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We gotta fall in love with the questions


It was a lot of fun creating this series about becoming a PM with the help of generative AI. I got to learn a lot about how those systems work today and what we can expect from them in the future.

“The Answer to the Great Question... Of Life, the Universe and Everything... Is... Forty-two,' said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.”  Douglas Adams

The answer is the easy part

My first reaction to generative AI was, like with many people, awe. I've been working in technology for almost twenty years and lately, nothing could really amaze me anymore. Yes, we had better versions here and there, a lot of incremental improvements but for what feels like ages we didn't have a real technological breakthrough. Generative AI does feel like a genuine breakthrough when you try it for the first time.

After spending some time with it you start to notice the quirks and imperfections, which is totally fine as any radically new technology will have those. Then you start to wonder about the practical application of the tech. Generative AI is great at providing answers and it will become even better in the future. So we need to become better at asking questions.

That's not an easy ask. As professionals, we've been hired, paid and praised for providing answers. We've been called subject matter experts and alike. How many "intellectual" TV shows do we have that are based on people memorising facts? Now comes the time when we need to rethink all that. Knowing the answers might not be the superpower anymore while asking the right questions is.

A good question is half the answer

Another thing you notice when you play around with generative AI is that the quality of its output is directly correlated with the quality of your question. Sometimes, I've been rewriting prompts multiple times and with every iteration, I got a better answer.

I also was surprised by the amount of specificity generative AI systems could handle. At one point, I tried to feed into the ChatGPT the full job description and my entire CV in order to adjust it for the role - generative AI made a pretty decent job with that, which was impressive.

The general advice I could give around asking generative AI questions - start broad and then refine. Don't be satisfied with the first answer. Try to ask for the same thing in a few different ways and you're almost guaranteed the better results.

"Don't know" is better than the wrong answer

One of the biggest problems of generative AI tech at the moment is that it sometimes makes up answers. Yeah, not everything you read on the Internet is true. The reason for that is really simple - the creators of generative AI tune those systems to prioritise your satisfaction over the truth. They needed to generate interest and amazement with this new wave of tech and it would have been really hard to do if the system answered with "I don't know".

That's another case of building tech in our own image. Because we also do that, don't we? When someone asks us a question and we don't want to upset them because it could be our boss, our wife, or our kid, or maybe we just don't want to appear stupid. Then we can make up answers that are wrong. So can generative AI, the pleaser. But don't worry, that's easy to fix, in tech, not in people.

We just need to allow generative AI to say: "I don't know". Or if we want to be fancy, we can add a certainty score for every answer to show how much could be made up. And for the people? Pretty much the same. We should take pride in not knowing as it's the first step to learning. We should be comfortable saying "I don't know" meaning that "I will find out".

Chief questions officer

Yes, I do believe we will start seeing such a job title soon. From my experience in various jobs - the most impact a leader could make in a tricky situation is to ask a good question. Best leaders I've seen out there are using questions as the guiding device not only to get immediate results better but also to provide learning opportunities for their people.

If you can scale it to a company level - you might just see your results going up. But even better if you can have people asking questions on all levels. And for that, you'll need to create a questions culture at your organisation. Yes, it might sound cheesy but what is the worst that could happen?

Some good questions

Here are some good questions you can ask in almost any situation. You can put them towards a generative AI or towards yourself or your peers. The resulting discussion should be worth it.
  • Why are we doing it this way?
  • Is that the best way to do it?
  • How does it work?
  • What value does it provide for our customers?
  • Why can't we...?
  • What if...?
  • How could we...?
  • If this happens, then we...?

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