panel chair, but it seemed like an odd thing to focus on, as the legal profession is hardly known as a hotbed of creativity. When I hear this word, I get uneasy, and I was honest in saying; 1) I was doubtful that it was a skill at all, 2) that even if it were, I had doubts that it could be taught in a training course, 3) that you should not be running creativity courses as that is not what the business asks for or needs. I relayed my disastrous experience at one I attended in the NHS years ago – tell me as many uses for a brick… you know the game…

It confirmed my more general view, and I said as much, that L&D has wrongly adopted a ‘supply’ model, when we should be reponsding to ‘demand’. We’re dreaming up courses on abstract nouns that no one asked for and fewer still actually like or see as relevant. The danger is that AI bypasses L&D, as we still see our role as carpet bombing people with courses, when we know there needs to be a balance with performance support, which is what 999/10000 people are using Generative AI for. When you get inside an organisation and align L&D with business objectives, as Moderna has done, AI is a wunderkind. 


This new world is about ‘agency’, giving control to employees through agents that support them. We talked about the agents that Moderna and other are using, and the new agentic workflow, the real productivity gains, real examples, real data. This is the new world, one where we can scale people to help the organisation grow and flourish. The first step, and we’ve done this regularly, is to truly realign the business to future business objectives, find the sweet spots for AI adoption, support that adoption (a change management process) and prove it quickly through quick wins that show ROI productivity gains in learning and the business. It takes two days to really get the ball rolling, using the tools, doing things that you can use for the business case. Don’t worry about creating a sense of urgency – AI has done that already – it is urgent. What you need is buy in from the senior team and they need to be convinced by solid examples and numbers.


Don’t get me wrong, I spoke to lots of people at this event who really liked being challenged. They had made the mind shift, wanted to use the tools. These were good, smart people who want to do good things. It was fun, a real buzz, well organised. I love these sector-specific events as you feel you can really effect change by being specific to their sector needs. Coming back in the train, no one spoke to me!


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