illustration by Fanny Luor
illustration by Fanny Luor

Work Culture

How an AI coworker can reinvent your workday


Published on May 29, 2024

Could generative AI lead you to more creative, fulfilling work? Writer Ethan Mollick thinks so.


If you’ve relegated AI to the realm of tech gimmicks, Ethan Mollick, a professor of Management at Wharton and author of the new book Co-Intelligence: Living and Working with AI, is here to change your mind. According to Mollick, who also writes the popular One Useful Thing newsletter about artificial intelligence, AI is set to become an indispensable co-worker. It's capable not just of handling tedious tasks but also enhancing our creative and strategic capabilities.

"AI is a tool that gives us some ability to sit back and say, 'What do we want more of?'" Mollick says. "How do we use it to rethink work in a way that creates more meaning?"

In Co-Intelligence, Mollick traces AI’s development from its early conceptual stages through decades of high and low hype cycles, to the current boom that began in the early 2010s with major advancements in machine learning, punctuated by the introduction of GPT-3 by OpenAI in 2020. He contends that understanding large language models is crucial for all, skeptics included, as these tools are becoming a permanent fixture in our professional landscapes.

Mollick demonstrates how AI can revolutionize both mundane and complex tasks, allowing us to focus on the most fulfilling aspects of our jobs. Drawing from his book and our interview, he outlines five key strategies for effectively integrating AI into your daily professional life, providing a roadmap for navigating a workplace increasingly shaped by artificial intelligence.

"How do we use AI to rethink work in a way that creates more meaning?"

1. Invite it to everything. 

"Use it for everything you do for an entire day," advises Mollick. “There’s no instruction manual out there, and there’s no expert who's gonna tell you how to use it perfectly. So it’s really about figuring out your own use cases.” This hands-on approach helps you discover how AI can aid your workflow, not just as a helper but as a potential innovator.

Mollick stresses the importance of inviting AI to the table in every task—whether you think it’s up to the job or not, “barring legal or ethical barriers.” Through such experimentation, you may uncover surprising strengths and weaknesses of AI. He describes this exploration as searching for the "Jagged Frontier" of AI, where the technology's capabilities are uneven—excelling in unexpected areas like creative ideation while struggling in others like simple math. It’s up to you to experiment and find out what works for you. 


2. Use it for the banal and boring.

"People spend a quarter of their time at work bored," Mollick notes, highlighting a common workplace issue where surveys show employees are bored about 10 hours a week. This boredom leads to dissatisfaction and high turnover rates. Mollick suggests that by integrating AI for routine tasks such as drafting emails, creating reports, or formatting data, you can not only save time but also increase how much you like your job.

"Focus on what you do well and learn how to use AI for other things," says Mollick. This approach can transform mundane tasks into opportunities for growth—by offloading routine tasks to AI you can free up time for more engaging work.

"Focus on what you do well and learn how to use AI for other things."

3. Leverage it for high-level creative work.

AI isn't just for routine tasks. While we're not talking about AI generating Picasso-level brilliance, it can still offer significant contributions by generating a breadth of creative ideas and associations.

"AI is best at creative, intellectually engaging tasks," says Mollick.

Studies show GPT-4 outperforms most humans in generating innovative ideas and excelling in creative problem-solving tests. He notes that in the Alternative Uses Test, where participants think of as many uses as possible for a common object, GPT-4 outperformed all but 9.4 percent of humans tested. It also excels in the Remote Associates Test, which measures creative thinking by finding a common word that links three seemingly unrelated words.

In the world of real work, AI can enhance creative processes. Whether it's thinking of a title for a campaign, conceptualizing an illustration, or developing a new product—it doesn't hurt to ask for 30 ideas to edit or use as a creative spark.

"Just ask it, and who knows, you might get 90% of the way there," says Mollick. 

4. Understand that “this is the worst AI we’ll ever use.”

Mollick emphasizes that the AI we use today is the least advanced it will ever be. AI technology is rapidly evolving, and future models will be far more sophisticated. On the day we talked, GPT-4o was announced, an AI with problem-solving and speech and image capabilities that would have seemed unlikely just a few years ago.

"It's about leveraging what you do best and using AI to handle the rest," Mollick says. By recognizing that we’re at the beginning of the AI story, you can stay adaptable and ready for future advancements. A proactive mindset will help you continue to boost your creativity and productivity, no matter what advancements come next.

"AI is best at creative, intellectually engaging tasks."

5. Use it to get unstuck.

AI excels at the "0 to 1" problem—generating the first draft when creativity stalls.

"In writing this book, I often found myself stuck... I would ask the AI to 'help me rewrite this paragraph by providing 10 options in various professional styles,'" Mollick says.

While he rarely used the AI-generated text directly, it opened new pathways and pushed the work forward.

"You can ask AI to 'write this sentence,' 'suggest an analysis,' or 'read this from the perspective of Person X,'" Mollick explains. Sometimes the feedback you get back might be brutally honest—Mollick says that AI pointed out that one of the jokes in his manuscript fell pretty flat.

"It stung," Mollick says with a laugh. “But I appreciated the honesty.”