Once upon a time, I used to be a halfway decent writer.
Every day, I’d draft a blog post (often two or three) that would examine the underlying narratives of whatever topic was in the zeitgeist of the business world. I wrote about all sorts of stuff I didn’t understand, as if I did. And eventually, that understanding came through familiarity with the subject matter and by force of will.
Practice, as they say, makes perfect.
One day, late last year, writers of all sorts started falling into a collective freak-out about ChatGPT and its future impact on their livelihoods. The miracle of watching a website spew back such perfectly crafted prose which, until you asked this suggestively sly and sweet chatbot for help, had been escaping you. It’s almost as if the generative AI knew you better than you know yourself; or at least understands what you’re struggling to put into words.
Not to be outdone by this new rival threatening to make search bars everywhere obsolete overnight, Google announced Bard, based on The Language Model for Dialogue Applications or “Lamda”. Lamda is so convincingly human-like in its responses it tricked an engineer into suggesting we should learn to respect its feelings the same way we would a real person. I’m sure someday the words “real person” will be as politically incorrect as many common turns of phrase have become lately and the thought police will call me out. Perhaps you already are?
Despite all appearances, AI isn’t really human though, is it?
To differentiate artificial from human, rather than a Turing Test, we should apply an older, more mundane set of tools: personal sovereignty in the form of choice making.
ChatGPT can’t make choices like humans do. Neither can AI be held responsible or accountable for the consequences of those choices on others. To borrow from economics, think of choice as a security, not a commodity. If your output or writing is a commodity, it means anyone else could and would do it just as well. To think of your work as a security, you must reconsider what makes your value unique. Until you find and perfect that characteristic, you’re likely to continue being commodified.
Choices are not logical. They’re emotional. And the supply and demand for human choices need not apply economically. Choices operate independent of the market forces discovering price equilibrium for commodities, because they uniquely belong to you. Likewise, the side effects of your choices on others are just as uniquely yours to own.
Decisions, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen.
Decisions imply a certain sense of confidence in an either-or binary. Yes or No? Do or Do Not? The choice to act is often made binary when the work of understanding the options is left undone. Therefore, the confidence to “act decisively” is also false because of the intellectual laziness to examine those competing options. Choice implies sacrifice – a forsaking of the viable for the optimal.
Because of sacrifice, choice-making is much, much more difficult than decision-making, and innately more human, because it’s based on hope.
At Aurora we call these “crossroads” situations. They’re misleading because the choice isn’t to proceed ahead or to turn right or left; the choice is whether to continue on at all or stop and settle at this new confluence of paths. You might even turn around and go back the way you came. Sometimes it can even mean the optimal choice is to split up and go all four directions at once.
Eleven hundred days ago, I made one of the most important decisions of my career.
Aurora’s RECONVERGE learning business was seven years into a successful run of in-person symposia as well as online events, that saw some thousands of the most elite practitioners of strategic, market and competitive intelligence reconnect and reconsider their roles vis-à-vis the people they serve and how to do better.
But in February of 2020, as COVID-19 started appearing on American shores, it was clear, we wouldn’t be having any in-person events for awhile, so we put RECONVERGE to sleep for the foreseeable future.
Last month, with the help of one of our three relaunch partners, Concordia University of Wisconsin, we brought RECONVERGE back to life in the form of our first DEMOlition workshop since lockdowns made in-person anything so problematic.
RECONVERGE “Resurrection” isn’t all we have planned for 2023.
It was 28 years ago last Friday that I first broke ground on Aurora Worldwide Development Corporation’s first humble headquarters, the 12 by 25 foot rectangle in my mother Honey’s beauty salon in my hometown of Chetek Wisconsin. My brother Derek, today Aurora’s CEO, was there to help build the wall that would divide my office from the rest of Honey’s forest green shag carpeting. Ingress was via our father Bob’s office, which had become the site of many-a-consult by him, in the interests of seeing me succeed. Indeed, one of the most influential books of my life, Zig Ziglar’s “The Greatest Salesman in the World” would be introduced to assist me; “I will persist until I succeed” would become one of my favorite mottoes.
Standing on the verge of our twenty-ninth year this week, I’ve been reminded of how often during the past three years I’ve watched in shock as bright, rational people, abandoned their ability to think for themselves and make up their own minds. It’s the easiest thing in the world to surrender responsibility for our actions to the experts who seem to know better. And more tantalizing still is to abandon the consequences of those actions to an unaccountable AI.
That’s no excuse to let humans off the hook for the consequences of their choices.
Holding one another accountable for the choices we make and their impact on others is what intelligence analytics is all about. As Bob would often say, cut through the bullshit to get to the truth. As tempting as it might be to abdicate those responsibilities and let an AI decide for us, only humans can be entrusted with the choice-making ability to take responsibility for their impact on other stakeholders who stand to win or lose as a result of their actions.
That’s a messy business.
Speaking of cutting through things, during the pandemic I found the perfect geometry to describe this process of translating insight into action. The “Chisel Tip”: etymologically derived from the Late Latin word cisellum, a cutting tool.
Each of three perpendicular perspectives reveal a different two-dimensional construct and, when lit from that same perspective, cast a similar shadow behind. The idea that all three “truths” can seem contradictorily true about the singular objective reality was so captivating for me to this problem of choice, and the intelligence analysis process with it, we’ve now commercialized a process model using the idea to direct insights production.
As The Architect from Matrix Reloaded (2003) suggests, hope – that “quintessential human delusion” – is simultaneously our greatest human strength and weakness.
What if we could empower of hope for the future by translating choice-making into actionable intelligence? By introducing a more diligent, strict examination of relevant realities we can start breaking apart the sequence of our own control factors. That’s what analysis means – to break apart.
There are very few variables that we really control, and they’re so often hidden behind distractions which, are either, controlled by other stakeholders or mostly out of anyone’s control at all. By differentiating control factors this way, we can sequence our understanding of reality to know more fully what our options are.
“But Arik,” you’re thinking to yourself, “that sounds challenging! I barely get my people to read and listen to my analysis, as it is; I’ll never get them to sacrifice their plans on your altar of optimality!”
Yes, you will. You must.
Last Wednesday, Derek and I hosted Wanda Thibodeaux on our show, Running Into The Fog to announce her ghost-writing of our new book, The Missionary + The Mercenary.
Why admit we need a ghost-writer? We discovered long ago it’s more productive to put a professional on a job than to pretend we’re omnicompetent at everything, including writing books. Besides, it’s the truth. We wouldn’t do it without her. And intelligence is nothing if not the glaring confrontation of the truth in all things no matter how humbling.
Once we drafted the outline with our internal team of advisors, Wanda has been a delight for Derek and me to work with getting the ideas out of our hearts and heads and into words on a page. The project has been going the better part of a year now and we’re getting ready to release it into the world.
If you’re wondering about the title, your Missionary is the moral idealist version of you, who believes in a better future worthy of perfection by a higher power (doesn’t matter what faith you are, or if you have no religion at all). Your Mercenary is the amoral pragmatist who won’t eat tomorrow if you can’t succeed at today’s goals. But you, like every human for thousands of years now, seldom knowingly blend the moral with the amoral. Most of us do so accidentally.
Together, the two mindsets are calibrated to produce the results in our lives and businesses that WE choose, not the values chosen for us. Personal sovereignty can only be achieved by having the wisdom to know the difference between the tiny portion of the known universe under our dominion of control and that seemingly infinite void that we must merely cope with, but never worry about.
The M+M book has 10 chapters, so here’s a preview of what else you might discover in each of them:
- Undercertainty: you don’t confront an infinite void of uncertain variables preventing you from acting, you have a couple questions you’re not certain enough about that you’re using as excuses not to act.
- Stochasm: the gap between what you think you know and what you actually know is closed, either by creating new knowledge or surrendering your false assumptions.
- Control: most of your sphere of influence is uncontrollable, but you’re worrying about it all anyway? Why do you do that? Lay siege to your control factors and you’ll influence friends and foes alike to surrender to you.
- Disruption: innovation is the displacement of incumbents by redefined criteria from stakeholders who win or lose because of the innovator’s redefinition of value. Creative destruction must be an intentional act, never an accident.
- Superiority: subjecting yourself to value comparison and recalibrating the criteria the market will reward with share usually feels like too great a risk, so never surrender your choice to realign hostiles who don’t want to see you succeed.
- Humility: not thinking less of oneself, thinking of oneself less is the most reliable indicator of the potential for intelligence analytic yield. If there’s nothing you can teach me I don’t already know, there’s no point in analyzing how to do better.
- Guile: people don’t like change when it’s their own idea, what will they think when it’s yours? Sometimes we must conceal our plans to equip our people to confront the future confidently.
- Empathy: feeling how others feel enables us to improve their outcomes and enjoy the rewards they’re willing to exchange in return. By contrast, apathy makes success improbable because you really won’t care how they feel, do you?
- Actionable: it is permissible to procrastinate when your choices are unclear, but when you know what to do next, action must happen. Get after it!
- Champion: not merely choosing to succeed against the odds, but the ability to substitute one’s own interests on behalf of others; the ancient tradition of single combat rescued thousands from battle at the expense of the one. If you are to be this kind of true champion, understand it’ll involve more than you simply winning. You’ll need to sacrifice for those you serve.
Besides The Missionary + The Mercenary, RECONVERGE will be coming to a college campus near you, soon enough. Check the calendar at RECONVERGE.io to stay informed about what we’ve got planned. In the meanwhile, if you’d like to jam with me 1:1 on any of these ideas or something you’ve been thinking about, I’ll be your willing and gentle conversationalist anytime. My open office hours are Monday and Friday afternoons – book a free half hour with me here.
Finally, on the topic of champions, I’ll leave you with these wise words from one of our greatest American athletes, Althea Gibson, on the occasion of defending both her Wimbledon and U.S. Championships in 1958. She was perhaps the greatest female champion in the history of tennis.
Gibson was so good, a contemporary of hers, Bob Ryland, future coach of Venus and Serena Williams, said, “I think she’d beat the Williams sisters.”