March 15, 2023

Ross Dawson on Humans + AI, amplifying cognition, thinking tools, and the future of Thriving on Overload podcast (Ep55)

“This is all about Humans plus AI. We can do more together than we can do apart.”

– Ross Dawson

Tim O'Reilly

About Ross Dawson

Ross Dawson is globally recognized as a leading futurist, keynote speaker, entrepreneur, and authority on business strategy. He is Founding Chairman of the Advanced Human Technologies group of companies, and the bestselling author of five books, most recently Thriving on Overload: The 5 Powers for Success in a World of Exponential Information. Strong global demand has seen him deliver keynote speeches to business and government leaders in over 30 countries, while frequent media appearances include CNN, Bloomberg TV, SkyNews, ABC TV, Today and Sunrise shows, The New York Times, and many others.

What you will learn

  • The synergy between humans and AI (03:15)
  • Coping with information overload on the subject of AI (05:18)
  • The importance of framing and building frameworks for understanding the relationship between humans and AI (06:19)
  • How AI augments human capabilities by filtering information and helping develop mental models (08:30)
  • How AI can help with synthesis and higher-order thinking (11:58)
  • Importance of continuous learning in a changing world (15:46)
  • Achieving new levels of success in organizations with AI (16:44)
  • Adopting a mindset of learning and growth with AI (17:21)
  • Introduction of resource (19:12)

Episode resources


Ross Dawson: This is a bit of a different episode. It’s an interview with me. I’m Ross Dawson, futurist, entrepreneur, and author, most recently of Thriving on Overload. You can find me at, or on Twitter @RossDawson. I’m sharing mostly on LinkedIn these days. But today I am speaking with my colleague, Ruby.

Ruby Herrera: Yes. Hey, Ross. I am Ruby Herrera, and I’m an entrepreneur myself. I’ve been working with Ross for about a year now. I’ve gotten to witness firsthand and be involved in this whole journey that Thriving on Overload has been through this far. I’m really excited to get to chat with you today, Ross, about the evolution of the podcast and the future plans for the brand. Take us back; You wrote Thriving on Overload, you built a brand around it, including the course and the podcast, and people who follow your work and your LinkedIn might have seen that you’re delving into the world of Humans + AI. Tell us about what you’re doing right now. What work are you doing with Humans + AI?

Ross: This is an extraordinary time in human history. I think many other people see the same thing. AI has been developing for quite a while, from the late 50s, and gradually developing. In the last six, or nine months, we’ve had a bit of a leap, where people can appreciate quite how powerful the AI is. My frame around this, or around all technology is how does it help us? How does it augment us? How does it make us better? How does it enable us to achieve more? It’s exactly the same thing with AI.

This is all about Humans + AI, where we can do more together than we could do apart. AI is pretty limited by itself. Humans are pretty amazing, but they can be amplified by AI. The real focus is how specifically can we use AI to be more, to achieve more, to do more. I’ve been sharing and building some frameworks, and thinking, and ideas around Humans + AI over at I’ve been launching some other resources and delving deep into them. Also, I’ve created a course. This time, we’re doing a cohort course.

Thriving on Overload course is an online course where people go through the process of creating their own information plan. Whereas for Humans + AI, I thought it’d be useful to do a cohort course where everybody is there together, and we’re doing it live. Part of it is that I don’t necessarily have all the answers, we’re all learning together. I can be a guide, having thought deeply about it, and having some frameworks for it. But as a cohort course, we can work together to be able to learn and to be as effective as possible in increasing our productivity with AI.

It’s an extraordinarily exciting time. It feels like the world has come towards me, and a lot of the things that I’ve always believed were possible. A lot of this year, certainly and beyond, I will be focusing on this theme of Humans + AI.

Ruby: Something really interesting that you mentioned is this is such a developing and quickly accelerating space. We’re all learning how to use these tools as they develop. You mentioned that you’re also learning, so I’m just curious what are you doing day to day to help you learn more about this space, and to position yourself as an expert in this environment?

Ross: The amount of information coming out right now about AI is pretty intense. I’m not able to keep up, nobody’s able to keep up. What I’ve been applying are the lessons that I shared in Thriving on Overload. Part of it is what I write about in the chapter on filtering, which is getting the right set of sources. Those who are compiling and distilling the best information and newsletters are going to find the right communities, find the right people to share on social media, to be able to be selective around the sources so that I’m able to hone in on what is most useful and interesting and valid information that is created out there; to be able to apply my attention, as I write about in chapter four, and to be able to get blocks of time to really dig into, to explore, to try things, and to experiment.

But the single most valuable part has been the framing. That’s what I write about in chapter two on Thriving on Overload. It’s building frameworks. That’s really the heart of what I’ve been doing, and creating, and sharing, is these frameworks for different aspects of Humans + AI, the language that we use, the different elements that humans and AI can play together. I’ll be sharing some more about the decision structures, and so on. I’m building my own frameworks as much as anything for myself, in being able to frame what is happening, the relationships between what’s happening, and of course, to share that with the world, but also along the journey using AI to develop my thinking.

Part of it’s in research, and it’s been interesting when you go to most of the current generative AI and ask them for what’s the best research, they hallucinate, and makeup research that never existed, but still give you some interesting ideas sometimes. But the most useful is being where I create the beginnings of a framework and I bounce it off the AI to say, can you create some suggestions and variations and differences around that? That helped me refine my thinking, to find better language, to be able to build that. It’s a bit of an interactive process with the AI of developing the framework where yes, I’m doing the hard work of really making sense of it but AI has been really useful in being able to help me build these mental models or frameworks of the Humans + AI space.

Ruby: Yes, that’s so interesting, you’re using the AI to help you learn how to better use the AI. That’s pretty cool. You’ve touched on it just a little bit, but I really would love to dive into it a bit more. To some listeners, this might seem like a bit of an abrupt shift of focus. Just tell us about how this really ties into what you’ve been doing with Thriving on Overload. How this ties into what you’ve been talking about on the podcast in the past?

Ross: Yes, it is only just over six months since Thriving on Overload came out. Now I’m spending a lot of time on Humans + AI. But for me, they fit together completely, it is almost two facets of the same topic. Thriving on Overload is around human cognition. As humans, we take in information, we make sense of that, and we do useful and valuable things, we make decisions, we see opportunities, and we guide our lives. This is challenging because our cognition is finite, our brains are limited, and we live in a world of unlimited information. The quest for Thriving on Overload is how do we get better at cognition when we are overloaded, when there is an unlimited amount of information, where we can take in what information makes the most sense to be able to create the ways of thinking that are useful to us, to act more usefully.

Now, Humans + AI builds on that and amplifies that by saying, how do we take individual human thinking and cognition, and make that better with technology. Part of that is very directly in some ways of filtering information to be able to make sense of that. Part of it is just as I described, being able to suggest to us mental models or ways of thinking to be able to augment us. Part of it is simply applying that in our workflow of what we do every day so that humans can do what they’re best at and the AI can do what it’s best at. But part of that journey is saying, if humans and AI are each doing their role, then we need to be as good as possible at what we do. That’s the Thriving of Overload, it’s being better at the unique human capabilities we have to take in information and make sense of that world.

I think Thriving on Overload and Humans + AI fit together in a way, the Humans + AI without this idea of Thriving on Overload wouldn’t be complete. Because you just can use lots and lots of AI but we need to be better ourselves at what it is we are best at, at that sense-making, at being able to refine our capabilities. In a way, this is a perfect complement of these ideas of Thriving on Overload and amplifying human cognition. Humans + AI is taking that further into a broader space of not just individual humans, but groups of humans and how that’s complemented by technology.

Ruby: That makes a lot of sense. Here’s to get your thoughts on what are some ways listeners can begin to think about using AI to help them thrive?

Ross: That’s what I want to explore from now. Anyway, I’ve been delving, thought deeply, of course, around Thriving on Overload, wrote the book, and built my ideas further since then, now delving into Humans + AI. Now it is the journey to what I’m sharing, what I’m creating, and the podcast of how these fit together. I’ve touched on some of those ideas around this idea of how can we best use AI for filtering, how can we use AI for the framing and the thinking. In the book, I wrote that synthesis is a unique human capability that keeps us out of machines. Now, it’s really interesting that in this generative AI, arguably, it does have the capacity for synthesis, what it is doing is trolling all of the body of work of humans, and making some connections in that, some of which are not obvious to us and some of which are novel to us. I think that’s really interesting.

We’re still the higher order. Part of what AI is doing is pushing us to the higher-order value. In a way that’s to say making us more human, making us go to where it is we are most distinct. There are actually ways in which AI can help us with synthesis to be able to surface, hey, this is a connection which AI perceives, is this a useful perception or not? Humans have the broader context. What does this mean? How does this make sense? What does this impact on who I am as a human? How does this impact society? How does this change organizations? AI is a million miles away from being able to understand, have that level of synthesis. It’s fascinating that AI now actually is able to help us with elements of the synthesis as input.

That’s incredibly exciting, where we can start to get AI to feed into how we are pulling together ideas. That’s no longer the sole domain of humans, it’s still what we do best by far, at a level far beyond what machines can do, but we can start to have AI if we use it well to be a tool for us to synthesize, to move to higher order thinking, to make sense, to view things as systems. Again, the AI can’t do that but it can assist it. Those are a few of the exciting points in how the AI can help us in our journey for thriving in a world of overload.

Ruby: Yes, and I think that’s an interesting point you made. A common misconception about this topic is that AI is going to take over our jobs and replace us but the really idea here is that we’re able to integrate this to amplify our work and accelerate the way we do things and our productivity. That’s a pretty exciting concept that you’re developing.

Just curious to know about how people can identify ways to bring AI into their current workflows. You’ve shared a quote before, people who are not leveraging AI in their day-to-day work will be unemployed, and people who are using AI in their workflows are going to succeed. Just curious to know a little bit more about that quote of yours and how you see this developing in the workplace.

Ross: Part of it is the responsibility of individuals. Part of it is the responsibility of organizations. For anything, not just AI, but other technologies or change, we all have a responsibility for ourselves to learn. This is a changing world, if we don’t keep on learning, we do get left behind, that’s just a reality. This is a very pointed thing where there’s a very strong development of things that do change what it is we can do and how we can work. We do have a responsibility to ourselves and our loved ones, to learn and say, alright, this is something which I might or might not find challenging, difficult, or confronting, but we still need to engage with it. I’m not going to reject this, I’m not going to move away from this, alright, this is something I need to understand more about. That’s part of your life.

Your work is to learn about how can you achieve what you want to achieve, whatever that might be, saving the world or getting more promotions or whatever it is you might want. It’s an opportunity, and something that we need to do is to learn. Organizations need to be very conscious and think very deeply about how they bring this in. For me, the starting point has to be, this is about Humans + AI, this is not about replacing people, forget replacing people, this is not an intention, forget it. Say, all right, look at the wonderful people we’ve got, how can we use them as best as possible, and their roles might change, we might need to educate them, we might need to give them different roles, we might need to find different ways of tapping their potential.

For both individuals and organizations, the first thing is really the mindset of all this changing, we have to learn how to do it. We have to focus on how it is people can do more and be more. This is a journey. It’s every day, there are pretty extraordinary announcements. The course I’m running on AI-powered productivity starts in nine days, and between now and then, there are going to be some big announcements, which are going to change the nature of what’s happening. During that course and beyond, things are going to be changing. We need to be learning the principles. The specifics are interesting and useful. Okay, he has a great tool, let me try to use that.

In a way, rather than being overwhelmed by trying to keep on top of everything, it’s almost like, alright, let’s just try one thing. For example, I’d say try one of the generative AI-Language Tools, Bing, or ChatGPT, or Claude from anthropic, and each day, put in a couple of queries, try to ask it some questions, see if it, gives it something that you’re doing, and see if it can offer any suggestions. That’s just part of that journey. If you’re not playing with it, you can’t learn what it can do.

Ruby: Yes, that makes a ton of sense. You mentioned that you are working on frameworks. You have this course coming up, I just would love to know, what can we expect from you moving forward. What kind of content are you going to be putting out there? Where can we find the resources that you’re creating? And most importantly, what can we expect for the future of the podcast?

Ross: The landing page for resources is At the moment, it just provides some links to the few things which I’m doing in the space at the moment. That will probably build up over time. That’s just an easy reference point, so What I’m thinking about deeply at the moment is, should the podcast change its name? Because now I am focused on Thriving on Overload, that’s why the podcast has been, and now I am broadening my work to include Humans + AI.

As I said, these topics fit completely together. But I feel that this frame of the name Thriving on Overload is restricting because there are some guests or some conversations or some topics, which won’t necessarily fit into this frame of Thriving on Overload. It feels a bit restrictive at the moment. I’ve been playing with some different names for Thriving on Overloading podcast.

Top of the list at the moment is Amplifying Cognition. Cognition is how we make sense of the world, how we take information, make sense and create things of value, and that’s done both through the techniques of Thriving and Overload, but also through amplifying ourselves with AI. There are some other names I’ve been playing with. One is Amplifying Humans, which is a bit broader, but maybe too broad. Cognitive Evolution, this idea which I raised in the last chapter of Thriving on Overload, which is saying, this is all about the evolution of our cognition, how do we make it better and develop it. I think that’s a strong frame for it, except it maybe sounds a bit academic almost.

There are other names Amplifying Intelligence or Augmenting Productivity or things like that, which are related but along the same line, so I’d love any listeners if they have any thoughts on that to let me know. I suppose they’ll say, no, don’t change it from Thriving on Overload, or love the idea of Amplifying Cognition or whatever. It’s a big decision to change the name of the podcast that’s been running for a year and a half and have got some wonderful guests. We’ve had some very good listeners. It’s growing. I want to be cautious about suddenly changing the name and the purview of the podcast, but I think, probably, it will need to shift, and probably to this idea of Amplifying Cognition. What do you think?

Ruby: That’s a great question. I’ve been a part of the Thriving on Overload world and brand for a year now. I’m kind of torn. I have that relationship with Thriving on Overload and know that everything underneath that topic umbrella will exist in the podcast, in the course, in the book. But at the same time, I do think it’s limiting, because a lot of the topics that you’d like to explore and begin to be an expert around, don’t fit under that umbrella. I do think it’s about finding the right name, that will help the current listeners continue to be engaged with what you’re putting out there but also allow you to explore this new territory as well and continue to be an expert in that space.

It sounds like nothing’s set in stone yet. But I’m excited to see how this continues to evolve. It’s great that you’re including the listeners and the community in this decision that you’re making. Change can be scary, or confronting, but you always say, if you’re not changing, or you’re not embracing that change, you’re not growing, you’re not helping create a better future if you’re not open to that. It’s very in line with the Ross Dawson mentality and really exciting stuff.

Ross: I think the key point is that it has to be clear that whatever it becomes is still Thriving on Overload plus more. It’s not leaving it behind. It’s not becoming somebody that it wasn’t; just adding to what it was already. Whatever it becomes, whether it’s Amplifying Cognition, whatever, it’s still Thriving on Overload, but with other things as well. We’ll still have some very similar conversations that we already had around the way people’s information habits, how it is that they thrive in a world of overload, but also adding to that many of the incredible possibilities from how technology can augment us. So yes, this episode is about inviting feedback and thoughts from anybody about where we’re going with this.

Ruby: Exciting stuff.

Ross: Right, wonderful to have a conversation with you, Ruby.

Ruby: Wonderful to chat with you, Ross. Thanks for sharing all of these new exciting ideas and the evolution of Thriving on Overload, really excited to see what’s next.

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Bestselling author of Hooked and Indistractable

Thriving on Overload offers the five best ways to manage our information-drenched world. 

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Founder and Chief Epiphany Officer, Shift Thinking

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CEO, The Herman Group of Companies and Author, Experience Rules

“A timely and important book for managers and executives looking to make sense of the ever-increasing information deluge.”

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Founder, Platformation Labs and Author, Platform Revolution

“This must-read book shares the pragmatic secrets of how to overcome being overwhelmed and how to turn information into an unfair advantage.”

R "Ray" Wang

CEO, Constellation Research and author, Everybody Wants to Rule the World

“An amazing compendium that can help even the most organised and fastidious person to improve their thinking and processes.”

Justin Baird

Chief Technology Office, APAC, Microsoft

Ross Dawson

Futurist, keynote speaker, author and host of Thriving on Overload.

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