Finding the Mindful Moments With AI | Gagen MacDonald

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Finding the Mindful Moments With AI

Apr 30, 2024

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.”  ― Sheryl Sandberg

By now, most of us have at the very least experimented with Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI) tools. Some of us have worked it into our daily workflows while empowering our workforces to do the same. More among us, however, are still holding the technology at arm’s length, not quite sure how to go from theory to real-life practice with it.

This is what I’m hearing constantly from my clients. They have the technical training and the tools, but they are still struggling to work this new knowledge into their daily workflows. They struggle for a variety of reasons, but ultimately, I think many struggles come back to the same simple truth: change is hard. Learning something new takes time, energy and a growth mindset. And especially in this era when so much of the technology is still in early stages, it can be hard to feel confident that a given such investment of time and energy will end up being worth it. As an early adopter of GenAI, over the past year and a half I’ve seen first-hand how it can increase productivity and drive business outcomes. In my experience, the road to adopting GenAI into your daily work patterns doesn’t start with technology or training. It starts with stepping back and becoming more generally present in your work life. The practice of mindfulness can help any employee adopt daily, micro uses of GenAI. For leaders, I believe that cultivating mindfulness on an organization-wide level could make a huge difference for early AI adoption.

A concept rooted in ancient Eastern traditions, mindfulness is defined differently by different fields, but in a general sense, it refers to the skill of self-awareness, or “meta-attention” to the workings of one’s own mind. The American Psychological Association defines it as “awareness of one's internal states and surroundings.” There is a growing body of research on the benefits of mindfulness at work, including reduced stress, improved focus, increased emotional intelligence and strengthened leadership skills.

In the case of GenAI, mindfulness can be used as a first step to micro adoption by helping us notice where we could use help. Once people settle into their jobs, it’s easy, if not inevitable, to reach a place of autopilot; of knowing your ways of working and sticking with them. But the reality is that all of us have aspects within our jobs that could be done more quickly and easily. Whether it’s writing emails, researching a topic, proofreading or synthesizing data, we all have unique opportunities to save time and energy for other things.

Ask yourself: When do you notice yourself feeling overwhelmed? What requests do you feel under-resourced to handle? Which tasks do you always end up rushing or taking too long to complete? It is these moments — of unease, of frustration, of impending burnout — that should signal us to stop, notice and ask how things could improve.

The road to effective GenAI adoption, in other words, starts with noticing where time and energy are being wasted.

Of course, cultivating mindfulness won’t just help increase the value of GenAI within your organization. It will also help manage risk. GenAI’s issues with accuracy, transparency, fairness, bias and sustainability are all well-documented, and these problems won’t be disappearing anytime soon. Employees who use GenAI tools with intention and awareness will be the best at recognizing risks and maintaining responsible usage as new dynamics emerge.

If you are one of the many who have not yet gone from theory to real-life practice with GenAI, here is a set of questions that anyone can use right now to get started with mindful adoption. First, identify the tasks you regularly perform. Next, bring attention to each task, asking:

  • Could the quality of the output that comes from this process be improved?
  • Could this process be any easier?
  • Are there repetitive or time-consuming aspects of this that could be automated?
  • Could this have a more positive impact on revenue, cost savings or productivity than it does currently?

As with anything, there are nuances to keep in mind with your specific workplace’s strategy, structure and culture. But micro progress and macro progress are two sides of the same coin with AI adoption, and the former can really help drive the latter.

As always, reach out if you need help crafting an integrated AI strategy, scaling mindfulness training or assessing what exactly your people need to thrive.

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