1 Big Idea to Think About

  • Having an essentialist mindset when it comes to artificial intelligence will allow us to harness the power of these new tools and create time rebates where we can think, create, rest, and rejuvenate.

1 Way You Can Apply This

  • Evaluate where you our your organization is on the spectrum of using AI:
    • Produce more with maximum effort
    • Use AI to produce better results with optimal effort

1 Questions to Ask

  • How can I use AI to help me reach optimal effort and get optimal results?

Key Moments From the Show 

  • What do you do with unexpected time rebates? (1:31)
  • How to have an essentialist mindset regarding AI (3:29)
  • Maximum Effort ≠ Optimal Results (6:20)
  • How will we invest our time windfall from AI? (9:21)

Links and Resources You’ll Love from the Episode

Greg McKeown:

Welcome everyone. I’m your host, Greg McKeown, and I am here with you on this journey to learn so that we can operate at our highest point of contribution. What would you do with an extra hour in your day? Would you use it to be even busier, or would you use it to create space to think? This isn’t a hypothetical question. We are all faced with this scenario now because of the launch of a whole array of AI tools, including Chat GPT, and so this is part one of a multi-part series of solo episodes and interviews about how to use AI to make a more essentialist, effortless lifestyle. By the end of this episode, you’ll be able to choose wisely how to use AI in your life. Let’s get to it. 

Don’t let the conversation end here, either. Click the subscribe button to stay updated with our future episodes every Tuesday and Thursday. Thank you to everyone who subscribed.

It all starts with mindsets in the world viewed through the lens of non-essentialism. Even an unexpected boon of time or money is typically squandered rather than prudently set aside for unforeseen circumstances. This pattern is clearly seen in the reaction of nations when they strike oil. When the British government hit a jackpot with the discovery of North Sea Oil, a substantial surge in tax revenues followed from 1980 through 1990. The X-checker swelled by an additional 166 billion pounds. Some 250 billion, and a range of opinions exist as to how these funds were expended. Yet it is incontrovertible that instead of establishing a safety net to cushion against unforeseeable disasters or, like the subsequent great recession or the lockdowns because of the pandemic, the British government diverted the funds elsewhere. That part we know for sure. 

Contrast this with the perspective of the essentialist. The essentialist mindset would advocate for harnessing the bounties of prosperity to buffer against periods of scarcity. The nation of Norway is a shining testament to this approach. Like Britain, they, too, reaped massive benefits from oil windfall taxes. However, they channeled a significant portion of the windfall into an investment fund. Over time, this endowment has swelled to an astonishing $1.4 trillion, making it one of the largest sovereign funds in the world. The essentialist course adopted by Norway has created a bounty that can shield the country from a multitude of future scenarios. 

Now, you and I are unlikely to suddenly have a windfall of oil come into our lives, but there are times in our lives when we suddenly get a time rebate of some kind or another. And so we are faced with the same sort of metaphorical scenario as Britain versus Norway, and the rapid and broad distribution of AI tools is equivalent to such a moment in our lives. How will we use it?

Now, there’s a whole scale. You can imagine a continuum. At one end, the Nonessentialist, and at the other, the essentialist. I have read with some interest about one CEO whose response to AI was as follows: In a leaked video, he said Some of our developers could be working for two different companies. We don’t know. We hope that’s not the case, but we don’t know. Many content writers today are now exclusively using AI to write. I can do that in about 30 minutes of an eight-hour day. So what do we need to do? Let’s put out 30 to 50 times our normal production. 

Well, that’s one way to use it. That’s one way to go. But at the other end of the spectrum, we might be more like a different CEO, Banks Benitez is who I’m thinking of here. Banks, you’ll remember, and perhaps it’s worth going back to listen to the interview I had with him in episode 23 of this podcast. Banks Benitez was the co-founder and CEO of Uncharted. And in that conversation, he shares how his organization has transitioned from experiment to execution of a four-day work week. And we go into detail about the challenges involved, the advantages in prioritizing, and the larger context of life outside of work, that is, using that extra day that they created to be able to think, to create, to produce more health, exercise, balance, relationship development, hobby development, more life, let’s say, in the old work-life balance. 

So there we have two contrasts, two extremes on the essentialism continuum. And why I am sharing those with you is as a contrast for the choice that is before you and I right now with AI. AI makes a great servant but a poor master, as do so many of the technologies that have come into our lives. And the difference between the two is really about mindset.

Do we have the nonessentialist mindset that more is always better, or do we have the essentialist mindset less but better? I just wrote up some of these thoughts and research in an article in Harvard Business Review, and we’ll put that link in the show notes, but in part, I wrote the following, “Despite some company’s attempts, we can’t fix today’s burnout culture with a wellness app. What it takes instead is a mindset and culture shift among managers and organizations everywhere.” 

This is true with AI as well. An outdated way of thinking about peak performance is maximum effort equals maximum results. It doesn’t really work that way in reality, but many managers still believe that it does. They might talk a good game about practicing self-care or protecting the asset, but their core assumptions are more often akin to a bad 1980s motivational speaker. Think no pain, no gain, no guts, no glory, and give it 110%, whatever that means.

And it’s fair enough when a manager expects 80-plus hours a week from people while offering Friday yoga to combat stress, they unintentionally create a toxic contradiction. It’s a classic example of what we call, in psychology, a double bind. That is, employees can’t talk about the contradiction, and they can’t talk about not being able to talk about it. And really, the point I’m trying to make is that if you suddenly adopt AI technologies that could help you create space and balance and relationships and health, but your mind is still stuck in the old nonessentialist way of thinking, you’ll use the windfall opportunity to produce more of the problems you had before. And it’s because of this core mindset that many well-intended efforts to end the burnout epidemic don’t work. 

If you think individual overachievers are solely to blame for the exhaustion, then you’ll only end up addressing the wrong problem. Consider McKinsey’s research on burnout, which showed that in all 15 countries where they did the research and across all dimensions assessed, toxic workplace behavior was the biggest predictor of burnout symptoms and intent to leave by a large margin. 

Not only does this old mindset not produce high performance, it also creates a downward spiral of toxicity, begetting burnout, begetting toxicity. What we need instead is a new management mindset supported by data for how to really get the best out of our people. Instead of maximum effort equals maximum results, a better formula is optimal effort equals maximum results. Less effort can actually lead to more success. 

And there it is. This moment that we’re in produces an inflection point if we’re conscious of it and if we’re awake to it. And as we conclude this exploration today about the way mindset and AI can interact, we must ask ourselves, where do we stand on this spectrum between wastefully spending a windfall and wisely investing it?

Are you and I a kin to the CEO who went viral saying, let’s put out 30 to 50 times our normal production and elsewhere challenged anyone in the company to outwork him? “You won’t be able to do it,” he says with conviction. That’s one way to employ AI. Alternatively, we could emulate Banks Benitez, the CEO, who transitioned his organization to a four-day work week highlighting the larger context of life outside work and the essence of essentialism in navigating the journey. AI can be a tool that we can use to our advantage rather than a taskmaster. Today’s burnout culture isn’t something a wellness app can fix. It requires to use these tools in an optimal way requires a paradigm shift in how you and I and managers and organizations see the world in the first place. 

The old adage, maximum effort equals maximum results has shown to be outdated. In contrast, an updated mindset backed by data proposes a new formula. Optimal effort equals maximum results. There’s wisdom in recognizing that less can actually lead to more. As we grapple with the transformative power of AI in our lives and workplaces, let’s strive to use it wisely. Aligning our efforts with our essential values to create not just a more productive but a more meaningful, effortless lifestyle. Let’s choose the path of the essentialist. 

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And by the way, as a sneak peek, on Thursday, you’ll hear part one of an interview with the president of Microsoft, Brad Smith, who wrote the book Tools and Weapons all about technology and how it can be used in these two different ways dependent on your mindset and other factors. So we’ll start a deep dive with him in how he sees the world of AI and what we can do to make sure that it serves us rather than us serving it. Thank you for listening, and I’ll see you then.