People who only know me by my city face often find it surprising when they learn that I listen to a lot of country music.
No, not the “truck go vroom, gun go boom, I am a Christian White Nationalist” flavor — the truly outlaw stuff. The ones that have always been pro-union, pro-equity, anti-corporatist, all those good things. One of those bands is DBT, and one of their lyrics has been in my head for the past month or so:
“John Henry was a steel-driving bastard/But John Henry was a bastard just the same/And an engine never thinks about his daddy/And an engine never needs to write his name.”
This has been on my mind because of the now more generalized freak-outs about the effects AI is having in the online business world. They’ve been going on all year, as I talked about a couple months ago, but there’s been a big increase in volume over the past week or so. People are losing their businesses, picking up a side hustle on their side hustle, it’s grim.
(Important acknowledgement: as I talked about last week, this isn’t everybody’s experience. And it’s not only b/c of AI.)
But here’s the thing. John Henry is a metaphor.
Sure, there was (at least one) guy named John Henry, but the role he plays now is a metaphor for humanity being crushed by industrialism. His story’s done, he provided labor, then The Company found a machine that could replace him, and he died trying to show he could outmatch the machine.
You are not a metaphor. Your story’s not done. And you can do something different.
Unlike John Henry, you are not doomed to die beating railroad spikes into the ground in a Pyrrhic victory against industrialism. I’m sure as shit not spending my time trying to crank out standardized, boring, badly written blog posts faster than ChatGPT.
Because here’s the big, not-secret secret: whatever it is you do, it was never about the rail road spikes. The work I do is nominally writing website copy and blogs. It’s really about creativity, leveraging relationship physics to build connection, and a whole lot of strategy.
So if you’re in the “AI is destroying my livelihood” position, please know: I know your fear, in a down-in-my-gut, wakes me up in the middle of the night kinda way. Really and truly. I’ve been doing this forever, and I’ve been hanging on by my fingernails more than once. There’s a reason I went to bartending school a couple years ago despite having done CMO-level work for years.
Also know that the product or service you provide is the very, very surface of what you really do. Don’t bother competing with the machine — because the machine can’t actually compete with you.
Now you just gotta figure out a way to explain what it is you do to the people who buy your stuff in a way that makes them understand what it really is. Person to person. One at a time, if you have to. As I’ve been saying for three damn years now: human is the only move left.
And if you’re not sure how to do that, we can talk it out. For free. Seriously, email me and let’s talk positioning.