The Draftmaker and the Poet: AI Tools Pave the Way for Thought Leadership

Tools like ChatGPT come up a lot in client conversations at Intelligent Ink. After all, ChatGPT – an AI chatbot built on huge language models and capable of taking on board user feedback – is a powerful ally when it comes to creating content and using it to increase your impact.

But AI isn’t – yet – thought leadership. Or it can’t replace it. But you should still give it a go.

Sticks in the mud

Like all new tools designed to make your life maybe that much easier, ChatGPT has its retractors.

If you’re of a certain age, your school days might have pre-dated personal computers. When I was at primary school, there was one computer in each of the three “blocks”; by high school, we had a “computer room” and two-week long stints each term on how to use Excel and Word. (And that space-themed pinball game.)

Without computers to check assignments, spelling and grammar errors were more visible, and getting it right was a high priority. Spelling checkers were, to the rare teacher, encouraging laziness. Better to learn how to write accurately and well and take that knowledge with you than to rely too heavily on the crutch that is a computer, they might argue, not unreasonably.

You could easily take the same hostile approach to the likes of ChatGPT right now, and I wouldn’t entirely disagree. ChatGPT is brilliant. I’ve used it to draft social media content and asked it obscure questions about how many cobs of corn it takes to brew a gallon of moonshine so that I don’t have to calculate that by hand.

It’s saving me from having to do a lot of thinking. And therein lies the problem.

A great book will have the writer’s fingerprints all over it

When e-readers really picked up steam in 2007 or so, and audiobooks became freed from their clunky physical elements around the same time, some snide commenters remarked that listening to books or not having a paper copy was inferior to a soft-bound text.

That opinion is measurably wrong. If you’re dedicating the time to reading in its various forms – that is, actually engaging with a text, and not just playing it in the background while you work – then your comprehension and retention are the same no matter the format. Whether you want yourself – or your children – to be better readers is less important than whether you want to grow to be a better thinker.

In talking with prospective clients about programmes like the Better Book Project or ghostwriting, we often get asked whether a tool like ChatGPT can (help) write a book for our clients.

Yes, Virginia, it can, in the same way that Grammarly or spellcheck can. But having a book with your name on it is only a tiny part of the process. It’s a bit like taking a helicopter to the top of Everest and then pretending that you climbed it by yourself. If you want to be a better thinker – that all-too-important first part of becoming a thought leader – then you have to dedicate time to writing and developing your thoughts.

One of our recent Better Book Project graduates Daria Williamson underwent massive personal development and thinking while working on her book Unleash Your Awesome. While Daria could have utilised AI tools to help produce her writing, it was the time dedicated to thinking and researching her ideas that made it possible – and ensured that the work she produced was authentically hers. Even with our ghostwriting clients, for whom we do most of the writing, they still put in a lot of time and thinking to test, prove and validate their thinking.

ChatGPT helps you produce content; it does not help you become a better writer or thinker, unless you’re thinking of the right prompt to put in to get the result you want. If you want to write a book, then that means dedicating the often unglamorous time to working on your ideas, sharpening your sentences, and developing your thinking.

The Draftmaker

ChatGPT and its fraternity of AI tools are still of enormous value, even to thought leaders. If you’re not crash-hot with your writing skills, or want to summarise content so that you can digest it more easily, or want to see what your thoughts might look like in another’s voice, then dive right in.

Having had a tinker with the tool, it’s clear that it’s a content “averagizer”; it tends to make sentences the same length and tone, and often misses that poetic spark that shows when an author has revealed a bit of themselves. It’s great for shortening existing content, or for extracting bullet points. For longer pieces of content, the best way to approach it is to provide a comprehensive prompt and lots of notes that it can work with. 

Other, more powerful tools do exist out there, but aren’t quite as accessible, and nor are the works they produce quite as interesting as a human-written book. For example, I’m fascinated by Ross Goodwin’s 1 the Road, an experimental novel composed by Godwin’s AI in the style of Jack Kerouac in 2017 – but more interested in the technology than the book itself. Perhaps there is something of the magic lost, or that we value the human touch more intimately. Or the technology isn’t quite to the point where we feel convinced that the arcing sense of humanity and the tight weave of allusion make sense. Until then, it’s weird poetry.

We should be embracing these tools. For one, they’re powerful and valuable, and will no doubt be used to generate SEO-led content and blogs-for-blog’s-sake material. But if you want to stand out, then you’ll need to add your own spark.

Use AI tools. What it’ll return today to you will be, in my opinion, a decent draft. It won’t be particularly inspiring or exciting, and it won’t necessarily sound like you, but it will give you a starting point. But like taking notes down during a presentation or from a webinar, that’s something you can jump off from, and start to add your own thinking to. Just as spellcheck can smooth the path towards good writing, AI tools can pave the way to thought leadership. But you will have to get there under your own power.