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Episode 36

The secrets of building an AI-ready culture with Noelle

Hosted by
Alexandra Ebert
What is an AI-ready culture and how to build one? In this episode of the Data Democratization Podcast, Alexandra Ebert, MOSTLY AI's Chief Trust Officer talks to Noelle Silver Russell, a season AI-lead with experience across the most successfully AI-driven companies, like Amazon, NPR and Microsoft. In this episode Noelle will talk about:
  • How to sell AI to executives and how to get started building?
  • What is an AI-ready culture and how to build one?
  • How to upscale teams for implementing AI?
  • Taking the fear away and making people excited about AI and machine learning.
  • How to hire and manage diverse talent?
  • Using AI for accessibility in a way that makes perfect business sense.
  • How to build authentic personal brands?


[00:00:09] Alexandra Ebert: Welcome to Episode 36 of the Data Democratization Podcast. I'm Alexandra Ebert, your host and MOSTLY AI's Chief Trust Officer. Today I have the pleasure of introducing Noelle Silver Russell who will be my guest today. Noelle is currently the Chief AI Strategist at the AI Leadership Institute but she held former AI positions at IBM, Microsoft, and AWS. In fact, Noelle was with Amazon Alexa's team in the very early days and even built more than 40 plus Alexa voice skills herself, which I find really stunning.

Besides that, she also hosts her own podcast and is an author. If all of this weren't impressive enough, she's a truly wonderful person, and as you will notice throughout this episode, a storyteller par excellence. Noelle and I talked about AI and how to sell it to executives today. Plus we spent quite some time on discussing how to build an AI-ready culture and how you could go about this in your organization. Particularly, Noelle shared how you can upskill your teams in a manner that people get truly excited about AI and also how you can attract a full symphony of diversity within your team, as Noelle describes it.

We also talked about AI for Accessibility and why this is a business opportunity that's oftentimes overlooked by leaders. Lastly, Noelle shared her best tips for authentic brand building, particularly for women and BIPOC, so I'm sure there will be many takeaways for you in this episode. Let's dive in.

[00:01:55] Alexandra: Hi, and welcome, Noelle. It's so great to have you on the show today. We actually sat on a panel a few months ago and like 15 minutes in, I knew, wow, I really need to get you on my podcast because you're just amazing and I love the points that you made on inclusion and AI upskilling. Today we finally are here and I'm so excited. I'm so looking forward, so many thanks for taking the time and being here with us today.

[00:02:20] Noelle Silver Russell: Well, thanks for having me. Yes, I'm Noelle Silver Russell. My journey into really technology started, and it's the reason I do what I do today, it started with my dad and science fiction. It's a number one question I get asked is like why do you even do this tech thing, especially as a woman in technology? Being an anomaly, it's hard. It's a hard road to go down but I was so passionate about these fictional stories I was reading, how in the '40s, these books were written about talking to technology, and look, here we are now talking to our tech.

Quickly, I'm the CEO of AI Leadership Institute. One of the reasons I started this company was because I was part of Alexa in the earliest days. I was employee 10 on the skills team, built over a hundred applications for Alexa, it was super exciting times but one thing I noticed very quickly was that brands and businesses, and executives didn't really understand AI enough to know how to invest in it or who to hire or how to build an inclusive team or how to create a multimodal experience. These were all foreign terms.

I created this institute to really just help create an educational bridge between the business side of organizations and the technical side. That's what I do now but I've worked for some of the best and brightest companies in the world. Of course, I was at Amazon and then I went to Microsoft. I had some fun at National Public Radio and being on a podcast I always think of them. I did that during the pandemic, was recently an executive at IBM, really, again, trying to facilitate this educational space between the people who have the purse strings to make investments in AI and data and the technology. Oftentimes, there's just such a wide gap between the two, I found a lot of opportunity right in the middle. [chuckles]

[00:04:18] Alexandra: That sounds amazing, Noelle, and wow, 100 Amazon Alexa skills, I'm impressed. Do you have a favorite one?

[00:04:25] Noelle: Yes, yes. Five of them became very popular, and today I have two that I get tens of thousands of requests for per week. One of them is mindfulness, and you could just say, "Alexa, open mindfulness," or, "Play mindfulness," and that's my skill that launches. As well as Kindness, Daily Kindness, Christmas Kindness, Couples' Kindness.

[00:04:49] Alexandra: Christmas time.

[00:04:49] Noelle: Yes, [chuckles] which is cool. It's like a bunch of Christmas random acts of kindness ideas that you can use as a family. I thought it was really interesting because when I started, at the time, the persona we were going after was an affluent user who wanted- and really a woman, for the most part, who wanted to use a kitchen device hands-free, right, so recipes and timers and music were a big part of it.

When I came in and I was like, "We should build mindfulness skills and kindness and random acts of kindness skills," people looked at me like I was a bit crazy. [laughs] They were like, "Who needs that?" As a mom, I actually need kindness and mindfulness in my kitchen all the time, so I dismissed their early hesitation but today I have more than two million unique users of these skills and they've proven that the world likes kindness and mindfulness even if, as a business, sometimes we focus on a persona. It's, yes, of course, that persona is true but with AI, it's so much more than that. There are so many more people who can be impacted by the work that we do.

[00:05:57] Alexandra: That's true, and I think whenever somebody new joins a team, it's also so great to have this unique perspective-

[00:06:02] Noelle: Yes, yes.

[00:06:02] Alexandra: -and then to add something, and I think the results and what you see here definitely proves that you were going in the right direction. I'm just wondering if you now should change these kitchen signs from cooked with love to cooked with kindness, or something like that.

[00:06:16] Noelle: Yes, yes. I love that. Absolutely.

[00:06:20] Alexandra: One other thing that you said in your intro that I want to dive deeper on is that you said executives oftentimes have challenges with understanding artificial intelligence or knowing how to invest in it. What is there to know or what is the knowledge that you usually share with the executives you work with?

[00:06:35] Noelle: Yes. A study was done recently by Forrester and complemented at Gartner where they asked CEOs, "Over the last five years, AI's become more and more prevalent. What has happened with the AI projects that you've been on?" They said that 90% of the projects that they initiated had "failed."

[00:06:57] Alexandra: That's a lot.

[00:06:58] Noelle: Yes, and so the next logical question, of course, was, "Well, okay, why did it fail," and there wasn't a clear answer but upon further investigation, many of those projects, and this is one of the things, the key really to a successful AI project is having a metric upon which to measure its own success. A lot of times executives don't even know what an AI project or solution is going to deliver for them. They're given this dream of AI, of hey, it can increase productivity, but by how much? It can decrease cost but by how much? How do I know if this is working or if it's just marginally better than my manual process. Now I encourage organizations to be very clear.

There was a book recently, I don't know how recent it was I guess, but John Doerr wrote this book, Measure What Matters. It's how we all started learning about OKRs and building objectives and key results, and those key results are always metric-driven. That is extremely powerful as a tool to drive successful AI projects. You don't have to have a bunch of OKRs, you just need one. Like, okay, I'm going to use this to increase productivity. What's our baseline today and where do we want it to be as a result of this project? That way, we know if it's successful, but best part is I know in real-time.

I can measure its effectiveness on a day-to-day basis so that I don't end up six months later looking at it and going, "I don't think it worked. I'm not sure," which is what most organizations do. Being metric-driven is the cornerstone of what I encourage organizations to think about when using AI. It's a pretty-- right now I call it socio-technology solution because yes, the metric side is really, does the tech do its job, but the other part is do you have the humans that have the right paradigm and mindset to move a project in the direction of delivering on those results. Those things are very different skill sets within a company but they have to come together when you talk about artificial intelligence.

[00:09:04] Alexandra: That makes sense. I think it's also then the question, do you find those people for one given project or do you find them throughout your organization if you really want to scale out AI?

[00:09:11] Noelle: Right.

[00:09:13] Alexandra: I know you also talk about AI-culture-ready or making a culture AI-ready. What are the secrets here? What is the change that an organization needs to undergo usually to be deemed AI-ready?

[00:09:25] Noelle: Yes. I am a big believer, of course, it echoes similarly, the first thing I ask companies to think about when it comes to a successful AI project, which is if I tell you to be metric-driven or data-driven, it's important the whole company understands what that means. I often encourage companies, we call it from the boardroom to the whiteboard to the keyboard. This is a process that I take companies through and it starts with the executives getting in a room and creating a data and AI manifesto. A documented set of intentions and interests and goals for how they'll use AI in their organization.

Many times, companies never intentionally sit down and think about what they're going to achieve, who they're going to help, who they need to be concerned about. They never sit down and have a design thinking session about how will data and AI strategies change this company. Then setting a manifesto, I say a manifesto because many times, this kind of cultural shift is going to require inspiration and motivation. You're going to do things that these employees have never done before, they're going to need to learn skills they've never learned before.

It's less than here's a bunch of rules around the AI, of course, governance is important but when you're starting a new project or creating a data-driven culture, you want your employees to be excited about it. That's why we don't just do an executive briefing and get everybody thinking in the lines of a manifesto or set of philosophies and tenets for the company but it goes all the way down to the keyboard where we do a hackathon and we get the employees working together with the business to build some fun projects that might turn into things that are actually valuable for the company.

Even if nothing comes out of it, you end up with excited employees who are less likely to turn over and who are more likely to bring you fresh ideas, just like you've mentioned before, fresh ideas that you never even thought about because that door wasn't open for them to communicate it. I think those leadership principles, one, of course, being data-driven, but also being a leader who's willing to accept new ideas.

At Amazon, they call it disagree and commit and I love it because what it means is that every idea is heard. Even though we can't use every idea, every idea is heard, every idea is documented, every idea is respected, but then when it's time to move forward in a direction, even if it's not your own, you disagree, of course, and say, "I wish it was my idea," but then you commit to the new path as if it was your own idea.

That philosophy is very, very useful in an AI project or in an AI-ready culture because you want everyone to give these ideas, like me saying, "Hey, what about Alexa in the classroom? What about Alexa in a nursing home?" When no one else is saying that because it opens up new opportunity for the business to get more customers, to create more revenue. That's the world that we live in, we can bring our personal experience into an AI project and expand the scope of capability for it.

[00:12:29] Alexandra: That makes sense. That makes sense. You mentioned upskilling or actually, the employees need to use new skills that they have never used before, which brought me to upskilling. Is this a topic that you frequently tackle with your customers? Can you share a little bit about how you approach it?

[00:12:44] Noelle: Yes, absolutely. It's so important. We actually launched a program called upskilling.ai, you can go out and register for it, but we created different pillars of education. Upskilling it's interesting, sometimes we think directly about our technical teams. Our technical teams are used to doing things maybe in client-server or in building web apps or mobile apps, and now they need to think about integrating AI into those solutions but really, we're thinking a little bit more broadly than that. We need the marketing team to think about how do we leverage AI. I need procurement and finance, HR, and legal all to be aware of the capability and opportunity that comes with using these services.

There's two sides of it, the technical upskilling, which I think is very important, but also there's middle ground, the domain expertise that's knowledgeable enough to use low-code or no-code solutions in order to create a proof of concept that they can hand to a more technical team. Many times the gap, as I mentioned earlier, is often between the business saying I have a problem, the technology saying I have a solution, but they never talk to each other, [chuckles] and they don't know how to make the technical solution map to the business problem, and so that's where these kinds of hackathons or integrated team sessions give us a chance.

I'll give you a quick example. I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and we did a hackathon there. It was very similar as the same boardroom to whiteboard to keyboard, this was the keyboard part of that session. We sat them down and we brought in the curators, art curators, non-technical really people, art curators, and then MIT data scientists and we had a hackathon. When it started, they were very upset. They were like, "Oh, I don't know, we don't even know if we like each other that much." [chuckles] I'm like, "You don't know my language. I don't know your language."

Then the data science team asked a very critical question, which is what I ask every organization to do with their domain experts or the people that are doing the work every day that we're going to augment with AI. The question they asked was, "What is hurting you right now? What's keeping you from being extremely happy about your job? What are the frustration points? Where's the friction? What's the problem? What's a challenge for you?" When you actually mean that question, when you're asking with a real intention to get a response, a flood of stuff starts coming out. [chuckles]

All the curators were like, "Oh, my gosh, this application is old and doesn't really work. This one, it says it's automatic, but I have to manually feed it data. This one, I have to manually tag things, I don't even know what to tag. I don't have research information at my fingertips." All of this friction started spilling out onto the table and it was like candy to the data scientist. Who were like, "Oh, we could build something for that. Oh, and we could build something for that." 17 projects were built in that two-day period. Two of them were so successful, they made it to NBC Nightly News.

That's what happens when you bring the people with the problem. I don't mean close, I literally mean in the same room right up next to the people who understand how to solve it technically, magic can happen. I hope I can help more companies discover this magic within their own organizations.

[00:16:11] Alexandra: Call to action to everyone, two hackathons with your teams.

[00:16:15] Noelle: That's right. That's right. It's fun, they'll love it.

[00:16:18] Alexandra: I think so. I think so. One other thing that I really loved that you shared in one of our earlier conversations was also this aspect of upskilling or educating people about what AI is, how it can augment people. Also has this effect of people having more realistic understanding of AI and not fearing it that much anymore. Can you elaborate a little bit of what you've seen happen?

[00:16:38] Noelle: Absolutely, for sure. One of the things that I focus on in my day-to-day life is getting into conversations with people who may have a misunderstanding of how AI is used. Oh my gosh, funny story. I was in Washington DC, walking in the Monument Mall area. I had a shirt on, which I often do that said, "I heart AI." A human, a pedestrian yells at me, "All AI should be destroyed," and I was like, "Oh, okay." What do you say? You just agree. You're like, "Yes, probably," but in my mind, I thought to myself this is why we need data and AI literacy for everyone because they don't realize how important AI is to like my dad who uses it to navigate his world or my son who has Down Syndrome who uses his voice to navigate television and music and YouTube.

AI is critical to their life being independent and fulfilling, and I'm sure that's not what he's thinking of. He's thinking of the Super Robot or what do they call it now? General Intelligence, artificial general intelligence. This one bot like a Skynet that's going to kill us all. That's why I got passionate about it, but even more so, going back to me, I grew up in Miami, Florida. Most kids who go to schools in Miami, there's affluent areas. I was in a middle-class area but in that middle-class area, I was not introduced to technology at all. I don't even remember using a computer until I got to college.

I was worried when I got older. I'm like, I want exposure to an 11th grader or 12th grader who's trying to decide what to do, what you're thinking about at that time. I want them to know what it's like to have an Oculus headset on. I want them to know what it's like to build a Roblox Metaverse experience. They could do that if they just knew that it was available. All of it's open source. I could go into these environments for free and build but I'd say 90% of the schools that I've gone to, these kids don't even know that it's possible. They don't know it exists. They don't have an Alexa device in their house, where I make assumptions that everyone knows Alexa, well everyone knows it but even a cheaper device, not every household can afford an Alexa, and then afford the Prime membership that you have to have to make Alexa super useful.

I think we get into our world a little bit of everyone knows this stuff and then you go to these schools and realize some kids have never used some of this technology. Now I've added on from the boardrooms to the whiteboard to the keyboard to the chalkboard. I want to go all the way to the educational space because even in university, they're still not really being taught the use cases behind how do we use AI to change the world. They're being taught how do you use Python. They're being taught the tools, the tools are changing. They're not being taught the use cases or the critical thinking that's required to apply those tools meaningfully in the world.

[00:20:01] Alexandra: That's a pity, and I think also the point that you mentioned about us working in that industry, seeing what is possible, oftentimes being at the forefront and then having to consider, okay, there are so many people who are not even using that. Or we talked about this before when I was at a panel in the UK, the head of Tech UK told me his parents stopped going on weekend trips because they were just afraid that they couldn't go park their car anymore because it would require a QR code or any fancy digital app, but not an old piece of paper. This is why they were too concerned to dare to go on trips. I think it's so important to- [crosstalk]

[00:20:36] Noelle: Yes, it becomes very intimidating.

[00:20:38] Alexandra: -think of everybody and really build something that's inclusive and accessible for everyone.

[00:20:44] Noelle: 100%. I loved that example and I've actually used it a couple of times since because it's so important. I take it for granted when I pull into a parking spot and I see a sign that says, "Go to this mobile app, type in this code." Then I think about my dad who can't use a mobile app, [chuckles] he's not doing that anymore. He can't really use a computer, so he's going to see that sign and have no idea what to do, he wouldn't know and it only takes one or two of those experiences. They create fear and anxiety for consumers, for people. Your parents just stop doing things and what a shame that is.

We're not being completely considerate or empathetic to the audience and that's one of the reasons why I think it's so important. Like with inclusive engineering, I always look for people who have parents, who are taking care of their parents, who are parents, who have different lenses upon which they see the world. Because if you have that and you were-- Chances are the startup that built the parking app, chances are they were probably pretty young. Chances are they didn't have aging parents. No one in the room raised their hand and said, "Have we thought about people who are not going to know how to do the QR code thing?" No one was there to say that and now they're in production [chuckles]

That happens with so many good AI projects today is that we don't look around and think who is not our niche persona that we're going after that might end up using this and how do we get their input before we go to production, before we print the parking signs and put them out there and take away other forms of technology that would increase its inclusivity?

[00:22:22] Alexandra: That makes sense. This also brings up the question how to actually pull it off because we all know there's this global AI talent shortage, how to make sure you have a really diverse and super AI team on hand? Do you have any tips for this, and when it comes to that, how to engage more people also from diverse backgrounds, minority groups?

[00:22:39] Noelle: Yes. I think one of the things is, especially leaders and people managers, business owners need to be very, very clear about their intentions to transform their own workforce because many people are going to be very nervous. I've heard many employees tell me they're scared that their job is going to go away. The reality is that the very specific nature of some of the pieces of their job will likely go away, but if you position it in the right way, for example, I was just listening to a keynote by an insurance company and they were talking about the process that they went through to shift from people manually processing insurance applications to a conversational system.

Now, those people who did the manual processing were the most informed about the different ways users interact with them to get their application processed. He literally took this team, now it's hundreds of people, and transformed them into conversational designers and gave them new titles, a new persona as a professional that was cool, that was exciting. They didn't know anything about building conversational design, only later to find out, "Oh, wait, I'm just replicating what I already know." All these hundreds or thousands of conversations I've had with customers, I am now going to be the architect for those conversations in an automated system.

Many of us though, as leaders, don't think about that transition and how do we architect or choreograph that transition for our current employees. Now, as you mentioned, even if we transition all of our current employees, there's still not enough people to do the work that's required, so the next thing is really tapping into what some have called, it's basically grade 13 and 14. Right out to high school, there are people that are deciding, do I go to university and get a degree? There's many who never choose to go to university who are vocational. It's what we used to call vocational skills.

Now, colleges, I'm working with a bunch of different colleges, about six colleges today in building a new program. It's an applied AI program. Really what it does is it's helping in the machine learning process, the beginning part of the machine learning life cycle. Someone has to collect the data, someone has to clean the data, massage the data, transform the data, and make it ready for a model. Oftentimes, the data scientist isn't the best person to do that job because we want them focused on the algorithms, right?

[00:25:07] Alexandra: Sure, sure.

[00:25:07] Noelle: Building the mathematical side. We've got our statisticians which leaves this gap and it's just like coding boot camps in the past. We're going to start to see these data boot camps showing up that teach people these data engineering roles. If you are an employer, wouldn't it be awesome if you created that program for your own employees and gave them a chance to get-- and let's say you don't want to get into the world of education, partner with someone. Partner with an educational organization that can come in and build that for you. Then you can reskill people who are in completely different parts of the organization into a huge opportunity that you're going to have in mining the data of your company and using it to get insights that'll help you get more customers.

[00:25:50] Alexandra: I love the term data boot camp. We, with our synthetic data, oftentimes help organizations to help their workforce get more data literate by just giving them access to a privacy-safe version of their existing data because oftentimes if they start educating the workforce and then just have some data sets that don't reflect the work reality, it's not as engaging as if they really. Their customer data in privacy-safe form in their hands.

[00:26:17] Noelle: That's amazing and that's such an important thing when it's relative to your work. It's one thing to go off and you can go on YouTube. There's a reason why YouTube doesn't generate a whole bunch of practitioners because it's not relevant to what they do every day. It doesn't create-- I always say it's kind of like, right. I always like to hear what is this kind of like in my mind that I can attach it to that I already know. When you give them a data set that represents data they work with every day, they can be like, "Oh, okay, this is kind of when I personally did this instead of having a machine do this or an algorithm predict an outcome that I used to programmatically define in a decision table," or whatever the case might be. When that realism that you can provide really helps speed up the process of learning, I think that's really critical.

[00:27:06] Alexandra: I think so too. One other topic I wanted to focus more on is actually building for accessibility. We talked about this before and I really wanted to cover this topic on the show because you said that oftentimes, particularly decision makers really underestimate the opportunities that come from building for accessibility or AI for Accessibility. Why is that and what are the opportunities that everybody should be aware of?

[00:27:28] Noelle: Yes, I of course have a very personal perspective on this because my son was born with Down syndrome like 17 years ago. He'll be 18 soon, which is crazy. When he was born, and to me it doesn't seem that long ago, but it was a very archaic response to me that he could be institutionalized or put up for adoption because the world wasn't really ready for him to operate with his disability. As a technologist, I immediately was like, "There's got to be a technical way we could support this." I choreographed my career around companies that were focused on this space, not directly.

I think one of the most interesting things about a lot of the evolution we've seen in user experience was actually driven by accessibility. The ability to create multimodal experiences, for example, was driven by a desire to increase the size of our funnel of people who could interact with us. What that meant is if somebody can't read, we create, AWS has poly, you can now embed it on any webpage on your company's website and they can press a button now and have the page read to them, but that was driven by of course creating accessibility but now many people benefit from that even if they don't have accessibility issues.

That's the point is that there's good, the good news is that you can help a lot of people interact with you as a company by thinking about how I increase the availability of my technology or my solution to the world. That increase in availability turns into, let me think about the different modalities someone operates in. We started off with apps, web apps. You build a web application, but what if someone can't use a keyboard, or what if someone doesn't want to have a desktop computer?

We moved and transitioned to mobile apps. Great. Now if I'm on a mobile phone, that's awesome. There's a lot of capability on a mobile phone. There's a microphone that I can click on and I can speak to my tech, but what if I don't have a mobile phone? Okay, now we have voice assistants. Voice assistants can become, basically the single persona I talk to, but then it can call any other agent that does any other thing. That my voice assistant helps me communicate to my grocery list and order things on Amazon, and just the other day on my Fire TV, I saw a perfume commercial, and right at the bottom it says, "Just say yes to your remote and we'll send you a sample." I was like, "That's brilliant. [laughs] Yes, yes, yes to my remote."

A brand has to think about these different modalities. The cool thing is that if you support these modalities, you increase the accessibility of your product and service, but what's an added benefit to that is that people who don't need that accessibility actually find it reducing the friction of working with you anyway so it's like a double benefit. More people will work with you because you're just easier to work with when you focus on these accessibility features.

In the spirit of accessibility, I always have two lenses. One from, how do I make my technology, product, or service available to more customers? Then I also think about accessibility within my company, within my organizations. Today I realize that we've got a challenge. We don't see very many people with disabilities in the workforce, [crosstalk] which is strange to me. I've interviewed thousands of people, hired hundreds at Amazon, Microsoft, National Public Radio, IBM, and it is strange to me that I've never interviewed anyone in a wheelchair. That doesn't seem right. I don't know how that's right, because I know very smart people that are in wheelchairs and very smart software engineers actually, and I've never interviewed not one.

I've never had anyone come to me and say, "As an interviewer, we have someone who's requested adaptability features." That is everyone's right to request. No one's ever said yes. I'm not sure if they-- Maybe they did and it never got through to my level of the interview but it seems weird that I've been in this industry 20 years and I've not seen a glimpse of this type of capability or person within an organization. It's definitely a lack of understanding. If we don't have someone who represents those capabilities, that life, that background, we're going to miss an entire market of humans on the planet that we can help serve.

[00:32:01] Alexandra: That's true. That's true. Definitely, lots to do for leaders of today to make sure-

[00:32:05] Noelle: So much.

[00:32:05] Alexandra: -they have truly inclusive work.

[00:32:08] Noelle: Lots of homework.

[00:32:10] Alexandra: That makes sense. One other thing that I wanted to talk about is your work that you do on authentic brand building, particularly also for females and for the BIPOC community. Can you share a little bit about the most important things to consider for those professionals? What can you give them on their way to be sure that they are successful in the tech industry?

[00:32:31] Noelle: I think today, more than ever, a personal professional brand is required, and mostly because we've now got social media, but also because the younger generations are looking-- they're doing business with brands that they like, with people that they like, that they know, that they trust. The only way to create that trust is to actually build a way for them to get to know you. There is one option. You could go and meet with them one-on-one, on Zoom and have a coffee, but that's very difficult, if not impossible to scale.

Instead, and I always tell people, people are going to Google you whether you like it or not, so my first advice is to give Google something to show on your behalf. Do podcasts like this. I always tell people in the beginning of their career or in the beginning of their branding to start saying yes to opportunities. Many times we don't even realize how often we say no because it's the default to say no to like someone asks me to do a podcast or to get on a stage, earlier in my career, I'd be like, "Oh no, that's not me. I don't do that. That's my buddy, Jim. He's awesome." [crosstalk] "You should call him."

[00:33:41] Alexandra: Really? You didn't like to go on stages earlier?

[00:33:44] Noelle: No. I'm actually quite introverted. [chuckles] I don't function well. I get a lot of social anxiety. Like if I walk into a networking party, it's very difficult unless someone's with me, even a few of my friends are with me, but if I'm by myself-- I've done Twitter, just sad faces on Twitter where it's my sad face and you see this huge networking and I will fail. I will not be able to walk in there. It's so crazy but put me on a stage, no problem. [laughs]

[00:34:16] Alexandra: Interesting. Interesting.

[00:34:18] Noelle: I attributed them both to the same as like, if I want to build my brand, I have to be an extrovert. The reality was that, sure, I guess you could call extroversion, but really it's communication. I had to learn to communicate. Like now, I'm communicating to you like we're talking at coffee, which is why it's so easy. When I'm on stage, I do the same thing, but I encourage all the people-- I have a bunch of mentees that I work with in building their brand, and the first thing I tell them to do is to put stakes in the ground and give the world something to know about you. That starts with something as simple as getting a website with your name.

Today you can go to Unstoppable Domains and get a Web3 domain name that you'll own forever, which is really pretty cool as opposed to renting it. You get to just get your domain, you own it forever, it's on the blockchain. I love that idea. I think every single professional should have that, and then, of course, should have a website, even if it's a one-pager with a paragraph. Even if it's just a landing page, give the world some way to know that you exist. The reality is, is that the world sees through the lens of the internet, through the lens of social media, through the lens of avatars, and so this is the way to begin.

Then I'll give you a quick tip for those of you who are really interested in massively growing your brand in a relatively short period of time. The first part of that tip, I guess, is that there's no such thing as an overnight success. The sooner you start talking about the things that you care about, the sooner the algorithms of Google and YouTube and TikTok, and Twitter will understand that what you're saying is a consistent message that they can count on to republish and share with people. When you send one post a month or a year…

[00:36:13] Alexandra: It's probably going to be a long journey.

[00:36:15] Noelle: Yes, it'll be a long journey. I encourage people to do an exercise, and I'll share this with your listeners because it's so useful and it makes it easier for people to start sharing themselves with the world. One, the way that it works is that I'm a LinkedIn author. Linkedin came to me and they did this exercise with me and they said, "Figure out something you could talk about at a cocktail party or at a networking event for 10 minutes with no problems."

Then they said, "Go through the exercise of writing it like a blog post on Medium, go through the exercise of recording it like a podcast, and then go through the exercise of recording a video like a YouTube video or a CNBC interview, and do all three without any judgment or really any critique." You're not editing, you're not going to publish this. It's just to go through the motions.

Then he asked me a question that I thought was pretty unique where he asked me, "Where did you feel the least amount of personal friction? When you went in and you wrote, was it easier for you to write than it was for you to talk? Was it easier for you to talk without video than it was when you turned on the camera? Where is the least amount of friction?" Let that be the medium you use to go and just jam. Tell the world about yourself and then document your journey.

I don't mean document like, "Oh, my cat's down there," and take a picture of your cat, and, "Oh I'm outside at the pool and I'm going to take--" Document the challenges that you have, the vision that you want, the struggle that you have, but always use what I call the hero's journey. It's not original to me. It's a journalistic tool. If I have a sad story, I always wait for my happy ending before I start sharing it with the world.

I always tell people we have survived 100% of our bad days at this point, and many of us have had some really bad days, but once we get to the other side, we can become a tool for someone else to go through that faster or just to not feel alone. I feel like our responsibility to, as we uncover that we won't basically be destroyed by a certain event in our lives, if we can come to a place where we can share it, so many people are going to be like, "Oh my gosh, I thought it was me. I thought I was alone. Even though it's not the exact same story, I can relate to you." Now you've got, really, an audience member for life because you have this shared experience.

So many people are afraid to share themselves with the world, but it's ironic that right now, the world wants those authentic people more than ever. People who literally look and speak and talk in a way that you look at them and you're like, "Oh my gosh, they're probably the same on a Saturday morning as they are right now." No difference between who they are on stage, who they are on a podcast, who they are at work, who they are at home, they're just themselves. Hopefully, that gives some of the listeners like, "Oh, phew, okay, good. I could do that. I could just show up. I don't have to wear a lot of makeup. I don't have to change my clothes."

I remember one of my early advisors told me that I needed to dress up, that I needed to wear blazers and high heels and change my persona. I'm a graphic tee kind of person. [laughs] I'm a graphic tee person. I like graphic tees and hoodies. Then I realize, sure, there's times where I dress up, but I actually get just as much engagement with my content when I'm just dressed like myself. My dress is the least thing people care about, but those are the things that keep us from sharing ourselves with the world. I encourage you all to just share your stories. We need to hear them now more than ever.

[00:40:05] Alexandra: I think that's much-needed encouragement because there are still so many people who have this perfectionistic vision and wanting to be the perfect professional self. Today it's really about this authenticity, showing vulnerability, and being you.

[00:40:17] Noelle: That's right. That's right. Yes, just being willing to share who you are and what you're struggling with. Most people, at least for me, when I'm in the dark times or the messy middle of those challenges, I almost always think to myself, "I'm alone in this." Almost always. I'm like, "There's no one else going through this," and then afterwards, I realize how untrue that was. It's such an important lesson to share with your community and people who are working with you as well as people who you lead.

My authenticity as a leader, people have come to me and said, I've never had a leader say the things you say or act the way you do, and it makes me want to be a better person at work, a better person at home. Because I see that you're the same at home and at work and online in the weekends. It's inspiring to people to see an authentic presentation of yourself as opposed to you trying to look and sound and talk like someone else or someone you think you're supposed to be.

[00:41:20] Alexandra: That's true. I think it's on the one hand inspiring but also relatable and also charitable for yourself. Because if you just see the perfect image of some, I don't know, a superstar rocking the stage, and you think like, "Okay, this never can be me.”

[00:41:35] Noelle: That's right. It's so far from me, right? You think it's just so far away, I could never-- I have a couple of mentors and they're billionaires and they are on stages with 35,000, 40,000 people. It's so far though. I'm looking at them and going, "Gosh, that seems so far from something [chuckles] that I could achieve," but then I see someone who's just a couple of chapters ahead of me and I'm like, "Okay." I almost feel like they're my friends. That's the idea that I always have is I want people when they see my content, they think Noelle's my friend, I could call Noelle if I was in trouble. I could call if I needed a friend to talk to.

I have tens of thousands of followers now on different platforms but that's my persona. That's who I want to be in the world. I want to be known as someone who's always down to earth. I'll never-- my husband says I don't Hollywood people, which I don't know exactly what that means but I'm sure it means something you get off stage and you go right into a room and nobody gets to talk to you.

My favorite part of sharing my stories is the commentary and the conversation, and those conversations that I have where people are like, "Oh my gosh, what you said helped me make this decision and now I'm working at this company." Getting an idea of the impact that you have, I think that's one thing that most people underestimate is how impactful their personal story could be to just even one person.

Mother Teresa used to say, "If you can't feed a hundred, then just feed one," and that's so true with your story. You might just change one person and that's how I started. One girl saw me speak to her. She was 17 years old, she's now in her twenties, now works at Microsoft, is now very happy. She told me in an email and when I read it, I cried, that when she saw me, a brown girl in technology, being happy, successful, having a family, that she saw a new path for her life and she took it, [chuckles] and now she's on it and she's happy. When you get those emails, you're like, it's all worth it. The crying on a live, it's super embarrassing but it's all worth it if it changes someone's life and makes them make a different choice that makes their lives better.

[00:43:51] Alexandra: That sounds amazing and it actually reminds me of my granddad who's also a big advocate for just approaching people, talking to each other because you never know what you can give back to another person or even which opportunities arise. He's currently like 88, we just were celebrating their anniversary, 65 years together with my grandma, and it's just amazing when you talked with them. They met the Dalai Lama, they met so many big personalities, but even the small people from the street and what opportunities arise from that. I think now my grandma is the cover model for an app for the elderly or something like that.

I'm surprised by what comes up if they just approach somebody. I think it's so important to always keep that in mind that you just have to speak up, just have to approach somebody even though it can be frightening at the beginning, but it's just wonderful on the one hand what you can give back to society, to others, but also what opportunities can come your way. This--

[00:44:48] Noelle: Yes, and I always encourage people to just think of it like this. I always in any conversation I have, I always think it's just this one person. It's just me and them. Nothing bad can really happen if I just have a conversation with somebody. That way, even on big stages where I'm in front of thousands, I still think I'm talking to one person. I'm just having a conversation, and people will often comment like, "Oh my gosh, I feel like you were talking to me directly." [chuckles] It's such a different way of approaching things because it allows you, I love that, I think it's age-old wisdom of just human connection, and how powerful that human connection can be.

We really don't realize how much opportunity lies in just having a human connection with another person, far more than any AI model or technical solution. It's really the missing link, I think, in most of the success I've seen in the AI spaces. How strong is that human connection within your team and with your customers?

[00:45:49] Alexandra: Yes, that's definitely important to keep in mind. Since we're coming to an end, Noelle, my last question for you would be, if you have one wish, what would you like to see change or evolve in the whole context of AI in the next, let's say, three years?

[00:46:03] Noelle: Oh goodness. Three years. Well, if I can have any wish, I would wish for parody on a bunch of levels. I would wish for, and when I say parody, I basically mean, like right now, it is obvious that there is a gender disparity in the workforce. Not just gender, ethnicity of course, but also neurodiversity. I talk about neurodiversity a lot because I have four children and they're all neurodiverse. They're all just very, very different people.

I'm not sure how well the world right now is receiving neurodiversity on a team. What if somebody's an introvert or an extrovert? What if somebody thinks fast and thinks slow? Do we attribute biases in our own minds against people who just think differently than us? Yes, I would love in three years for us to have more parity across all of these different aspects. I always call it a symphony of talent on our team. I want to have a symphony. I want to have different instruments playing beautifully together.

My job as a leader is to be the composer, to pick the instruments, to educate everyone on how important each voice is so that when we do actually start building things, every voice is heard and we build something that's bigger and better and faster for everyone, as opposed to the narrow road that I feel like we're on today. Yes, I guess, it's not a very fancy word to have parody across, but [crosstalk] maybe I could call it, a symphony that's a little fancier.

Yes, I'd love to see us get to that more symphonic state of talent of leadership. Of just, look, I want to look at a stage, I want to look at a company's executive board, I want to look at an engineering team, and I want it to look like a representation of our world. It's strange to me that we're building software that touches millions or billions of people, and those teams are not representative at all of the people that they're trying to serve. That's my hope for this world and that's what I'm trying to do in the work that I do every day, so thank you. [laughs]

[00:48:19] Alexandra: Thank you so much for being here, Noelle. I can only give a shout-out for your amazing podcast. It's called The AI Manifesto. I think there are also some other channels where people can definitely follow you. LinkedIn, you're quite active on Twitter. Where else should people be on the watch for you? Where should they follow you?

[00:48:36] Noelle: Yes, absolutely. As a matter of fact, the best thing to do is you could just go to Noelle.AI and all my socials are there, so Noelle.AI and you can connect with me directly, send me a message, or you can connect with me.

LinkedIn is awesome. I use LinkedIn like my inbox. I don't know how many other people do that, but it is my main mechanism for [chuckles] communicating with people, so that is the best place, and don't just follow me, I haven't hit my max connections. I keep increasing my limit so, while we can, let's be real friends, message me, let's get together. Like you mentioned earlier, it's such an important thing to have real human connection with people. Hopefully, your listeners will take me up on the opportunity to be connected.

[00:49:16] Alexandra: I bet they will. I bet they will. Thank you so much, Noelle. It was a pleasure having you here today.

[00:49:21] Noelle: Thank you. It was my pleasure as well. Thank you so much.

[00:49:26] Alexandra: Thank you for tuning in today. I hope you enjoyed listening to Noelle as much as I did. To hear more from her, as mentioned, visit her on Noelle.AI, or as she suggested, directly contact her on LinkedIn. If you have any questions or comments for today's episode, you can also comment on our LinkedIn posting or reach out to us via podcast@mostlyai. Until then, see you soon.

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