Why I'm Eager to Make Toast in 2023

3 Ways to Embrace Tech and Lead With Humanity

Is 2023 the year of the AI CEO? I won’t rule out anything in this turbocharged race to integrate artificial intelligence into our lives, but for now I think we’re still talking about toast.

Let me explain.

Like most leaders, I attend a lot of events and am often asked to “say a few words.” Before a recent gathering, I prepared my remarks. But at the last moment, I thought I’d see what one of the new AI-backed systems would suggest I say.

Into the query space I typed: “How do I make a great toast?”

Well! Now I know the very precise width of bread (0.551181 inches) and the very precise temperature (309 degrees Fahrenheit) and the very precise amount of time it takes (216 seconds) to make a perfect slice of toast.

After I stopped laughing, I refined my query some and was offered a few obvious public speaking tips also. The beauty of this exercise was that the toast recipe also made for a relevant clink-clink toast and a natural way to talk about the big conversation today, which is technology plus humans. And we all raised our glasses in a toast to humanity.

The lesson? We’re always still learning — machines and humans alike.

And that encapsulates the three leadership goals I’m embracing in 2023: Make toast, adopt a new learning plan and always keep it real.

Make toast

Of course, by “make toast,” I mean embrace new technology. Try it out, play with it, experiment with how it fits into your world.

At WE Communications, technology and its connection to the human experience are at the heart of all of our work — and I believe that’s true of nearly every industry. Our experience is that people get anxious when there’s an inflection point in the way we’ve traditionally done things. But as leaders, embracing such exciting disruptors as AI and being nimble at these inflection points will open new opportunities.

The AI race feels like a sprint right now, as the big tech companies (and some impressive upstarts) hurry their products to market, but this will be a marathon — with plenty of stumbles and surges along the way. We’re starting a transformation that feels a lot like the early days of social media, the first smartphones or even the introduction of the PC itself. In my view, AI will disrupt everything.

And, as we saw in each of those previous bursts of new technology, the impact it has on our human lives will be what drives the conversation — and drives how we incorporate it into our work. For leaders, that means being open to ways AI can handle tasks that free our people to be more creative, be thoughtful and stay focused on the storytelling we do, for our business and for our clients.

In fact, my colleagues at Codeword have done just that with their “AI intern” program. I hear Aiden and Aiko (as they named themselves) are doing a knock-out job supporting their 106 human co-workers. They’re not making coffee, but they are helping us make toast!

Learn across generations

In my experiment with AI, I helped the bot learn by refining my query. Just as importantly, though, I added to my understanding of the current limits and boundless potential of generative AI simply by trying it out.

Being curious and open to learning is essential to good leadership. But who (besides the bots) are we learning from? If it’s the same mentors and thought leaders you’ve been following for years, I recommend a refresh and a “reverse mentorship.”

I’ve always enjoyed meeting with my agency’s interns (the human ones) and recent hires, and I like the idea of being more intentional about cross-generational learning — especially in our new normal of remote and hybrid working. My goal for 2023 will be to create more opportunities for us to listen and learn from one another because I know it will benefit our business and our client work.

Lindsey Pollak, a multigenerational workplace expert, puts it this way: “We’re a multigenerational world. We’re a multigenerational economy. So if you are only speaking to the needs or the communication style of one generation or two generations, you’re missing out on tremendous opportunity, and tremendous wisdom, and tremendous intelligence and ideas.”

Keep It Real

Many of us have long put purpose at the center of our businesses, even before it was fashionable to do so. Research my agency has conducted supports that approach but found that consumers and employees want us to go even further. As leaders, we’re being called on to do more than make pledges and write lofty mission statements. We’re being asked to take a stand on important issues and show the work we’re doing for the greater good.

At the same time, we’re being told it’s OK to admit our vulnerabilities and show our flaws. Show that we are human and keep it real. That’s a great reminder, especially in this new AI era. The term artificial intelligence is inherently demanding humans to help make it less artificial, by adding the real, the humanity.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that just as we’re embracing AI and the potential it brings that we are also clamoring for more humanity from our leaders.

So, are we on the verge of an AI CEO? I don’t think so. My bet is still with the humans, and preferably the humans who are willing to make great toast.

February 21, 2023