Podcast | 04 Mar, 2024

Episode 7: Navigating the Intersection of Language, AI, and Art with Larry Ebert

Lisa Spira


Lisa Spira

VP of Content Intelligence at Persado

Larry Ebert


Larry Ebert

Professor at Golden Gate University Business School

In this episode of “Motivation AI Matters,” host Lisa Spira, VP of Content Intelligence at Persado, delves into the intricate dynamics of language, artificial intelligence (AI), and art with guest Larry Ebert, a seasoned educator and management consultant. Ebert’s expertise spans communication, innovation, and change management, offering a unique perspective on how language influences business outcomes. Throughout the conversation, Ebert shares his insights on the significance of effective communication in leadership roles, emphasizing the often underestimated power of emotional connection in business interactions.

The discussion extends to the realm of storytelling, where Ebert underscores the transformative potential of narratives in conveying information and fostering connections. Drawing from his experiences in teaching and consulting, he illuminates the art of storytelling and its relevance in business communication, marketing, and brand building.

Ebert also shares his recent exploration into the impact of AI on the arts, highlighting the nuanced concerns and perceptions of artists regarding AI’s role in creativity and expression. From discussions on the beauty of imperfection to the ethical implications of AI-generated content, Ebert provides valuable insights into the evolving relationship between humans, AI, and artistic expression.

The episode concludes with a thought-provoking reflection on AI as a tool, prompting listeners to ponder the evolving nature of human-machine collaboration and the implications for future endeavors. Through Ebert’s multifaceted perspective, listeners gain a deeper understanding of the intricate interplay between language, AI, and art in shaping our collective future.

Episode Transcript:


Welcome to Motivation AI Matters, a podcast designed to help you channel the power of language to inspire action.


I’m Lisa Spira here to explore the language that drives business outcomes through the lens of what makes that language good because words matter.


Today’s guest is Larry Ebert, a teacher at Golden Gate University in the Business School.


Among many other things, Larry provides management consulting on innovation, leadership and change management.


In this role, he teaches about the power of language for persuasion influence and connection.


And I’m excited to hear Larry’s perspective on how to use language to achieve business goals.


In addition, Larry has been exploring Generative AI and its impact, so we’ll dig into some of his findings from a recent AI study as well.


Welcome, Larry.


Thank you for having me.


Good to meet you.


So you train managers and leaders to communicate. Why is this so important in those roles?


Well, I think communication is at the heart of everything that we do. I think it’s the heart of processes, collaboration, teamwork, leadership.


It all begins with communication. It’s about as important as it can get and I teach it.


So I’m a little perhaps biased to that. But I think we observe it in the world all around us in nearly every activity.


So what’s the biggest mistake that you see managers or business leaders make in communications?


I would say two things. Not valuing it enough, not appreciating the power and the impact of it.


And when I say yeah, being communication since part of the title for this included the word emotion, I would include that in there too.


I can say more about that. Some of their reactions from some people, including a few students, if there’s no place for emotions and for those of us who work in business and observe the impacts, we see something different than that.


So that would be one, I don’t know if mistake is the right word but lacking in orientation. The other is related to that the power of little things in communication.


An example would be the phrase, thank you. Thank you sosts nothing to say. It’s free.


There are very few things in the world that are free in business with that much impact and power and to not assume that people know they’re appreciated and valued or don’t need to hear that.


So that’s I suppose in a more team context in a marketing context with a business and selling something and consumers embracing the power of connection, the connective power that it’s not just the content itself, but it’s this very important foundation of connection in a way saying thank you is forging that connection.


It’s creating an emotional response in someone two little words that make someone feel appreciated or that express your own gratitude.


Absolutely. Just two little words with big impact.


We see that in the marketing communications that we work on at Persado to that you can add something about gratitude or appreciation or even the words thank you in marketing messaging and get that response because it is creating that emotional connection.


But I think sometimes we forget in business that we can just do that in conversation.




And we’re not robots, we’re thinking and feeling beings. So to not just appeal to the thinking center or the thinking aspect of people.


And of course, that shows up in many ways in marketing, management, business and relationships.


I know that you also value storytelling. Where does that come into play in business communication?


I love stories. I love stories. I’m fascinated by the power of stories.


So here’s where it comes into play in a course that I teach specifically on communications, which is a survey level course, it covers all aspects of communication from interpersonal communication, a conflict resolution to cultural communication, to presentations.


And in that a point is made in the textbook and we describe it as a group which is the power of stories generally regarded as the single most powerful technique to convey information and make it memorable in a presentation.


But it’s true in presentation. And it’s true in communication that might not be so formal, but the motivation for me.


And it’s not just in this communication class because it comes up in my leadership classes is to bring awareness to the power of stories, to galvanize, to motivate, to inspire, to inculcate values and going back to our previous work to connect.


And they are so very powerful and they can be a lot of fun too. So that’s my relationship with stories.


There’s an art to storytelling though, isn’t there?


Because I could also imagine the story being quite detrimental if maybe it went on for a long time or it didn’t have a point or I know the audience somehow got lost. How do you tell a good story?


Well, it’s a great point that you make and yeah, stories can miss the mark, they can be unhelpful.


They can of course, be used to motivate something that is ethical.


There are those possibilities in telling a good story, a few elements to think about or to look for. Not necessarily in a particular order.


Here one is, it’s authentic. I believe that and I found that innately sense and feel authenticity or the converse in authenticity.


If someone tells a story that’s not really theirs are true or that they don’t embrace, then there’s something we pick up on some dissonance, cognitive dissonance, maybe.


So authenticity is really important, tailoring it to the audience, understanding a little bit of the goal of the context of where it’s being delivered.


What is the purpose to give you an example in my communications class and in some of these story workshops, even I sometimes open with a story of a communication encounter and challenge and lesson from a young relatively young place high school.


And I do it as a part of an introduction to convey a couple messages.


One is that I’ve come to learn, it’s a learnable. We can all learn there. I was not good at it and I learned something about it. And so can you.


So there’s that message and there is some sharing of why I came to be interested in communication packed inside that.


And what happens is that it creates a, there’s a little vulnerability there but it creates connection.


Now, if I were to take that story or another story and try to convey something that was not pertinent, maybe it’s just something funny about.


Look what a funny guy I was in high school that might fall quite flat.


So I know that stories build connection as you’ve said. And if you get the right story, it can be really powerful because it has alignment as you said, and it pulls people together and I know that emotion does that.


Is there a place for storytelling in marketing?


Absolutely. I think there’s a big role for that.


I think that and it’s for those same reasons people connect, need to connect. Everyone’s a little different with how much connection they need to, to buy something or adopt something, but they need to feel it, they need to connect with it.


That’s one. A second would be the way that decisions are made.


So to my understanding, somewhere between 70 to 80% of decisions are made emotionally, they are made in the midbrain in a part that a part of the brain that does not have the faculty of language.


And so it must pass through the forebrain which has language and analytical thinking and logic.


And so we might think we’re making decisions more often based on logic, but actually, it’s often decisions are emotional and stories are such a powerful vehicle for tapping into the emotions.


There are really cool studies including one that came out of print and that shows not just this intellectual notion of alignment but literally through functional MRI S, we can see brainwaves aligning when someone is telling a story and then a little more up for debate is some hormonal levels that’s still being explored.


But we know there’s a physical reaction in the body when people tell stories.


So absolutely, if one’s goal is to connect powerfully to influence obviously or maybe not, obviously, I want and believe that marketing like everything I want to be used for good and for positive means, assuming that is the case, then wouldn’t one want to appeal in the deepest way that makes so much sense to me.


I think at Persado, we’ve realized a lot of this just by seeing emotional language work at motivating action, although it is through the language, but it’s tapping into that other part of the brain.


But we don’t get a lot of opportunities to do storytelling.


I do think that there, there are opportunities.


I think maybe that’s why we see so much experiential marketing because that’s a way to have someone engage with a story that maybe is connected to a brand.


Yeah, I see a lot of applications of story in marketing.


One that is where AI is playing quite a role is content, marketing, development of content for social media and such.


And by the way, I think of stories in the broadest sense of words but also can include images and all of that together too.


So I see that showing up in content marketing, I see it showing up in use cases, I see it showing up in, yeah, experiential in customer experiences and stories that can be shared.


I see it in the characterization of products and services and brand built on story or stories, making sure that stories are consistent and contribute to those portrayals brand.


So I think there’s quite a lot of room for the application of stories.


Yeah, so you help organizations with change. What does change mean in this setting? What types of change are you focused on?


Well, I sort of moved away.


And now I’m coming back to it when I was doing it pretty much full time, I was doing organizational change and the sub field in business is change management.


There are many types of change, one can work on or consult, including cultural change and, and the one that I was most focused on is the impacts of technology change.


And so we were looking at AAA or CSAA, the California version of that, and then at Stanford University and in both those places, we’re looking at the impacts of changing technology or new technology or new software tools on something on the service, on the usability on productivity.


And so we’re very focused on how to make that as effective as possible.


I remember when I began doing formal projects around change that we would encounter or were encountering this situation where a large organization purchased, maybe they hired a consulting firm and the consulting firm suggested they adopt this new system and they did and it failed miserably, it fell flat and it was sabotaged actually by some of the users who did not want to make the change.


And so without even knowing the strengths or weaknesses of the software, we know that, I mean, hopefully there are a lot of strengths we know that at the root of all this is human nature and human behavior, we tend to be a little resistant to change self included.


So I include myself in that very much.


Me too.


Yeah, which allows me to be sensitive to it.


So you as well.


And so I can tune into that.


And fortunately, there has been some great thinking over the years about how to navigate that, how to navigate that change because what’s happening and it could be a cultural change or it could be a technology change.


What’s really happening is not the immediate change, just the immediate change of a new technology or piece of software.


But the thinking that’s going on inside the individuals, the change in their processes, they’re gonna have to make some changes, the change just maybe in skills, maybe have to upskill reskill or whatever, some training there, the change in mindset possibly or the way they think about the way they interact, these are all aspects of change and so very important to look at all that as a way to figure out how to give this change effort its best chance.


As a technology vendor, I think Persado feels that a lot because it is really hard for the people who are supposed to be the users of a new technology to adopt it. Sometimes they don’t want to but sometimes they do want to and they just, there’s a lot of inertia. It’s hard to change processes.




You recently started writing AI and the arts, the series in the fall of 2023 you interviewed artists across domains, visual arts, music, theater, film writing to explore the role and impact of AI on the arts and creativity. What was the goal of this series?


The goal of this series was to understand the perceptions of artists, a range of artists to get a range of perceptions about what was coming, what may be coming down the pike with new AI technology. I wanted to understand and then share, be able to share their observations, their concerns, their excitement, whatever might arise.


So that can be entered into the, the zeitgeist into the broad conversation as we as a world move forward with Generative AI and AI in general.


So I would imagine that with your work on change management, AI naturally came up as a concern for businesses, but here you’re talking to artists.


Why that distinction?


You mean why did I choose to interview that group?


Yeah, and not say the, the business group who has to accept the new technology in the change management sense.


Well, I think that’s coming.


So it’s, for me, it’s not an either or. It started the, and I’m doing a couple other projects just to let you know on AI, one is an approach that is oriented towards business and even government level.


It’s going to be a chapter in a book, an AI book and that it’s tentatively titled Systems Thinking in an Age of AI.


And it’s about how we can bring the broadest thinking to responsible and thoughtful adoption of AI.


So it addresses some of what you’ve described.


It has a little more of orientation towards business, but also to governments, the arts.


I think that was the starting point for me because I was intrigued myself.


I am not only a musician but my first exposure to Generative AI was a year ago, basically, a friend said to me lyrics of a song that he had Chat GPT write in the style of Bruce Springsteen, one of my favorites, I’m from New Jersey. Go New Jersey!


And it freaked me out. And I was kind of like.. and I noticed this feeling of feeling threatened. Over the days it shifted and I became more curious about it.


And then I became curious about how other artists might be receiving or perceiving this because I knew of course there was some range out there, but I wanted to really hear it from others.


That’s an incredible open mindedness to at first reject something and then open up curiosity about it.


So you’re basically touching on my own change process. And I can tell you it didn’t happen in five minutes.


It did happen though relatively quickly in, in the sense of maybe days or a week or so.


I think what shifted for me, Lisa, is that I realized that I believe with all technology can be used for good or for ill.


And I wanna be a part of even a small part of shifting it in the direction of the good.


So I wanna understand it and wrapped up in that was the second piece, which is a gut level feeling even in early February of last year that this is gonna explode and it’s gonna be here.


It’s inevitable. So let’s work with this. And at the time I was about to teach a course in innovation.


So I also thought, wow, what an opportunity?


Definitely. I think I have the same reaction.


I’m a linguist, but I’m also a writer. But I also believe that AI is going to change the world.


And here I am working with AI every single day. So I also had to go through a bit of acceptance that I’m a writer, but also it is a writer.




What is the most surprising finding from your study?


Yeah, I mean, it’s a great question. I’m not sure what I expected to come out.


I knew there would be a range of reactions. I knew that some people would be fearing it like nothing else.


I knew I would hear that I knew at least from some, I knew that some would probably be embracing it early adopters if we think of it in those terms and would be excited about it.


And I knew some people would be in the middle and of course, that was true. The whole range.


What I didn’t know is there was a set of deeper concerns that emerged.


And there are concerns that have to do with very fundamental or elemental aspects of being human being artists.


Yes, but being human even deeper than that.


And I’ll give you a couple of examples.


So one, it was my first piece in this series is the beauty of imperfection. So when we think of AI, yes, we know of a certain type of imperfection.


It’s one that will get better at weeding out hallucinations and inaccuracies and things like that.


But in general, the orientation of the models and tools are to be perfect or accurate. That’s the goal. That’s what they’re set up to do to predict the next best, you know, what word follows best.


And so there’s that and that’s that is what it is with humans. There’s something interesting that happens in art.


So one of the women I interviewed a print maker, she tells the story of one day at the canvas making what she thought was an errant brushstroke, an errant brushstroke.


She steps back from it expecting to be displeased and disgusted.


And instead she finds it, it added something, she actually really likes it.


And so the piece is built around that, but other people commented similar.


There is something about idiosyncrasy, there’s something about accidental mistakes that end up being beautiful. There is something around serendipity, all of this different angles of it.


So I realized that’s something we wanna keep an eye on it. What does that mean as it plays out another one really big here? And I think it applies to communication.


I wrote a piece called AI an’t paint from a place of pain. You can’t paint from a place of pain and really getting at this notion.


And that was a phrase that one of the interviewees shared with me that crystallizing that AI doesn’t have direct experience.


It’s really mimicked experience or this giant collection of experiences.


So it’s gray area, but it doesn’t have direct experience. It hasn’t felt loss of a love. It can describe it but it can’t directly, at least not yet. And what does that mean?


What does that mean for artists who want to express themselves and may have to compete against this or integrate with it? Collaborate? What does it mean for just authenticity in general?


What does it mean for going back to our earlier word connection? What does it mean for vulnerability?


And ultimately, what does it mean for the communication that is happening in this case between artist and receiver or consumer of the art?


So those were surprising there was another one, someone made the comment that there is self portraiture in all art as some of us, as the artist that shows up one way or the other, which is fascinating, makes sense.


I’d never thought about it.


And so it’s these little things that could get lost amidst the behemoth things which are, we know that content ownership is a big issue, intellectual property that’s getting a lot of attention as well it should.


And we saw the strike in Hollywood. So there’s a lot there and we know threat of livelihood, job loss, job change.


But I wanted to shine some light on these smaller but deeper things of what is the impact on the human experience and the conveyance of that experience.


Those are so interesting.


I wonder about the recipient because I wonder if the recipient who is taking in the art, whether it was created by a human or by an AI is able to say that I like that, say that imperfection because a is are probabilistic.


So something could be an imperfection.


But add creativity that took something in a different direction and was really cool, was an inspiration for something else or I felt something even the AI couldn’t feel something but then the recipient really felt touched or moved or connected.


So how do we reconcile that?


So one of the questions that I asked, I call it the art turing test is I asked the folks I interviewed this question, if there was a room off to the side and we couldn’t see what or who was inside that room, something was brought or sent out of that room, a piece of art, maybe a visual piece of art or a CD with some music on it, some form of art and it moved, you would it matter if it was made by an AI or human?


And the follow up question to that, would it change the value and assessment of that once you found out?


And so I’m still digesting all this, but I can tell you that. Well, first of all, was it monolithic, different people have different perspectives?


I would say it’s a rough percentage that maybe a little more than two thirds, maybe 7030 70% were like you could hear or see them struggling to, to do the reconciling you describe.


But they would say initially if it moves me, it moves me, it was a common response. And yeah, upon finding out sometimes the value would change.


And so, you know, we can try and unpack that I tried a little bit and it’s confusing even to the person sharing that feeling because again, it’s coming from an emotional sort of place.


And so sometimes people say, I don’t know and I know that sounds even contradictory or odd, but that’s how I feel.


I totally get that.


We do a lot of trying to coax an AI to write with a particular brand voice and of course, it doesn’t know anything, it doesn’t know that brand, but it also can learn to follow patterns and speak like a brand.


And then we do a lot of evaluating of the outputs to determine if we were successful.


And with my team, we do a lot of blind evaluating because you always want something and when you find out, what is true, you may feel differently.


So we do a lot of blind testing in that way.


Yeah, I wonder what you’re finding.


I observe from this group in particular, that part of what was behind that seemingly odd mix of answers was authenticity.


But also something about maybe waring human connection.


I would add a third piece which is I find by and large that people that I speak with, not just the artists but in some of the other AI projects I’m doing that people do want transparency.


They like to know even if they’re in that group that I described a moment ago that actually wouldn’t change.


And now that I think about it’s probably closer to 8020 from that.


But anyway, in that 20% or whatever that percentage is, some of them would say, yeah, it wouldn’t change for me.


You know, it moved me, it moved me and if I found out it would still move me and some might append to that.


I kind of wish it was done by a human but I still like it.


Some might go another direction and say, you know, it makes me actually more impressed that a machine can do that. How cool.


And so there are all these different perspectives but they do seem to have in common some level of authenticity impact and desire for some level of transparency.


And you worked on trying to prompt an AI to write with emotion, to write from a place of pain. How did you do that?


Well, I did two experiments. They were brief, I did one with imagery and one with text with imagery. I use a couple of the popular image generators like stable diffusion and dolly.


And I basically asked it to write first, I would give it a neutral, you know, provide me with an image of a starry night.


And then I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was basically imagine that you the creator are experiencing pain now provide or paint a starry night and to observe.


And then I did that with text generators and what I found with the image one is there was a difference for sure.


It tended to be what someone responding to the article said. It looks a little on the nose, was a little too on the nose.


It was a little too obvious formulaic, maybe darker colors and some images inserting a person with their head in their hands, you know, that’s pretty on the nose, there’s some pain going on.


So it didn’t maybe have as much subtlety and nuance as some would have liked.


And for the image one, it was similar, but of course, with words.


So it shifted from bright words and uplifting words of buoyancy to darker words.


And I left it as an open question because I don’t know.


And I’m not sure anyone does, but it an interesting question, I think to ponder and it will change over time of what AI can do.


When is approximation close enough?


When is it still meaningful if it’s channeling the vast collection of humans and human experience?


Is that worth something on the flip side?


If it’s not experiencing it directly, even if it’s the best approximated? Is that an issue? And do we care?


So open questions?




In the last couple of minutes, I wanted to talk about one other topic that was really interesting that came up in your study, which is, do you think of AI as a tool? And how did the artists respond to that?


Nearly everyone I spoke with uses the word tool. I use the word tool.


But it also came up for some people sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly or a little more hidden that this is different from what we normally think of as a tool.


And so that’s another open question that is fascinating.


I think it’s fascinating to me and I think to many people, I’ve heard people refer to it as being like akin to electricity or the internet or the computer.


I’ve heard people even refer to it as being like a hatchet. I’m like, wow, I think it’s bigger than a hatchet. It feels a little bigger than that. But for me, I’m still forming my beliefs around it.


I do believe it’s bigger than what we normally associate with the word as being with the word tool, which implies a sense of control us, controlling something that helps us perform a function.


But the locus of control is all here within me as the tool user as this plays out with AI.


And we can imagine collaboration and gonna do some experiments even with teams. AI as a part of the team, who’s the tool, who’s the tool not to scare people?


But really, is it just another direction? Is it more than a tool? And is it something that we have a different relationship with?


Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting possibility.


I certainly feel like right now AI is a tool in so far as humans are prompting it and humans are taking the outputs and deciding if they have value and what to do with them and humans are very much in control.


Will it change?


I don’t know.


But I certainly feel like in my experience, it is a tool which kind of goes back to where we were at the beginning of this conversation because if it’s a tool, if it’s part of your tech stack, then it’s something you have to figure out how to adapt to and make useful and, and change for or not.




It’s probably clear from the body of our interview that I am mixed. I, like many people, are mixed in the AI topic, but it is here. It is powerful. Whether we call it a tool or something else, a new word that gets invented,


It is something that at least I feel and I hear you saying this, that we benefit from getting to know it at a minimum, getting to know it and maybe going further and, and using it and again, I’ll always upend the in responsible thoughtful ways, but I think that is important and there’s no judgment here.


But I, I think that we are best positioned to get the most out of our work functions if we at least consider it as an option. And if we choose not to use it for certain reasons, maybe that’s ok.


But it seems at minimum worth considering there’s so much on this topic.


I love language and I love communication. And I think emotional impact, I do want to put in a, a plug for the humans because I, I want the unique qualities of humans to really shine through.


And I, I want us, the grand “us” of the AI world, to always keep humans the forefront in mind and always consider impacts so that we do everything in a way that is helpful.


I agree. Well, said, and that’s a great place for us to end this interview.


Thank you.


You bet. Happy to be here.


Thanks for joining us. We’ll catch you next time here on Motivation AI Matters. Until then, make sure you’re subscribed and learn more about how to find the right language to motivate your customers and how Generative AI makes this possible by checking out the resource library at persado.com.


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