In the 20th Century, one secret to success in business was to hire a great secretary.
The best secretaries made sure your memos were clear and articulate, screened your calls, booked your travel, took notes at your meetings and generally watched your back.
The decline of career secretaries was partially offset by the rise in non-career personal assistants — people who worked as business helpers on their way up the corporate ladder instead of remaining in an administrative role their whole careers.
The personal assistant track has declined as well, and that was partially offset by the offshore remote assistant — someone who works in an overseas call center and does things for you (and a few other clients) on a pay-as-you go basis.
But now all these human assistants are being phased out in favor of automated and artificial intelligence (AI) bots and virtual assistants.
If you don’t have a secretary, personal assistant or offshore remote assistant, congratulations! You’re on the right track.
If you do employ one of these helpers, it’s time to figure out how to rely less upon them to become fully self-sufficient in getting things done.
Human business helpers like secretaries, personal assistants and offshore remote assistants are dangerous crutches in the new business environment. And I’m going to tell you why.
It’s a BYOB World
Suddenly, it’s a BYOB world — as in, Bring Your Own Bot.
His company, x.ai, makes a bot called Amy (or Andrew) that automatically schedules meetings for you. By simply copying the bot’s email address to your email, Amy will interact with your meeting invitee and your own calendar to schedule or, if necessary, re-schedule meetings.
Mortensen’s insight is that the proliferation of single-purpose bots and virtual assistants is potentially career-enhancing for the user. Smart professionals will choose the services they use carefully.
The result will be that your own value as a manager, leader and professional will become based in part on the totality of bots, virtual assistants and other effectiveness-magnifying services you skillfully use.
The truth is that bots and virtual assistants are more than just tools. Over time, with the increasing use of artificial intelligence, we’ll form a partnership with our team of bots. And together, we’ll do better and more streamlined work than humans can do on their own — or with a human assistant.
By using a human personal assistant, your knowledge and skills around finding and using these increasingly powerful tools lie dormant. Then, if you find yourself without an assistant, you’re unable to cope in the business world — the BYOB world.
In other words, you build up your skills, capabilities and productivity in part by building your arsenal of bots and virtual assistants.
A BYOB Starter Pack
To get you started building your team of bots and virtual assistants, let me introduce you to a few standouts (besides x.ai’s Amy).
Claire. Clarke.ai’s Claire bot takes notes for your meetings so you don’t have to. After you’ve signed up for the service, you simply copy Clark.ai on the invitation to your meeting as one of the participants. The bot then automatically dials into the meeting and uses voice recognition to create notes, which are even prioritized for action items. The notes are sent via Salesforce.com, Trello or Slack.
Charlie. The Charlie bot app couldn’t possibly be easier to use. You simply sign up and give it permission to see your calendar. Charlie then notices who you’re meeting with and sends you a dossier on that person just before the meeting. Charlie tells you their name and title, links to any news reports they’ve been mentioned or quoted in, tells you about recent social media posts by the person, informs you about people you both know in common, tells you about their hobbies, and gives you a list of relevant data on the person. Charlie is free and for iOS.
Mezi. Business travel involves a lot of planning and booking. You need flights, hotels and other things planned carefully in advance. Mezi is a conversational, or chatbot, interface on iOS, that also has human experts behind the scenes to complement the AI. So you simply enter your payment details, have a back-and-forth conversation with the chatbot, and then Mezi books your travel. Over time, Mezi learns and then acts upon your travel preferences — say, that you prefer an aisle seat or room on a lower floor. The bot also handles changes, including rescheduling and cancellations.
Abe. Budgeting and money management is another chore you can outsource to a bot. Abe invites you to link your business (or personal) accounts, and then use text messaging to get information by simply typing in and sending them. Abe also pre-emptively notifies you of any issues with your accounts. It also helps with budgeting and forecasting and prevents you from missing any bills.
The Skimm. It’s important as a leader to generally know what’s happening today and in the near future. For example, you’d like to attend SXSW — do you know when tickets go on sale? And why are banks and post offices closed today? Is it a national holiday? And when is the next U.S. government jobs report coming out? The Skimm keeps you posted on what’s happening today and in the future. The iOS app lists all the events you might want to be notified of, from when TV series come back on the air to scheduled tech earnings reports. It can even put these events on your calendar!
Getting into the Bot Habit
It’s not enough to simply sign up for or install bots and virtual assistants. You’ve also got to use them. That means taking that leap to trust them to handle things for you, and to turn to them for actual, real work.
That can seem counterintuitive at first. Bots and assistants can seem weird because the work happens invisibly in the cloud. But by trusting and using them heavily, you can come to understand how well they can work.
Also: Always be on the lookout for better ones. Nobody knows which bots will be best. But choosing and using the very best bots is the entire goal of enhancing your professional abilities.
For example, I told you about the Mezi travel app. In fact, there are dozens of competitors to Mezi that you might want to consider as alternatives.
The very best bots and assistants probably haven’t been invented yet. So always look for new ones.
We’re moving into a bold new era in the world of getting professional daily help with random tasks. Gone are the days when you need to hire a secretary or personal assistant. Be self-reliant and self-dependent with the most reliable lifelong bot and virtual assistants at your disposal 24/7.
It’s a bot time.