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When I was in high school, I loved calculus.

Every calculus problem was like a brain teaser. There was always a trick or method that could simplify this big, messy equation — I just had to find it. As the class progressed, I learned more and more “tricks” to solve “messier” equations. It felt like magic and I was becoming a wizzard!

But here’s the thing about learning calculus: it took practice!

The only way I could learn the tricks was by repetition. There was a lot of “grinding” to get to mastery.

I know other people hated calculus. The grinding seemed pointless, and the practice wasn’t producing insights; it was just a slog. They never experienced the ah-ha moment of seeing the “trick.” I was lucky enough to have a study partner. Sometimes, I’d “get it” before she did; more often, she’d be helping me. But it made the grind a lot more fun.

When my older kids took calculus, I was eager to help them with their homework (I LOVE calculus.), but when I looked at the problem set 20 years later, the tricks didn’t pop into my mind! Fortunately, the internet had been invented in the intervening years, so I could google the problem. There was often a YouTube video or Khan Academy page that helped me remember the trick so I could be of any use to help with homework. Of course, once my kids noticed that I was googling everything, they started doing that instead of asking me.

Now, my youngest is growing up in a world of AI; instead of googling the problem to get help, he’s just asking ChatGPT to tell him how to solve it. There’s no question that AI is quicker. It’s getting him to the correct answer much faster. But is he experiencing that feeling of “getting it?”

What’s being lost?

The benefit of the calculus problem set wasn’t the correct answers. It was creating new understanding in my mind. This was about more than calculus I also learned I could work hard at something and reach that ah-ha moment of understanding. That has served me well throughout my life.

But AI has the potential to take that moment away from us. Not just as a calculus student but today as an adult.

For example, a client of mine took on a new job and felt overwhelmed by the different tasks and demands of the role. We talked through delegation and what was “theirs to do,” but the overwhelmed feeling remained. I asked them if they were clear about the roles they were playing and the tasks implied by each role? Getting clear on those roles can help improve your focus on what is most important.

Though the client agreed role clarity would help, they didn’t get it done (because they were “too busy”), so they assigned the task to ChatGPT. The AI produced a set of roles that is well-written and functional. It’s reasonably accurate to the client’s situation too! But having the document didn’t give the leader a new understanding of their role and clarity of their priorities. That would’ve happened if they had done the work themselves.

Sure, they have a document telling them what to do. It is helpful, but because they skipped the “grind,” the internal learning and accompanying insight and growth haven’t happened yet.

Sometimes, I need an answer. I need a summary of a YouTube video or an outline of the main points from a book I read; for those tasks, AI is a time saver. But when the task is to help me learn something new, or when I’m hoping that a task will produce new insights, I skip the AI and go old school.

Where is there an opportunity today for you to slow down to gain understanding? Where do you need a “study partner” who can help you with those insights?

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