Almost Timely News, June 23, 2024: 🗞️ How to Use Generative AI for Professional Development

Almost Timely News: 🗞️ How to Use Generative AI for Professional Development (2024-06-23) :: View in Browser

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Almost Timely News: 🗞️ How to Use Generative AI for Professional Development (2024-06-23)

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What’s On My Mind: How to Use Generative AI for Professional Development

In all the talk about the flashy applications of generative AI – in particular, large language models like those that power ChatGPT and similar services – we lose sight of some of the less fancy but arguably more important capabilities. One of those capabilities is their nearly unmatched power as a tool for professional development and training.

Why? Because for many knowledge work jobs, language is how we learn. Even for non-knowledge work jobs like professional trades, a substantial part of the job – and learning the job – is through language. And language is what these tools excel at.

So how does a tool like ChatGPT or Anthropic Claude or Google Gemini help us build professional development and training? We can look at four separate stages of use, four different categories of professional development:

  1. Explain it to me
  2. Activate the knowledge I have
  3. Help me build a systematic understanding
  4. Help me teach it to others

Let’s look at each of these categories.

Explain It To Me

First, and perhaps simplest, is ‘explain it to me’. Today’s large language models contain multitudes of knowledge on nearly any topic, and can ingest and process knowledge they don’t have. Once they have that knowledge, they can rewrite and transform it into nearly anything else. This rewriting capability is the key to your professional development. Here’s how.

Pick a domain that you have expertise in. Something you know incredibly well – and it doesn’t have to be work related. Maybe you’re a painter or a musician or a gamer. Maybe you can bake a mean chicken pot pie or are a fabulous sommelier. Whatever it is, there’s something in your life you know better than most.

Now pick a topic you don’t know as well. Maybe it’s quantum physics, generative AI models, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, thought leadership, something that’s challenged you. Something that just won’t stick in your brain.

Open up the language model of your choice and prompt it along the lines of, “You’re an expert at [thing you don’t understand]. You also know [domain you understand.] Explain [thing you don’t understand] in terms of [specific concept from your domain]”.

For example, you might prompt something like, “You’re an expert in thought leadership. You also know quite a bit about red wines and wine selection. Explain thought leadership in terms of selecting a Merlot.”

Gemini Explanation

Go ahead and give that a try. You’ll find that the explanation it comes up with is usually enough to get the difficult concept into your head, because your brain learns best when it can latch onto something familiar and extend a concept from there, rather than try to learn an entirely new concept.

Use this any time you’re confused about something. If you’re sitting in a meeting and someone says something and you don’t get it, quietly open up a browser or app on your phone and ask the AI of your choice to explain it to you in terms of something you understand. You’ll get the concept quickly and get back into the flow.

Activate The Knowledge You Have

You’re a bit of a digital packrat. So am I. So is almost everyone I know, because digital things don’t take up nearly as much space as physical things. You can have a thousand books on your Kindle and barely have room in your bedroom for 10, and so you accumulate knowledge.

This is especially true in business, at work. How many webinars have you been to? How many conference sessions have you sat through? How many photos are on your phone’s camera roll of presenters’ slides? You see my point. You have knowledge stored up in all kinds of ways – and let’s be honest, it mostly collects dust.

But it doesn’t have to. In fact, you can take that knowledge and put it to work immediately. How? AI, of course. Here’s a slide my friend Ashley Faus shared on stage at MarketingProfs B2B Forum.

Ashley’s slide

Her talk was about thought leadership. I can give this to an LLM like Google Gemini or ChatGPT and ask it to read it. The tools can do that quite handily. From there, I might prompt it with something like: “Great. This was a talk about thought leadership and developing thought leadership at your company. From this slide, can you develop an outline of recommended practices to build thought leadership? Rely heavily on the slide for concepts, structure, and strategy.“

Your LLM will return something like this:

Gemini Expanded analysis output

That’s now fleshed out from Ashley’s slide, unpacking the knowledge and framework she shared. But that’s still just knowledge, and it’s not activated yet. I might prompt it as a followup with something like this: “I’m not much of a thought leader yet. I’m not really well known, but I do have significant domain expertise in generative AI. I do speak at various events, but I would like to be on more stages. Help me design a step by step tactical plan to increase my thought leadership visibility using the shared slide and your outline from it.”

Here’s what it returns:

Gemini thought leadership plan output

Now that’s a plan I can put into action, with steps to take that are tangible and concrete. And that’s just from a single slide in a talk. What could I unpack if I had the transcript of the talk? What kind of plans could I build?

Take all that knowledge you have stored up in hard drives and servers and camera rolls and start feeding it to generative AI. Then have generative AI build real, concrete plans of action from it.

No knowledge laying around? No problem! There are a gazillion podcasts, blogs, YouTube videos, white papers, and ebooks all available for free online. Find credible sources, grab content, and turn it into a plan of action for your professional development.

Build a Systematic Understanding

After you practice activating knowledge for a while, you’ll find you have quite a library of content, quite a base of knowledge to draw from. It’s now time to turn this into a foundation of knowledge, a reference system where you can start to draw conclusions from a large body of knowledge all at once.

Up until now, we’ve been working with single pieces of content. But that’s not where the power of knowledge really shines – in an AI world, the sum of knowledge is far more than its parts because AI can keep in mind far more information than any human can. Today’s language models can operate with as much as 2 million tokens in their short-term memory, about 1.5 million words. That’s the entirety of A Song of Ice and Fire, the George R. R. Martin Game of Thrones book series. It’s three copies of the entire Lord of the Rings.

No human can hold that much information in their heads at once with precision recall. Machines can. And outside of short-term memory, AI models can access entire document stores with millions and millions of words.

For example, ask 100 leaders what thought leadership means to them and you’ll end up with 300 answers – all different. That’s unhelpful if you want to understand the subject deeply. Suppose you wanted a particular angle; after all, the knowledge in a language model is based on a broad assessment of everything. If you wanted to focus in on B2B thought leadership, for example, how could we do that?

Start with, of all places, YouTube. Search for the topic you want and perhaps a specific personality. In this case, I searched for Ashley Faus and she’s got more than a dozen podcast appearances and interviews about B2B thought leadership. We grab the transcripts from them using a free tool like yt-dlp, and now we have a corpus of very specific knowledge.

If we want to do professional development with this corpus, one of the best tools for that is Google’s NotebookLM, which was recently upgraded to use Gemini 1.5 and thus is actually useful. We load our transcripts into NotebookLM and let it process them.

NotebookLM With Ashley Faus transcripts

Once the data is loaded, you can have NotebookLM prepare briefing documents, study guides, frequently asked questions, and more, as well as ask questions of the data. What makes it an interesting and unique tool is that it will not return anything other than what’s in the source data. It can synthesize brilliantly and the probability of hallucination is very low because it will only rely on the data we give it.

What’s even better is that the specific answers NotebookLM gives also have citations back to the source text:

NotebookLM source citations

This is a powerful way to validate what the AI is saying and ensure it’s not making things up.

NotebookLM gives you a powerful, straightforward system of reference for any large corpus of documents. It gives you a way to connect concepts and ideas across multiple documents with low risk of making things up. I’ve used it to examine dozens of peer-reviewed clinical papers on Long COVID, marketing strategy, Reddit conversations, WWDC and other conference sessions – the use cases are endless for querying large quantities of text to understand it better.

Now, if you need the knowledge in the latent space (long-term memory) of an AI model, perhaps to draw broader conclusions than what’s in your data, then you should use a regular LLM like Anthropic Claude or Google Gemini – but with the understanding there’s an increased risk of hallucination in some cases.

That systematic review is how we leverage knowledge at scale, drawing connections among our data sources and surfacing hidden insights that can only be seen when you put all the puzzle pieces in the same box lid.

Which brings us to the last stage of this evolution…

Teach It To Others

Beyond synthesis is creation. Once you have all the data in one place, you can transform it into a more usable format, streamlined for your particular use case.

Before we go any further, we need to have a bit of a chat about ethics here. To paraphrase Jurassic Park, we’re often so concerned about whether we could that we never stop to think whether we should. Generative AI tools give us incredible capabilities to ingest and synthesize knowledge, often reframing it through a particular lens. However, just because we can do that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea, and we definitely should not be passing off other people’s knowledge as our own. That’s intellectually dishonest, illegal in some places, and will most certainly be valid grounds for lawsuit in most others for infringement of intellectual property rights, especially if there’s a commercial interest.

So, to properly demonstrate this section, we’re going to leave Ashley’s materials alone and instead use something a little closer to home… this newsletter. More specifically, the last year of it. Why? Because it’s my material, so there are zero ethical issues with messing around with it. I’ll follow the exact same procedures as in the first three parts – get the data, process the data, consolidate the data, and synthesize the data. However, we’re now going to take it to the next step and make an information product.

What kind of product? Well, the Woefully Incomplete Guide to Generative AI, Second Edition, of course. When I use all the data I’ve created over the last two years – my newsletters, my keynotes, my YouTube channel, the works – and put it all in one place, the magic that can happen is crazy. I’ll have the language model outline a book for me, give it feedback on the outline, and then have it start writing the book, piece by piece. With context windows as large as they are, there’s no longer a limit on being able to do this task in one session – and that means more coherence than ever.

Will it still sound machine-made? Yes. There will still be tells – perplexity and burstiness are the two measures by which you can detect AI writing – but it will sound substantially more like me because I’ll specifically instruct it to “plagiarize” from all my other works.

And that’s why we started this section with ethics, because there’s no practical, technological limitation to doing unethical or illegal things with AI. We have to be governed by our own ethics, morals, and laws. I can’t ethically write Ashley Faus’ book for her, but I absolutely can write my own.

Wrapping Up

These four stages of using generative AI for professional development highlight the power of these tools to use the knowledge they have, but really shine when they’re given knowledge, when they’re given all the pieces they need to generate incredible, thorough, factually correct outputs. There’s still no substitute for human review, but you can see with the techniques we’ve looked at today, you can get much closer to your goal of creating useful educational materials.

As always, shameless plug, if you want help with scaling your generative AI systems and processes like I did in this example, this is literally what my company does, so if getting started with this use of generative AI is of interest, hit me up.

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed it

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Events I’ll Be At

Here are the public events where I’m speaking and attending. Say hi if you’re at an event also:

  • MAICON, Cleveland, September 2024
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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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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.



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