When I worked as a consultant for an IT company, I had the opportunity to learn many things from the ground up. My earliest roles were developing applications in MS Access (yes, you can do that). But then I got into website development using Javascript, and I was completely hooked and sold on this new type of coding.

There was a lot of learn-as-you-go, and sometimes it was incredibly frustrating trying to get a piece of code to do what I wanted. But when it finally did – boy, did I ever feel the exhilaration of success. Seeing all your hard work create something that someone else will use to do their work is very rewarding.

I moved on from that world to writing about technology. The first really significant article for me was about updates to Microsoft SharePoint, not because it was SharePoint but because my editor at the time praised the quality of my work, saying it was well-written, and explained the technology updates perfectly (it was something like that anyway – it was a long time ago). That praise and that article hooked me on writing. I had to dig into that technology to understand it well enough to explain it to other people, and I worked hard to do that.

These days I still write (read my work on Diginomica), but I also work as a freelance content writer and a fractional marketing director. I’ve had to learn tools from the ground up (hello, HubSpot, Act-on, Salesforce, WordPress, and others), and I’ve had to dive deep into software to figure out how it works and why someone would want to use it. I am destined to be a life-long learner because that’s what makes me good at what I do.

Generative AI puts a snag in my process.

It has made me think and rethink how I work. On one level, it excites me, and on another, I feel like it’s taking away some of the work I enjoy and is important to do.

Let’s look at HubSpot’s ChatSpot. It’s still in Alpha, but it’s designed to help you work in HubSpot without doing the work. For example, I can ask it to generate a report about deals added in the last three months, or a report that shows website visits month over month and where they came from. I can analyze the performance of an email campaign. (Note: Clearbit announced something similar with its ChatGPT Plugin).

Now I can do all this without ChatSpot, but if the AI can do it faster, then I can focus on improvements and new ideas instead of hanging out in the data weeds.

What I’d really like it to do is set up an email campaign for me, including creating the initial landing page, form, and workflow. I would go in and complete the setup, add the content, and test the flow, but having that process started for me would be so nice.

Supporting marketing operations with automation is something Scott Brinker and I talked about on the Content Matters podcast. With Zapier integrating with ChatGPT, the options available to automate much of a marketing or sales process are many, and I know there are other tech companies working on similar capabilities.

I also know I could use it for research, ask it to outline my articles, and even write parts of the text. I could even ask it to write an entire draft. And I’m trying it with mixed results. But I’m less excited about AI for this work because these are all things I need to do to create great content.

What is WALL-E telling us today?

Do you remember the movie WALL-E? It’s a movie from 2008 that tells the story of a little robot (WALL-E) who changes the fate of humankind. It was an accident on WALL-E’s part, but a good accident. People had allowed machines to take over their lives. The machines did everything. All people had to do was eat, drink, watch TV, and get fat.

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Image from https://slate.com/culture/2022/11/wall-e-pixar-criterion-15th-anniversary-ipad.html

My point isn’t that AI is pushing us in that direction. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. My point is that we still need to learn to do things for ourselves. I would love to use a chatbot to set up my email campaign. But I still want to know how to do it for myself.

And sometimes, I might ask AI to develop an outline for an article to start my journey to researching the topic. But I should also be able to research and find that outline on my own. Does research and outlining make us better writers? I think it does.

A lot of people are saying that writers who don’t leverage generative AI are going to lose out to those who do. If that’s true, it’s not because AI makes us better writers. It’s because companies want things faster and cheaper, and they think they get that with AI while still maintaining quality.

I had a client say that it’s not long before a freelance writer who charges $10k for a whitepaper will have to use generative AI and charge $500. It was a slight exaggeration on the price, but the point is the same. Content faster, faster, faster. Quality – well, that’s still questionable.

Maybe you think that using AI makes you a better writer because it allows you to spend more time on the story – on making the car look pretty and not the nuts and bolts that keep it together. But nuts and bolts are foundational; the car falls apart without them. Research, outlining, first ugly drafts – these are all foundational to telling the best story. If you don’t know how to do them, your story is going to fall apart.

To embrace AI or not to embrace AI

You will use AI. I will use AI. Some days it will help us work smarter and be more productive. Other days, it will just make us work faster. We should be thinking about how generative AI will improve workflow – whether marketing operations, sales ops, or writing. But never see it as a replacement for learning to do the work yourself.

We should never stop learning to do things ourselves.

We should never stop learning.

Thanks for Reading!

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