As new technologies such as generative AI and robotics proliferate, the connection between humans will become even more important. That's a high-level takeaway from DisrupTV Episode 366, which took a few interesting turns.

Christopher Lochhead, thirteen-time No. 1 bestselling author and a "godfather" of category design, and Matt Beane, Author of The Skill Code: How to Save Human Ability in an Age of Intelligent Machines and UCSB professor, were the guests that connected the human dots between three seemingly disparate topics.


Lochhead, a godfather of category design, said Apple pulled off a massive coup with its AI presentation this week largely because he took a new technology and made it human. "Tim Cook pulled something absolutely legendary here," said Lochhead. "What we had this week was a master class in category design and business strategy. In category design, one of the things we teach entrepreneurs and marketers is listen to the words. Listen to the words. Most people don't pay attention to the words. Apple this week did not announce a new product. Apple announced a new category design, a new category of AI called a personal intelligence system. And they branded it Apple Intelligence."

He added that most people forget that Apple was the category designer of personal computing. Apple put the focus on where it should be for Apple--on the people.

"Strategically, it's beyond genius," he said. "AI is not a new category of technology. AI is every category of technology. It's not a product. It's an enabling technology. Apple is going to use AI as a personal system."

"The last piece of this is that you don't have a strategy unless you can put it on one page. You lead the future and that's exactly what Tim Cook did. It was the result of clarity of strategy and a focus on the categories where Apple wins."

Bill Walton, the teacher

Lochhead met Walton through complete serendipity. He was speaking at an Oracle event where Walton was the closing speaker.

"If you know anything about Bill and that magical mystical deadhead, he read everything. He read because he had that stutter. He read because his mother was a librarian. He spent his entire childhood reading, playing basketball and on his bike. He was an incredibly learned man."

Naturally, Walton read Lochhead's books, notably Play Bigger, and they became fast friends.

"After one of my dear friends was murdered, Bill called me three times a week for the six months after it happened. He was on the road doing calling games doing all this stuff at an incredibly busy time in his life and he always wanted to make sure how I was. A text message from Bill Walton or an email from Bill Walton would just go on and on about how he loved you, and 'thank you for my life.' He said, thank you for my life to everybody. Thank you for my life.

"He was a dichotomy because he could talk about his stories and his life forever, and you would think a person like that might be egotistical. Yet as he was doing it, he was connecting with you, empathizing with you and he wanted to know how you were. He deeply gave a shit about other people.

"He made you feel like the greatest person in the world, he was the greatest, he taught me and everybody how to be a fan.

"He's left me with many things, and one is teaching. He said to me at the time I was calling myself retired just like an uncle: "Chris, you can't use the word retired. You're not retired. You're just like John Wooden. You're a teacher. Go be a teacher."

"What there is to do? I think it is to live like Bill. Bill embraced different. He followed the things that he loved and the people that he loved, he allowed himself to fall in love quickly and to support other people."

Skills and humans in the AI and robotic age

That human connection is also going to be critical for skill building, argued Beane. In his book, The Skill Code: How to Save Human Ability in an Age of Intelligent Machines, Beane examined various technologies through a lens of skill building--that ongoing connection between an expert and a novice. "To have table stakes, you got to have that knowledge to be able to play, but to build skill. There's 160,000 years’ worth of archaeological evidence that we build skill with elbow-to-elbow contact with somebody, who knows more, trying to get some real work done," said Beane.

Beane used robotic surgery as example of how new technologies are inventing new ways to work and build skill. What's lost is that human skill building connection and mentorship.

"A novice by definition is slower and makes more mistake than an expert. You put a tool in an expert hand, that allows them to do more better by themselves. They're gonna love that deal. They take that deal. And it means they're just gonna need help from that novice less."

The trick to leveraging today's new technologies decades from now will be building productivity gains in a way where people also build their capabilities. Beane argued that roles that require a physical presence will adapt better to new technologies and build skills relevant to those workers who are remote. “If you have authority, run a budget, can invest and are developing tools you can build skills, but you have great responsibility to bring novices along for the ride," said Beane.

"If you're going to make healthy progress toward skill and keep it healthy for other people, the challenge, complexity, and connection matters. Human connections that built Walton's story, bonds of trust and respect. We don't think of those as connected to your skill journey. They are essential. The challenge is that the world has become a bit of a padded playground in places, and that is dangerous to skill. You've got to struggle; you've got sweat and you have to be uncomfortable humans. Humans don't like being uncomfortable, but it is required."