Exploring AI as a Lifelong Learner and Entrepreneur

As an entrepreneurship consultant, educator, and serial entrepreneur, I am constantly seeking new ways to stay ahead of the curve and empower those around me. 

My journey has been a winding journey full of twists and turns, with many different stops along the way. 

I’m an MIT-trained chemical engineer and biologist, who has founded and/or worked as an executive in companies spanning real estate, B2B SaaS, sports excitement analytics, fintech, and consulting. Through consulting, I’ve worked in e-commerce, cloud computing, entertainment, health and wellness, retail, edtech, and more. I’ve advised venture capital firms and become a recognized thought leader in the future of work.

My curiosity has led me to study neuroscience, toxicology and environmental health, positive psychology, social sector leadership, East Asian studies, finance, world religions, management, negotiation, conflict resolution, and peace building. I’m even a certified yoga instructor. Many years ago, after I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, I went deep into food, nutrition, and vegetable gardening. But my passion has always been mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders. I’ve taught app building, robotics, creative coding, entrepreneurship, and more. 

The latest twist in my journey has been an exploration of artificial intelligence (AI) through graduate-level coursework, hands-on projects, and leading AI workshops and training sessions for adults (and AI-lessons for students grades 4-12).

But why would someone like me, deeply embedded in entrepreneurship, bother diving into the technical aspects of AI? Why not just use and collaborate with generative AI and stop at that? Since these questions keep coming up, I thought I’d write this up to share my why. 

Never Stop Learning

If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be coding GANs, VAEs, RNNs, and LSTM networks, I’d have said you were crazy. Actually, I’d have said I have no idea what those acronyms mean. But yet, here I am learning to code AI and ML (machine learning) projects in Python. 

My curiosity is my competitive advantage. Equipped with deep knowledge across many domains, I can make connections more quickly and see pathways to innovation. Do I remember 100% of everything I’ve studied — of course not. But drinking from the firehose that is MIT (and surviving with not 1 but 2 degrees) taught me how to learn any discipline rapidly and retain just enough knowledge to relearn anything on demand. Learning the technical skills behind AI is just the latest tool I’m adding into my brain’s library. 

Staying Ahead in a World of Accelerated Change

In the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship, innovation is a necessity. By learning the technical aspects of AI, I am staying abreast of the latest technological advancements and trends shaping the entrepreneurial landscape. This enables me to better prepare my students for the future by integrating AI concepts into our curriculum. And with a deeper understanding for custom AI projects, I’m better able to serve my clients in exploring the potential applications of AI for their ventures.

Broadening Horizons and Building Versatility

Entrepreneurship is about adaptability and thinking outside the box. Engaging in AI development projects has not only expanded my technical skill set but also cultivates adaptability and interdisciplinary thinking. And seeing augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) (together, extended reality or XR) all over several countries in Asia last summer, I’m eager to learn more about XR as well. Through hands-on experimentation and exploration, I am continuing to build on my creativity and critical thinking skills. These are just a few of the skills essential for success in a world that is changing faster than ever. 

Understanding the Impact and Ethical Implications

AI comes with a whole host of ethical issues, particularly in education and in entrepreneurship. By studying AI, I am gaining insights into the ethical implications of AI technologies and their potential impact on various industries. Bias, privacy, and data security are just a few of the ethical issues with AI. This understanding allows me to guide my students and clients in navigating ethical dilemmas to develop responsible AI-driven business models.

Equity and Inclusion

Early reports of AI use indicate that men are using AI much more than women. In addition, more than 80% of leaders in AI companies are white men. And as we’ve seen with many tech products, it’s clear that including more women and minorities in technology leads to improved products that are better for everyone. Diversity of thought helps discover problems that aren’t visible in monocultures. 

One of my favorite examples is forms that only accept last names with 3 or more characters. If there had been even a few Asian people on those teams (who are more likely to be familiar with a few of the very common last names of Wu, Yi, and Li), those decisions would never have been made. Another example is the AI-driven deep fake apps that are disproportionately used to nudify women and children. Those products would never have been released with women on the team. 

I’m investing my time into learning AI to help make sure women and minorities aren’t left behind in the economic benefits that are sure to follow with the advancements in AI. And to reduce the negative impacts on women that we are already seeing. 

Identifying Opportunities and Challenges

Through AI coursework and projects, I am gaining new insights into emerging business opportunities and challenges. From understanding the potential of AI to disrupt traditional industries to recognizing the need for ethical implementation, I feel better equipped to advise my students and clients on identifying entrepreneurial opportunities and developing strategies for success in an AI-driven world.

Empowering Entrepreneurs for the Future

Incorporating AI into entrepreneurship education, and all education, has benefits for students and educators alike. By embracing AI, we can better prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs, leaders, and citizens to thrive in an increasingly AI-driven world. We’ve been using generative AI to teach students how to create their own careers or ventures. We’ve also been working with students to understand how to use AI responsibly and ethically as a copilot — instead of on autopilot. Through exploration, experimentation, and education, we empower tomorrow’s leaders to harness the potential of AI for innovation and positive impact.

My journey into AI may have started as a curiosity, but it has become a vital part of my mission to empower and mentor entrepreneurs for success in the 21st century and beyond. As I continue working at the intersections of AI, entrepreneurship, and education, I am excited to see the transformative impact it will have on the future of work and innovation. 

How are you diving into artificial intelligence and why? 

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Yolanda is also a Founding Board Member of the Hawai’i Center for AI (HCAI), a non-profit organization. HCAI envisions a future in which all of Hawaiʻi’s residents have access to AI technology that effectively and safely serves their individual and collective well-being. Hawai’i Center for AI promotes the beneficial use of AI to empower individuals, communities, and industries throughout Hawai’i. We are committed to understanding the ways AI will help grow the state’s economy, help our institutions evolve, and transform our society. Through collaboration, education, and service, we drive research, innovation, and community partnerships to build a sustainable, prosperous, and policy-driven future for Hawai’i.

Embrace Lifelong Learning To Thrive In The Future Of Work

In the future of work, the critical skills for success are increasingly soft skills like emotional intelligence, adaptability, and resilience. Success in the future of work requires becoming a lifelong learner. The world is changing faster than ever, and only through lifelong learning will we have the capability to adapt along with it.

Here are 11 strategies to develop a habit of lifelong learning.

1. Ask why.

Think back to when you were a child. Chances are you drove your parents a little crazy with all of your questions. Be like a child and always ask why — question everything. But be open to changing your mind. Seek out counter opinions and acknowledge alternative viewpoints — and you’ll learn more from these perspectives and push yourself further.

2. Learn to love challenges.

Challenges stimulate learning and bring a sense of fulfillment. I love challenges and welcome struggles and obstacles as the things most worth doing are often hard. Without challenges, we stagnate. While challenges and bumps in the road can be uncomfortable, these opportunities are the ones from which you will learn the most. Get ready to take risks by setting stretch goals for yourself. A willingness to take risks doesn’t mean you need to take on every challenge — it’s about taking measured risks that push you beyond your current limits.

3. Embrace failure.

Failing is something you do because you’re pushing yourself to do more. Every failure is an opportunity to learn. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of failure. You likely aren’t challenging yourself if you haven’t failed some of the time. I’ve found that failure has frequently been my best teacher, and my successes are a result of growth and learning from past failures and mistakes. Embrace failure and mistakes as opportunities to integrate valuable feedback and information. After all, as Albert Einstein once said, “Failure is success in progress.”

4. Practice mindfulness.

I’ve found that mindfulness is an essential soft skill to learn as it amplifies your other soft skills. Mindfulness can boost your mental agility, self-awareness, and resilience. Plus, taking a mindful brain break can boost your productivity and effectiveness while increasing the “divergent thinking” that results in new ideas. A plethora of apps and programs, such as Headspace, Yoga Ed., and Calm can help you practice mindfulness and build this essential lifelong learning skill.

5. School is only the beginning.

School should function to build a foundation for lifelong learning. Lifelong learners realize that learning doesn’t stop when school ends. Never stop seeking opportunities to learn, prioritizing both surface learning and deep learning. While surface learning is quick and easy, deep learning takes more effort. Both are valuable.

Coursera, Udemy, and EdX are great for consuming content. Cohort-based courses like Maven, On Deck, and Ascend take learning to the next level by bringing together groups of learners.

6. Be open to feedback.

Be proactive about asking for feedback. Surround yourself with mentors, personal advisors, and coaches and be willing to ask for help. I’ve found that having a community and network of peers and advisors has been essential in not only solving day-to-day problems or identifying new opportunities, but also in fueling my personal development. Frequent feedback has helped me to continually grow personally and professionally.

7. Become a polymath.

In the past, it paid to be a specialist — to accumulate as much knowledge as possible in only one area. But in the future of work, polymaths and expert generalists have the advantage. Developing deep knowledge in multiple areas, ideally with cross-disciplinary awareness, makes it easier to uncover unexpected connections and convergences. In a world where data is everywhere, pattern recognition and intuitive thinking have become more important than ever. Being an expert generalist or polymath requires continuous education — lifelong learning.

8. Teaching brings mastery.

In my experience, teaching brings mastery. I’ve been a teacher or teaching assistant for everything from entrepreneurship to ESL, citizenship to physics, biology to coding, sustainability to app building — each teaching opportunity was a window to deepen my understanding. Answering questions on the fly is the quickest way to test your knowledge and learn what you don’t know. Having spent my career advising entrepreneurs and small business owners, I’ve constantly been learning as I teach. I love it when I get to tell a founder, “I don’t know,” as it gives me something to learn.

9. Stay curious.

Talk to strangers. Be present in conversations and look for things that stimulate your curiosity. Pull on those threads and be open to learning from strangers. Follow your curiosity, and you never know where it will lead you. Sign up for that yoga teacher certification course, take that cooking class, try out a new sport, go for that art class. You need to keep that sense of wonder you had as a child to spark inquiry and continual exploration. This curiosity and openness will fuel your lifelong learning.

10. Prioritize process over goals.

Life is not about completing a series of goals. Most of us have had long and winding career paths, which didn’t necessarily make sense at the moment. When you prioritize the process of learning over the goals of completing the class or diploma, you’ll open yourself to new opportunities. Changing your mindset gives you the flexibility to follow your curiosity and may lead to opportunities you would never have otherwise thought of.

11. Give yourself the gift of grace.

But give yourself the gift of grace. It’s okay if you don’t know something. Embrace this as a challenge and as an opportunity to learn something new. It’s also okay to sprint and rest. In fact, giving yourself breaks is the best way to recharge and nurture curiosity. Breaks give your brain space to integrate your learning, developing connections between seemingly unrelated areas.

Become A Lifelong Learner

Lifelong learning isn’t just about preparing for the future of work. Lifelong learning also brings joy and a deep sense of empowerment and fulfillment — making life more meaningful. Grow and succeed professionally and personally by embracing lifelong learning.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Hiring For Skills Of The Future: Part Two

Whether you’re hiring employees or freelancers, some of the same fundamentals apply. Work has changed and will continue to change. Today, the shelf life of a hard skill — content-based knowledge — is very short. Over half of today’s job activities could become automated by 2055. To succeed in a continuously evolving and changing economy requires highly adaptable workers. Your people are your best asset, and it is crucial to understand each person’s future potential for roles they’ve never done before — instead of hiring them only for what you need today.

In addition to soft skills, here are three additional skills of the future, how to hire for them, and how to teach and/or acquire these skills.

Lifelong Learning And Coachability

A 2017 Deloitte report states that professionals in software engineering, marketing, sales, manufacturing, law, finance, and accounting must update their skills every 12 to 18 months. Time is a scarce commodity, and you don’t have time to hire and train new people with this frequency. One way around this is to hire on-demand workers for specific projects as needed. However, I would argue that even when working with independent contractors, it’s best to work with people who love to learn, who love to receive feedback, and who can quickly get up to speed in changing circumstances.

For workers, I recommend that you ask for feedback from colleagues and supervisors and take action on that feedback. Also, take advantage of the many platforms available to update your skills continuously.

For hirers, there are a few questions I like to ask potential employees and freelance consultants:

  • Are there skills you are working to acquire?
  • Are there random things you would like to learn about?
  • Tell me about the most impactful feedback/constructive criticism you’ve gotten.

These questions help evaluate the degree to which someone is open to feedback and an eager lifelong learner.

Written And Oral Communication Skills

As the world has shifted to remote work during our current crisis, we’ve all seen for ourselves the importance of clear and effective communication. When communicating over Slack, Google Chat, Microsoft Teams, or email, it’s necessary to be able to infer what someone’s unspoken concerns are and to respond appropriately. Listening skills are an essential component of successful communication.

As machine learning and artificial intelligence begin taking over more job functions, skills that are harder for computers to complete effectively become more important. While some AI are capable of writing — and even effective copy for content and ads — effective written and oral communication skills are currently beyond the reach of machines.

For workers, the best things you can do are write more memos instead of having more meetings and practice being aware of how you communicate. Your words, tone, and method of communication affect the outcome you desire.

When hiring potential employees and freelance consultants, I recommend requiring several writing samples. In addition, conduct interviews through short, written messages to mimic communication over Slack as well as interviews over Zoom to evaluate both written and oral communication. I like to ask them the following question: “Can you think of a time you were communicating with someone and they did not understand you? What did you do?” How they respond shows the degree to which they are aware that how we communicate is important and can shift communication styles when appropriate.

Computational Thinking Skills

Computational thinking (or algorithmic thinking) is a phrase that became more widely used since 2006 when computer scientist Jeannette Wing published an essay suggesting that computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just computer scientists. I think of computational thinking as the ability to think logically and strategically, work with uncertainty (and a lack of complete data), break down complex issues into smaller pieces, quickly recognize patterns, use patterns to think through potential solutions, manipulate and use data to gain insights and iterate when appropriate. As the world has become increasingly interconnected and complex, this skill has become ever more important.

I’ve found that consultants who lack computational thinking skills require more supervision, generally due to the lack of creativity to complete tasks. A computational thinker is agile, is adaptable, and generally learns quickly.

An example of a question to ask a potential hire might be something like: “How many tennis balls does it take to fill an SUV? And how did you arrive at your answer?” There’s no “right” answer, but asking a question like this allows you to evaluate how a candidate breaks down a complicated problem, makes assumptions, works through potential solutions, gut-checks their answer, and iterates if necessary.

Real-World, Project-Based Learning Experiences

Apprenticeships, internships, fellowships, course work or independent work focused on complex real-world problem-solving are a few ways to gain experience. Experiential learning is the surest way to gain the skills needed for success. When hiring employees or freelancers right out of school, I look for people who have had real-world, project-based learning experiences.

Prepare Your Team For The Future Of Work

As companies work to become more agile and adaptable in their business strategies, it’s essential that they are hiring workers with the skills needed for the ever-changing future of work. HR leaders are rethinking their roles and talent strategies as they prepare for the future of work with a blended workforce model. Building and growing a team able to meet the opportunities and challenges ahead requires life-long learners who embrace feedback, communicate effectively, and fuel creativity with computational thinking skills. By hiring workers with these three critical skills (and with soft skills), your team will be ready for the future of work.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.