The first day at Singularity University was just as I had imagined: extremely inspiring! There were 98 participants, mostly entrepreneurs, from all over the world—36 nationalities were represented. Day 1 was essentially a teaser to set the right atmosphere for the rest of the week-long experience. It was like a chakra-opening session in some sense. All the conferences on the agenda had some link to developing our capacity to react to uncertainty. Here are a few moments I found particularly interesting.
How to predict the future?
The first thing to know about predicting the future is that you can’t predict the future. At best, you can take a gamble. This is why Stanford Professor, Paul Saffo, introduced himself as more of a forecaster than a futurologist.
He began his presentation by explaining that the good thing about gambling is that if it goes wrong, at least everything happens quickly. This is because failed gambles generally stem from a cognitive bias. And this is how Kodak, with the digital camera invention in its hands since 1975 thanks to Steve Sasson, missed a major business opportunity because the company considered that the digital resolution wasn’t good enough to sell. One of the company’s keys to success, namely delivering high quality photos, turned into a bias the moment this resolute pursuit missed the watershed that was taking place.
Saffo reminded the congregation that winners aren’t those who are first in coming up with a great idea, but rather those who come last in exploiting the great idea at the right moment. For example, although Nokia had invented touch screens and apps before Apple, it had done so a little too early.
The main benefit in trying to predict the future is that it forces us to look ahead. And developing long-term thinking often helps us to understand what can take place in the present.
Choose “Yes, and…” over “Yes, but…”
Dan Klein, improvisation professor at Stanford University, then had us carry out simple and quirky exercises, to innovate as part of a team. Let’s be honest here, starting our sentences with “no” or “yes, but…” does kill the creativity of our respondents. These are what we call blockers. “Yes, but…” can be useful where an idea has been sowed, has started to grow, and the time has come to perfect it. But it is neither useful nor effective when it comes to developing new ideas.
The first thing to do is stop trying to be the best all the time and rather show enough trust toward our respondents to allow them to deliver the best of themselves. But we’re not used to helping others shine, because nothing in our environment—whether at school or at work—encourages us to set ourselves aside for common benefit.
Stop trying to be the best all the time
To help others give the best of themselves and let ideas emerge, we have to replace our accustomed objections with “Yes, and…”. The aim is to follow the direction of the reasoning process put to us and see where it leads us. After all, having multiple approaches within a group makes teams stronger over time, more so than when an agreement is reached straight away because everyone reasons in the same way.
Team cohesion builds on success, but also failure
Klein had us complete a few short exercises to train us on making mistakes quickly. It started with group activities with two or three participants doing exercises that were designed to generate success, so as to strengthen links between team members. He then made the exercises more difficult to make sure we would get them wrong, showing us that failure could enhance team spirit even more, on condition of course that team members follow the right approach to failure.
For this, the professor had us celebrate each failure with victory fist bumps and high-fives and team chants. Celebration must highlight our own failures but also those of our respondents to avoid them feeling guilty and also to assert team solidarity.
We celebrated each failure with victory
fist bumps and high-fives and
It was incredible how the atmosphere in the room became lighter and lighter, with laughter growing as we kept getting the exercises remarkably wrong. The aim here was to unlearn the reactions we had gotten into the habit of having in the face of failure and mistake, and to realize, on the contrary, the learning and development opportunities these situations represent. Many national education systems no doubt need to look into making a few adjustments in this regard.
So go ahead and predict the future, get it wrong, and laugh it off! But do so as a team, and encourage others to go through with their ideas. This will undeniably lead you to worlds unknown. And isn’t that the essence of innovation? Plus, even if it doesn’t lead you to the expected outcome, you’ll certainly make other discoveries along the way. So, let’s go! And see you tomorrow!
Go check it out the 1st episod of this Singularity University series here: Is there a future for privacy?