AI And The New Oz – Leadership’s Journey To The Future Of Work

by | Sep 7, 2023 | Podcasts

SWGR Tonya Long | Embracing AI

 

Now is the moment to follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, where Artificial Intelligence helps shape the future of work. In this episode, Tonya Long, the author of AI and the New Oz: Leadership’s Journey to the Future of Work, gives us a guide to embracing and using Artificial Intelligence. Inspired by the classic, The Wizard of Oz, her book uses the characters from the story to create a roadmap for successfully thinking about AI. Tonya shows that – although she used ChatGPT to help her write — her human knowledge was central to the process. She shares her insights on “The Wicked Witch of Resistance” how to negotiate with the human tendency to push back against new ideas. Join us in this amazing conversation about Artificial Intelligence and how it enables the future of work. 

 

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AI And The New Oz – Leadership’s Journey To The Future Of Work

This is the show where we talk about leadership, presentation skills, innovation, and how to navigate the world. Before I get to our very interesting guest, I’d like to invite you to see where your presentation skills are strong and where you might need a little support by taking our free four-minute assessment at www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support could help you get the results that you need and the recognition that you deserve.

My guest is Tonya J. Long, who is one of the people I go to when I have a tough big idea and I want to bounce it off of somebody who’s smart and who will give me great feedback. I’ve been trying to get her on the show for quite some time. Now, she’s written a book and it’s great. It’s easy to read and very clear. It’s a wonderful book. I said, “Come on the show so we can talk about it.”

Tonya J. Long is a leading voice in digital transformation and artificial intelligence integration and governance. She’s a Veteran Executive and Fractional Chief AI Officer. Her leadership is informed by two decades of experience steering multinational teams for billion-dollar technology companies in a range of industry verticals. She spearheaded over twenty corporate merger and acquisition integrations.

She’s a company founder in the talent management space and a sought-after advisor on private boards. With a graduate degree in Public Policy from the University of Tennessee and a diverse portfolio of leadership roles, Tonya’s unique breadth has established her as an essential authority in complex discussions on AI policy and government. Her debut literary work is called AI And The New Oz, which is a guide to embracing AI the way it’s showing up for us now set in the framework of The Wizard Of Oz. She’s an interesting person. She’s brilliant. I know you will enjoy the conversation. Onto the interview with Tonya Long.

Tonya Long, I am happy I finally got you onto the show. Welcome.

It is wonderful to be here. It has taken too long.

You are one of the people I go to when I have questions I want to figure out to bounce ideas off of. I love being able to do that. Before we get into the list of questions I have for you, who would be your dream interview? If you could interview someone who’s no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them and who should be listening?

The list is long, but given that I know our topic is AI-centric and focused on what’s happening in the world with disruption around AI, I’d have to go back to Nikola Tesla.

Tell us who he was, for those of us who think about cars first.

He was an enigma. It was a fitting name for the electric car, but he was moved to the US from Yugoslavia. He was quite a brilliant man. He received four honorary degrees, but he was one of the creators of electricity. I had a penchant for blowing up things. He created actual earthquakes in New York. We’re talking back turn of the century with his desire to capture power.

From the 19th to the 20th century, the experiments he did in the early 20th century.

Much like AI, people were enamored with him. If you think about New York at the turn of the century, people were enamored with him. They were terrified of what he was creating. I see many parallels in what he was building was going to be life-changing for society. He knew it. The people around him understood and knew it, yet there was so much fear around what that could mean around the damage that it could potentially cause. He did cause physical explosions.

Those caused physical damage to buildings. People at the time were rightfully concerned, and I see the parallels today. I would ask him what he would do differently. Having the wisdom of having gone through that cycle of decades of trying to get attention to his projects and get acceptance for very forward-thinking and progressive things he was trying to do, how would he engage differently with society? He was very much a cowboy.

Part of this was the era of the time. Communications and humans were different, but AI is trending to be a very collaborative and cooperative business working together and marching into the future. My reading at that time was that things were very much individualized. He and Thomas Edison are apparently at war with AC current versus DC current. I can’t imagine that being a war, but it was because it’s like, “I’m right.” “No, I’m right.”

Ego is always part of the story.

They were battling for mental brainiac supremacy. He was quite the brainiac and built amazing things, and it had to be lonely to be building something everyone was afraid of.

What an interesting point and a very interesting thought. That brings me to the first question I had for you. Why is artificial intelligence as we now know or perceive it different from the technological changes that we’ve been pushing for the last twenty years or is it different?

I think it’s very different. Not quite as bad as when we implemented institutionalized electricity, but took the building out of power lines and infrastructure. I think infrastructure is what makes generative AI in particular very different. In my book AI And The New Oz, I talk about speed, access, and scale. In my history in tech, I’ve implemented large systems. It took months, sometimes even years to plan these large rollouts. We’ve wasted millions of dollars with the Big 4 advisory firms to do the planning for the implementation. We bought massive infrastructure to carry information across countries. On November 30th, we released GPT to the world and people implemented it on their phones. What’s different is your ninth grader probably installed and downloaded it before you did.

SWGR Tonya Long | Embracing AI

AI and the New Oz: Leadership’s Journey to the Future of Work

Depending on your generation.

I hate to make it about generation because I know a ton of people in their ‘60s who are on fire with this technology. Depending on your ilk, you may have waited, but access to this is still free if you want it to be. That’s access and speed. I was carrying it around in my back pocket nearly immediately. Those things make this technology, particularly generative AI, very different from technologies of our past.

It makes me think way back when Isaac Asimov wrote science fiction stories where people had a computer on their wrists. Now, there’s the Apple Watch. Because of fibromyalgia, I can’t wear a wrist device like that, but I look at it and I say, “I have to settle for this big old clunky phone. Who knew?” Isaac Asimov knew 50 years ago, but it’s still very cool. Indeed your 13 or 11-year-old, probably downloaded it before you did. You’ve written this wonderful book. I loved it. It says AI And The New Oz. It’s readable. It’s clear for people who do not live in the tech space 24/7. I love the way that it’s easy to read. What made you decide to use the Wizard Of Oz as a metaphor?

Before I even ask that, for our international audience, you’ve probably heard about The Wizard Of Oz. That’s where Judy Garland sings Somewhere Over The Rainbow. I know lots of people who’ve heard about it but never watched it. I would recommend watching the movie. It is a classic and you can get it in whatever language you’re in. Watch the movie before you read the book because it will make a difference. Every American grows up in this book, but not everybody else does. What made you decide to use the Wizard Of Oz as a metaphor?

I was a story looking for a vehicle. I had not been using generative AI all that long when I quickly understood we had some challenges. Those challenges were in my peer group executives pushing it away and not wanting to use it. I think those were ego reasons. They didn’t want to be overstepped by their ninth grader or their junior-level employees. I spoke earlier about the Big 4 advisory firms and millions of dollars spent. I think we’ve conditioned knowledge workers to wait for the strategy people to come in and give them their plan. I saw quickly that this was a totally different time. I didn’t want people to wait. I wanted people to feel empowered to start using AI now to own their processes and use all the different permutations of AI-enabled products that are coming out.

Earlier, it slowed down a little in a good way, but there were 600 products a week being introduced for AI technologies that people were putting out for free that you could use for personal productivity or with your teams. It was mind-blowing what was coming through. I thought, “If everyone is waiting, then no one is moving forward.” I need to get to those less technical people or those people who think that they’re too high up to be bothered with it, to get them to understand that we are all doing this now because we’re not waiting for the infrastructure to be built.

You needed a metaphor that was going to be easy.

I decided to write a book. I wanted to do something easy. I was prowling in my jewelry box for something to wear, and I ran across an old pen that my late mother had given me. That was The Ruby Red Slippers. It was a cheap brooch. I saw it and thought about it. That sparked the idea.

Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

For anyone who’s not familiar with the story, you click your heels, make your wish, and it happens. The witch chased her for those ruby slippers. It’s a central theme of the storyline. I saw that pen. It gave me the idea, but then it captured when I sat down at this computer and I asked ChatGPT. I said, “If I were to write a book on leaders and less technical people embracing generative AI into their lives with the theme of The Wizard Of Oz, what would the chapters look like?” ChatGPT rolled out 8 or 9 chapter names, and it was a framework for the book. For me, It was a winner. I wrote the book in about 90 days. People are a little overwhelmed by that. When you have the right structure, everything flows.

My mama gave me the idea, and ChatGPT sealed the deal because the structure was there and I was like, “This all makes sense.” As you’ve said, it’s relatable. It was something that I could write about because I do believe that the successful adoption of AI is not a technology issue. It’s a human-centered people-first effort that we need to get people comfortable, welcome, and engaged in owning their own processes and confident in changing their processes. The technology is the easy piece. It’s the people piece we need to focus on. That requires an elevated form of leadership we already know about. There’s nothing in this book that’s groundbreaking. It’s reminding people of the inherent gifts that we all have, and to use those to bring everyone forward.

The adoption of AI is right now. Successful adoption is not a technology issue but human-centered. We need to get people comfortable, welcome, and engaged in owning their processes. Share on X

You talk about ChatGPT as a writing partner. Does anybody ever say, “Did ChatGPT write the book for you?”

I’ve had a couple, but they’ve never said it again.

I have professional writers in my family. I think about the writers in Hollywood who are worried about losing their jobs through ChatGPT. Certainly, writers have always been low on the rung in Hollywood. What do you say to someone who says, “ChatGPT wrote the book for you, right?” People keep saying they wrote a book or writing a book a day.

Those people aren’t helping. The thing is you can use ChatGPT and turn it loose and say, “Write me a book,” and the results will show that I believe. ChatGPT was never intended to be creative or intuitive enough or be the decision-maker to write an entire body of work. What you put into ChatGPT is what you get out. Although it can be done and we see in the media people who’ve said, “I’m churning out a book a day and selling it for $0.99 a pop,” or whatever. Anyone who looks at this book as a reflection of me sees my mark on it.

It sees absolutely my voice, which was the hardest part of writing with that digital partner, but it also sees my stories. It sees my history. I had lunch with a friend from work and he said, “It was like sitting talking with you to read it because I could hear you.” They could break into the stories of you. That’s something that ChatGPT can’t do. It can’t be me. I can teach and train ChatGPT on my writing style, but you have to still inform ChatGPT about the sequencing and what you want from it, and then you have to still weave it together.

It takes human intuition to create a storyline that hangs together and is compelling. If anything, this is what I do when encountering people who are always messing with me or they’re joking. They say, “ChatGPT must have written your book. How about that?” What I try to turn that conversation toward is the evolution that we’re moving to with that human-machine connection where I want everybody to get there.

It takes human intuition to create a compelling storyline that hangs together. Share on X

My brain is only so big. ChatGPT’s reach introduced things to me that I may have had way back here but didn’t pull forward, or I may not have ever heard of. It offered me a broader story and more intellect than I would’ve had. The relationship between AI and humans, when we can start to see it as a partnership, instead of, “The human was lazy and the machine did it for them,” when we see that it took the human asking the right questions and then the machine kept feeding it stuff until the human was satisfied with, “I’ll take number 2, 12, and 48 of the responses that came through because I finally got things that worked with what I wanted to pull together.”

The things that also sparked your creativity, I could use that as a seed to take off from.

It took me longer to write the book with ChatGPT, but it’s a better body of work because of ChatGPT. There’s the reach of the stories and there is the quality of writing because quite obviously, I’m long-winded to be able to put things into ChatGPT and say, “Can you tighten this up?” On many occasions, what it gave me was very helpful for a better writing experience.

Back to the book and embracing AI for us, you did write it. ChatGPT was a research assistant for you. For those who haven’t read the book yet, please do. It’s a quick read and it’s fun. What do each of the characters represent? Can you give us the framework that you’re working through?

It’s essentially the cast of The Wizard Of Oz. We start with the heroin of the whole story, Dorothy. She pulled together this unlikely team. We talked about teamwork and nurturing a team with unlikely skillsets, and her having a vision for how those team members contributed, so Dorothy with teamwork. I won’t do this in order, but remember the Lion who didn’t think that he was brave, but he had courage when he had a reason to have courage with this team to protect.

The Tin Man who wanted a heart. I particularly love some of the stories embedded with the story of the Tin Man, but leading with love is a personal mantra for me, so the Tin Man and the Tin Heart. The Scarecrow and wisdom and knowledge, I believe there is a big component in AI adaptation and adoption with creating learning cultures, embracing that, and giving people platforms to learn from. The Scarecrow thought he needed a brain to be smart, but he already had plenty of smarts. He just needed someone to believe in him.

That’s the main cast that you think of Dorothy and her three compadres, but beyond that, the Wizard I thought was a huge piece of the overall story of Oz, because the Wizard had this wonderful vision for Oz and he loved Oz deeply. He saw the future and the utopian society of Oz, and that’s where we’re headed with AI. I thought that was a great fit.

There are also two unlikely characters that were a lot of fun to write. One was the Munchkins as a set of characters, then I folded in with them the Flying Monkeys. The Munchkins are collaborative because they get things done through knowing how to collaborate and to manage forward. In a very related way, but a little more sinister, those Flying Monkeys could network the heck out of things to acquire what they needed to move things forward. I folded the Flying Monkeys with the Munchkins, and then the last was the Wicked Witch of the West and resistance.

She’s the one who says no.

She might have become my favorite because people see the evil characters as selfish or trying to take over the world. The more I studied her through this process, it reflected on her as needing to be heard. I was trying to fit her into my box of humanity, AI, and fear, but thinking about resistance. I felt bad for the Wicked Witch of the West, but that chapter on resistance is a particularly important chapter for all of us.

SWGR Tonya Long | Embracing AI

Embracing AI: People see evil characters as selfish, trying to take over the world. I think the Wicked Witch just wanted to be heard.

 

Tell us a little bit more about resistance and dealing with resistance. This sounds like basic change management.

It’s important for all of us because you’ve got clear resistance, like the Wicked Witch of the West who is trying to kill Dorothy to get the red slippers. That’s a little extreme. We’ve all got those extremes in our lives. One of the things that I wrote about is reflecting on our own resistance to ideas, and our need to stay curious. Sometimes the smarter, wiser, older, and more experienced we get, we think we know the answer. In itself, it’s a very small form of resistance because we’re like, “No, we’ve done that. We’ve tried that. Not invented here.” That is resistance that gets in the way of moving forward better.

SWGR Tonya Long | Embracing AI

Embracing AI: Sometimes the smarter, older, and more experienced we are, we think we already know the answers. That is a small form of resistance which gets in the way of moving forward.

 

Please tell me more. How do we cope and deal with it? How do we either embrace it or work against it? One thing every organization has in common is people. People tend to resist change. Some more than others. Let me ask you two ways. If you feel resistance inside yourself towards using AI, how can we negotiate with the Witch so that we learn to embrace AI?

It takes an awful lot of self-awareness. When you’re negotiating with yourself, you’re already a step ahead when you realize that you’re resisting. You pause to ask, “Why am I delaying, hesitating, and resisting?” That puts you far ahead to be able to ask yourself the question, “What am I afraid of? Am I afraid of being embarrassed?” When you peel it back, not many of us are afraid of side collapse climbing up the side of the building and taking over. What are you afraid of? You can work through that however it serves you. If it serves you best to hire a private tutor because your ego can’t be embarrassed in front of a group when you don’t know an answer, then do that. Take a Coursera or Udemy course.

There are a million answers, but it starts with knowing what your blockage is. The answers become much easier once you understand what’s causing the fear, and then I would apply the same thing because I think that’s your next question. When it’s an organizational thing, you’ve got to hear those people. You’ve got to listen to organizationally what the concerns are. The easiest one to understand right now in the workforce is job loss or job deceleration. It’s easy to understand that leaders have been conditioned to have all the answers.

We listen first to let people articulate their worries so that we can build programs around their worries. I’ve got all kinds of answers to the job loss thing, but until I’ve made people feel heard and they know that I’ve been able to capture their concerns and then build through that. My recommendation is for leaders to do a lot of listening right now. You can’t just listen and be empty and you’re not doing anything for months. You’ve got to respond with some level of clarity about what the plan is. It’s time now for organizations to be building blueprints of what we’re going to do to upskill and retrain.

Jobs are going to change. I don’t think we need to spread lollipops and sunshine around that commit that nothing will change because I believe that would be grossly unfair, but to encourage people that as things will change, we’re going to prepare this team, and to encourage people that we’re going to have fun with it. We’re going to do some interesting things. People will get to grow.

You have a great story in the book about comparing this to the fears around the invention of QuickBooks, the accounting software. I loved that story. Could you tell us that?

I want to give credit to Jamie Peebles. Jamie is a thought leader on LinkedIn. That’s how I know Jamie. It’s his story that I have borrowed with his permission. It’s in the book. I tell it a lot because it’s a great story. When QuickBooks was invented, it was very easy to understand. Everybody said, “There goes the world for all the local CPAs and the local bookkeepers. They’ll have no job.” This was twenty years ago.

Now, QuickBooks has been around forever. Instead, without a lot of fanfare or organization around it like what is happening with AI, almost organically, CPAs, accountants, and bookkeepers started to build services around QuickBooks. Whether it’s configuring and implementing QuickBooks, which I think is hysterical because they’re leveraging this new technology that’s becoming ubiquitous with running a small business, whether it’s implementing it, or instead of doing the general ledger entries, now they’re elevated. Instead, the accounts and CPAs are doing more forecasting, planning, and higher-level activities.

There are just as many CPAs and bookkeepers out there, but they’re doing higher value-added programmatic activities for these small businesses. It’s such a win in my opinion because the businesses are closer to their financial business because they’re right there on top of it. It’s right there with them. They’re not waiting for the monthly or quarterly report from the CPA, and the CPA is doing a higher-order thinking strategic activity. I think it’s a beautiful story.

What comes next? When we put it in context, we get to the Emerald City. Maybe Dorothy flies away, but everybody else stays behind. The Wizard flies away. Dorothy clicks her heels together and goes back to Kansas. What’s next?

Writing a book is like having a child. When you’re pregnant you say, “I’m never doing this again.” When the baby comes, you start planning the next one. There is a plan now for a second book. I need to get it labeled something around Wizards Of The New Oz. Inspiring successful stories. When I was writing this in March, April, and May, there weren’t many stories out in the public domain about leaders who were implementing AI. I think now, there will be.

I want to highlight those leaders who are using these traits, either people, teams, or organizations, and bring those stories forward. I think if the first book motivated people that you have wisdom, heart, vision, and courage, then the second book says, “This is how other people in the real world used it by implementing AI. This is how they put rubber to the road to move their thing forward.”

We are learning as we adopt this technology, develop it, and continue working on it.

Also, to spotlight those companies because they deserve it. Those early adopters who are working through who are Witch and getting her off her broom, and having her join them, those people deserve to be highlighted and their stories told so that other people can see companies that have a great culture, and get their own ideas for, “We could do that too.”

This is our own natural human reaction to say, “I want to go back to the tried and true. I want to stick with the system I know.” What do say to those people? How do you say it in a polite way?

That’ll be a very hard choice to make. I could go all the way back. I wrote a couple of months ago about when the typewriter was introduced, and what a big brouha that was. It was inflammatory for some people to receive things that were pecked out on a typewriter from their local business people, like getting a bill from their dentist where they had typed out their invoice. I don’t see how we can go back to those days.

I would encourage people to look at how the technology fits them. Not everyone can be at the front of the adoption curve. I’m not asking for that, but I am asking for people to consider it before they resist it. There’s a lot of effort in resisting. Frankly, I’m going to go ahead and say there’s a lot of effort in the people who care trying to bring along the people who resist it. It keeps us from focusing on the next when we’re constantly working to embrace, love, and show deference to hearing the hearts of the people who are worried. If there’s anything, I would encourage people to consider the future and what benefits them, and try to find the spot, be it ever small, that brings them value. I would submit to you. It is impossible to not find a spot where it benefits your life.

Consider the future and what you will need. It is impossible NOT to find a spot where AI benefits your life. Share on X

This has been much fun. I’m definitely going to bring you back on to comment as we see how this all develops. We’ve had AI around for a while. It has exploded in the last few months. We’re recording this in August of 2023. If you’re tuning in to this later and you’re saying, “What’s the big idea? Everybody uses AI,” remember this is how we were feeling in the summer of 2023. We are definitely going to have you come back and hear some of the stories of how people are using this technology, and why embracing it rather than being afraid of it is a positive choice and a profitable choice. Thank you so much.

I usually ask people what’s the first thing to do, but the first thing to do if you’re tuning in to this is to buy the book. It’s so readable and clear. It makes much sense. Buy the book. That’s the first place to start, then start following Tonya Long on LinkedIn and all the things that she’s writing about. Thank you so much for joining us. If you enjoyed this conversation, please tell your friends, share the episode, subscribe to us on YouTube, and especially leave us a good review on Apple Podcasts because that’s the one that counts and helps more people find us. I’ll see you on the next one.

 

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About Tonya Long

SWGR Tonya Long | Embracing AITonya J. Long is a leading voice in digital transformation and artificial intelligence integration and governance. As a veteran executive and fractional Chief AI Officer, her leadership is informed by two decades of experience steering multi-national teams for billion-dollar technology companies in a range of industry verticals.

She has spearheaded over 20 corporate M&A integrations, is a company Founder in the talent management space, and is a sought-after advisor on private boards. With a graduate degree in Public Policy from The University of Tennessee and a diverse portfolio of leadership roles, Tonya’s unique breadth has established her as an essential authority in complex discussions on AI policy and governance. Her debut literary work, AI and the New Oz, was published in July.