Almost Timely News: Recipes vs. Principles in Generative AI (2024-03-03)

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Almost Timely News

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Almost Timely News: Recipes vs. Principles in Generative AI (2024-03-03)

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What’s On My Mind: Recipes vs. Principles in Generative AI

Last week, we talked over principles-based prompt engineering.

And you were not impressed. In fact, last week’s newsletter scored as one of the lowest issues in recent times (each issue has a one-click survey below the main article). And I have a hypothesis as to why. There’s a big difference between recipe and concept, between principles-based prompt engineering and “here’s a template, just copy and use this”.

To build long-term success, you absolutely need to understand concepts and apply them. You start with the basics, you learn variations, and then you transcend the basics, a concept from the Japanese martial arts known as shu-ha-ri – learn the basics, vary the basics, transcend the basics. It’s a process as old as professions themselves.

But that’s for the long-term, for when you’re trying to master a discipline over a period of years, perhaps even decades. When I go to the dojo on Saturday mornings, it’s an expression of this principle in action.

The reality is, that’s not most people’s intent with generative AI, to have it be a discipline that you master over years. Why? Well, based on conversations I’ve heard in Analytics for Marketers and other forums, you’re overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by generative AI, but overwhelmed and overworked in general. You’re running without a full team, perhaps even a skeleton crew.

And that means your brain might not be receptive to investing a lot of time, the way you might study an art form. The analogy I often use is from cooking (huge surprise) is the difference between learning the principles of cooking versus following a recipe.

For example, a cooking principle is to always salt your tomatoes regardless of application. Tomatoes contain glutamic acid, which when combined with salt, form a natural kind of MSG, making them taste much better. That’s the principle. Contrast that with a recipe which simply tells you to put salt on the tomatoes before serving in, say, a caprese salad. You don’t know why you’re doing it, but you do it if you’re following the recipe and the outcome is still good.

The difference between principle and recipe is that the outcome for the specific recipe is the same whether you know the principle or not, but if you made another dish with tomatoes that had a different recipe, and you didn’t understand the principle, then that recipe might not turn out as well if you omitted the salt.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this in the context of generative AI lately. There’s no shortage of people hawking “TOP 50 POWER AWESOME CHATGPT PROMPTS” on LinkedIn and other places, and I’ve dug into some of those. They’re essentially cookbooks with recipes, and those recipes are generally okay. (I haven’t run into any that I was blown away by) And yet people LOVE these sorts of recipe collections.

Why? Because as much as the principles matter, sometimes you just need to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less. You don’t care about the principle. You care about getting dinner on the table. At the end of the day, you’re tired and you don’t want to think too hard. You just want some directions to follow that aren’t too hard.

And that’s the generative AI equivalent of a canned prompt, a prompt you copy, tweak a little with your specifics, and then paste. You follow the instructions, as surely as you do on a box of pre-made cake mix, and you end up with a satisfactory result. Is it going to be the best result possible? No, probably not. Is it going to be good enough? Yes, probably.

Where you run into challenges is when you have something that doesn’t fit an existing recipe. That’s when principles come in handy. Let’s take a look at this prompt situation suggested by my friend and colleague Ashley Faus on LinkedIn:

We have tiers for our product launches, ranging from a Tier 1 launch with all the activities (press, keynote mention, blog post, demo series, announcement email, product tour update, etc.) to Tier 4 (significantly less activities). It seems like there should be a combination of AI + automation that could help a marketer generate a launch plan and all the associated tickets and/or pages required. But… would the prompt be, “I’m doing a Tier 1 launch about [Product Name]. Generate the launch plan and associated tickets for the Creative team, Blog team, and Web team.”? Or would the prompt be, “I have a launch coming up that meets these criteria: [Customer Impact], [Company Impact], [Other criteria as needed]. Please choose the relevant launch Tier, and generate a launch plan.”? And then maybe a separate prompt to generate the tickets and pages? Like if we have a template for an announcement blog for a Tier 1 launch, would it generate the page with the template, or generate a draft of the launch blog itself, or…? Again, I think this is a mix of internal/external AI capabilities, automation rules, & human collab, but IDK the mix

Ashley is correct. This is something that generative AI can handle, at least partially – but I can guarantee that as of right now, there is no recipe for it.

The first principle we invoke is whether or not it’s a task generative AI is even capable of handling. Building a launch plan? Yes. What about creating tickets – Ashley works for the software giant Atlassian, and their Jira ticketing system is well-known. Can a generative AI system talk to Jira? Perhaps not directly – but Jira can ingest spreadsheets like CSV files. Can a generative AI system generate CSV files? Yes it can.

You see what we’re doing here, right? This isn’t a recipe, but we are laying the foundation to create a recipe. Something that my partner and CEO Katie Robbert talks about ALL the time is user stories, short, punchy descriptions of what you’re trying to do that helps build requirements for the project. In this case, a user story – or several – is what you need to create a recipe for generative AI.

Once you know what it is you’re trying to do, and you’ve ascertained whether or not generative AI is capable of doing it, then you can build the recipe – and like any recipe, once you have it written down, you can follow it over and over again.

So, how would we turn Ashley’s idea into a recipe? Well, watch this week’s video as I step through the process from start to finish.

Recipes are absolutely a good idea, especially if you want to scale the use of generative AI within your company. But many recipes may not exist, or may not be sufficient in their original form to fit your needs. Like the culinary world, there are a lot of cooks but relatively few chefs, so work to identify the chefs in your organization or your network as quickly as you can, then work with them to start building your cookbook.

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed it

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Events I’ll Be At

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  • MarketingProfs AI Series, Virtual, March 2024
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Events with links have purchased sponsorships in this newsletter and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

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My company, Trust Insights, maintains business partnerships with companies including, but not limited to, IBM, Cisco Systems, Amazon, Talkwalker, MarketingProfs, MarketMuse, Agorapulse, Hubspot, Informa, Demandbase, The Marketing AI Institute, and others. While links shared from partners are not explicit endorsements, nor do they directly financially benefit Trust Insights, a commercial relationship exists for which Trust Insights may receive indirect financial benefit, and thus I may receive indirect financial benefit from them as well.

Thank You

Thanks for subscribing and reading this far. I appreciate it. As always, thank you for your support, your attention, and your kindness.

See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn

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