Prepare for underwhelm in corporate ai productivity

Dawid Naude
3 min readDec 3, 2023


We’re lucky the spider chose Peter Parker.

Don’t expect ai to perform (too many) miracles. Sometimes you just can’t ask a fish to climb a tree. Changing human behavior is extremely difficult and isn’t just about the tools in front of them.

You’ve worked with people who, no matter what tools you gave them or work you took away from them, don’t improve or deliver more. Yet in the same team there are people who (even paid less and junior) are able to consistently deliver great work at high speed.

For most, giving them ai tools isn’t going to turn them into something they’re not. Despite the productivity promise, there will be a ton of underwhelm.

That isn’t to say it won’t be ‘cool’. It will be able to do amazing things, and they may even tell their friends about their amazing new ai tools. They’ll share how they have magical tools that summarises their calls, write draft documents, search infinite knowledge repositories, created detailed financial briefings and access complex data insight with ease.

Yet. Not a single more sale. No reduction in handling time. No overwhelming praise from staff, suppliers and customers. It’s as if the spider accidentally bit someone else and they use their spiderman powers to get beer out of the fridge and detect when there is an ice cream truck nearby.

Human behaviour is not tightly coupled to tools, it’s also affected by incentives, rewards, temperament, mental health and other things we simply don’t know.

However, there is still massive opportunity. It’s for those that are willing to adapt and adopt. And even for those that don’t, the less behaviour change required the more likely it is they’ll get benefit out of it.

You can think of the areas of promise in a few buckets:

1. It’ll help you make less mistakes (like checking a legal briefing for inconsistencies. The ai equivalent of spell check);

2. It’ll help you do more of the thing that you’re already doing (like being able to handle 20 calls in a day instead of 10. The ai equivalent of shortcut keys);

3. It’ll free your time up to spend on better things (like a financial planner spending all their day with new clients instead of administration of existing ones. The ai equivalent of taking out a gym membership as a new years resolution).

No tool can make a sales manager who is comfortable and used to spending most of their day in the office, all of a sudden be told ‘ai will now replace 90% of your administration so now you can spend all the day on the road!’, and then expect them to actually do that.

Also it’s worth keeping in mind, many of the manual things we do, even if automated, don’t make much of a difference. Take writing meeting minutes, and management calls, the vast majority of internal emails. (when you couldn’t attend a meeting, did you even notice not being there? they certainty didn’t miss having you there).

So the types of things that will make the easiest difference are where they are already highly doing the same task over and over again (like a call centre employee waiting for the next call).

There is no guarantee that by freeing up people’s time they’re not going to replace it with longer coffees, more low level administrative crap.

For the right people it will be putting petrol (or gas…) on a fire. For others, it’ll be like, well something that isn’t that.

Focus on the areas where human behaviour doesn’t require too much change.