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AI imposter syndrome is real: To keep up with the changing workplace, many pros feel they need to overstate their AI knowledge

by | Sep 13, 2023 | Public Relations

Because of its quick rise and rapid incorporation into business practices, just a small proportion of professionals are adequately trained on how to use AI well enough to achieve optimal productivity, but they sure understand the need to have and know about these skills at their company or any job they are applying for, and even among friends and family—so until actually called to task, new research from visual communication platform Canva reveals that many find it easier, or even necessary, to just say they know more than they do. What could go wrong?

The firm’s findings from a survey of 1,000 business professionals, conducted by research partner Sago, finds that this “strategy” is not limited to college grads and junior workers: More than a third of senior leaders (VPs and above) said they have exaggerated their AI knowledge in work (38 percent) or personal (39 percent) settings, suggesting that when it comes to learning AI, the playing field is level despite differences in experience.

AI imposter syndrome is real: To keep up with the changing workplace, many pros feel they need to overstate their AI knowledge

Why is this happening? In the fast-moving race to understand AI, employees are trying to balance their performance with spending time learning new tools, though many lack the time or resources to do so effectively. The result is a collective experience in which they are being inundated with conversation about AI and feeling increased pressure to appear tech-savvy, but don’t yet have a deep or practical understanding of how to best use the technology.

But amid this sea change, employers have an opportunity to foster AI skill-building to prevent imposter syndrome in the workplace.

The survey unveiled a range of reactions to AI’s rise:

Professionals feel a need to keep up appearances as they learn

  • 26 percent of professionals surveyed say they have sometimes exaggerated their knowledge of AI or generative AI at work to keep up with superiors or colleagues.
  • 72 percent said they were familiar or very familiar with the term “artificial intelligence,” but this number dropped to 51 percent when asked about familiarity with “generative AI.”

Millennials are leading the uptake and adoption of AI, having the most positive perceptions of generative AI in the workplace

  • 59 percent said that they believe generative AI is part of the solution when it comes to helping humans achieve their full potential in the workplace, compared to 43 percent of Gen Z.
  • Meanwhile, over a third (36 percent) of Gen Z said they felt like AI is a problem when it comes to humans achieving their full potential at work, compared to 18 percent of millennials.

AI imposter syndrome is real: To keep up with the changing workplace, many pros feel they need to overstate their AI knowledge

AI know-how is increasingly important outside of work, too

  • While 35 percent of professionals have used AI tools in the workplace, more (43 percent) have used AI in a personal capacity.
  • 21 percent of respondents say they have overstated their knowledge with friends and family. Why? 26 percent said it was because they did not want to look foolish for not knowing or needing to ask for clarification.

Despite their knowledge gaps, professionals clearly believe in the importance of learning AI

  • 41 percent of professionals worry that they will fall behind in their jobs if they don’t know how to leverage AI.
  • Those who have worked to improve their AI and generative AI knowledge find it fun (44 percent) and confidence-boosting (35 percent).

Given the vast majority (85 percent) of professionals indicated they are at least somewhat interested in improving their AI and generative AI skills and knowledge, employers may be well poised to offer time for learning and access to easy-to-learn tools that best suit their teams’ needs.

“The AI space is evolving faster than any one of us can grasp alone. It’s a simultaneously thrilling and overwhelming opportunity that people are naturally reacting differently to,“ said Cameron Adams, co-founder and chief product officer at Canva, in a news release. “In our product, we’ve tried to make it a no-brainer to start using AI by embedding it in familiar or intuitive ways. A quick and empowering way to start learning AI is by using it for low-stakes tasks, like a meeting agenda or a lesson outline. Creating a culture of sharing AI experiences and learnings among teams can prevent people from feeling behind and spark new discoveries.”

AI imposter syndrome is real: To keep up with the changing workplace, many pros feel they need to overstate their AI knowledge

To put respondents’ feelings about AI into perspective, the researchers created five audience segments based on the data that reveal which professionals are driving—or detracting from—the conversation around generative AI:

  • Emerging leaders (23 percent of professionals surveyed): This group has committed to learning AI over the past 4-6 months, and are leading or actively participating in AI work conversations. These are the “firstcomers” or “early adopters” of workplace technology.
  • Learners (13 percent of professionals): They are starting to commit themselves to learning and are active listeners in AI conversations (soon-to-be emerging leaders). These are the “fast followers” of generative AI tools at the office.
  • AI Curious (28 percent of professionals—this is the “silent majority”): They are currently non-users but already see the connection to gen AI and their careers. They know they should start learning, but there’s a blocker (this is the next group to “convert”) and the way we do that is largely a) making generative AI practice “fun and exciting,” b) lean into curiosity at the consumer level to grow confidence for professional uses, and c) show how AI can help them do their work faster and improve quality.
  • Detractors (19 percent of professionals): This group is actively pushing back against AI tech, calling it “a fad” and believing it’s “part of the problem” at work.
  • Imposters (17 percent of professionals): This group is often ambiguous, sometimes looking like emerging leaders (or other audiences), but their hallmark is that they admit they have stretched the truth about generative AI skills at work, and overreport knowing fake AI terms.

In July 2023, Canva commissioned Sago to survey 1,000 professionals (those who work in a business setting) on their level of comfort and understanding around AI and generative AI tools, both in and out of the workplace.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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