Welcome to 2017! And a Future we can all believe in…

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You need really believe not only in yourself… you have to believe the world is actually worthy of your sacrifices.  Zaha Hadid (architect)

Whew… it’s 2017!! We made it! Yet who knows what’s coming next…  Brexit, our mind-boggling election process, and the Netflix sci-fi show Black Mirror have all rocked my view of what’s possible and made me question so, so many things…! Below are my observations on where we are, an intro to a few of our new PYNKrs, and my thoughts on a new experience I want to create this year… it’s chock full of links and designed to be scanned in 2 min, read in 10min or explored over time… so I encourage you to wander through just as fast or slowly as you like:


Personally, 2016 was a fascinating and humbling year…

It was amazing to try to build a new company with some of the top artificial intelligence engineers in the country… and so disappointing to face the end of that big start-up dream. My buddy Byron Reese (a tech utopian author and entrepreneur) and I then designed and built Gigaom Change 2016: an executive conference to explore the “why + what” of the seven most transformative technologies and their pending impact business; it was a huge content + audience success as the top innovators in AI, Robotics, VR, Nanotechology, 3D Printing, Cybersecurity and Human-Machine Interface painted vivid pictures of the future near and far — and yet we heard some who attended still had a difficult time convincing their colleagues this was worth going to on company (vs personal) time… dang! And most recently I witnessed how the Sustainability team of our country’s largest private energy company is defining their very big goals and navigating their work inside a legacy organization and infrastructure heavy industry (here is a powerful, short interview with their former CEO… ). So here is the headline: through each of these strategic adventures I have been surrounded by folks playing mighty big, and I understood, viscerally, both how promising the future is AND how challenging it can be to build.    

While I lost my writing voice for some reason, I gave more talks than ever to groups eager to understand what’s coming, participated on panels with some bold change makers and learned a ton from those generous with their time and thinking including philosophical icon Ken Wilbur, an audience with His Royal Highness the Dalai Lama and the bravest, most resilient person I’ve ever met named Maria. From this POV, I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to believe both industry and society are undergoing massive changes for which we are not preparing so well… and that we are in real need of new models of leadership, learning and ways of building truly integrated, sustainable systems — for all (…for some encouragement, here is a hopeful talk by Peter Senge on systems thinking for a better world).

As we continue to witness, the tricky part is respecting that we each stand on different places along this transformation curve –- and that we don’t all feel equally prepared to navigate what’s ahead. Lots of compassion is required – for ourselves and for others.


Here’s what I see:

There is a growing lag between those building the new and the rest sorting through how to adapt — and the tension this creates is growing every day.  While many organizations are still working through the most effective mobile strategies and whether to count PTO days, nanotechnology is redefining physics, sensors have become so small they can be embedded in plants to detect danger and AI, Robotics, Virtual + Augmented Reality and 3D+ Printing are poised to change every single business, household, medical and retail experience forever… (we all pray for the better!). Beth Comstock, Vice Chair at GE, wrote a great description of this space we are in — where the old is dying and the new is not quite clear — in her recent “Welcome to the Emergent Era” essay.

Meanwhile, this is happening against a cultural backdrop of increasingly bi-polar and biased wealth/health/education realities, which means that while some are courageously taking on big challenges like the ethics of AI, creating settlements on Mars and having a drone deliver my lunch, others are trying hard to find their place – and maintain their value — in both our society and in a quickly shifting new economy. Which then raises very real questions about the future of working… and of jobs at all?

That all said, I have huge hopes we can now tackle big problems in completely revolutionary ways. And am passionate this is a message our frighteningly stressed-out kids all need to hear.


News to Pay Attention To:

The great news is that we have never lived in safer times.

And yet we can’t ignore news of rising depression, drug use and hate/fear-fueled violence as these are becoming very real issues for society’s teens and children. While many point to school stress and cyberbullying, I believe this rise in youth depression and self-harm is also a result of the conflicting messaging they hear all around them about what the future holds and how prepared they feel to take it on. They need to hear the good news. And believe they have a place in it.

So with the deeply alarming suicide stats — attempts among children ages 10-14 are up 135%?! (and tripled for girls) flashing in my brain, I was full of genuine hope and enthusiasm as I talked with nearly a hundred 8th graders at my daughter’s Career Day about the things that excite the hell out of me. We discussed the potential of hydroponic farming, autonomous vehicles, distributed networks, abundant energy and huge AI enabled breakthroughs in understanding how our bodies, businesses and societies work.

And it’s not just start-ups; I am so inspired to see the bets companies like UPS and HP are placing on the future as they invest in building a global 3D Manufacturing network (imagine: no more warehouses, so much less waste). How Airbnb is opening markets for our passions (not just our empty rooms). AT&T is committed to reskilling 280,000 employees. And even the Pentagon is learning to move faster and partner more collaboratively with private enterprise; check out the DIUx – Defense Innovation Unit Experimental outpost in Austin. And a growing chorus across the aisles is advocating for a complete revamp of our social structures as they rationally debate the benefits of giving every one of us a Universal Basic IncomeIf these entrenched behemoths can be changed, imagine what the rest of us can accomplish… if we believe it’s worth the trouble.


Building the “Human Cloud”

So the question that’s been banging around in my head these days is how do we humans keep up with such huge, swift changes? As we consider for a minute the way the digital cloud has made it possible for tech advances such as big data, AI algorithms + knowledge graphs, and the growing Internet of Everything to exist, I mused during a panel discussion earlier in the year, “so what is the equivalent for humans? Is there a similar ‘accelerant’ that will allow humans to keep up, thrive, and also blossom in era of constant technological (and by extension, societal) disruption?”.

Funny enough, Peter Diamandis, co-founder of Singularity University, just last week described what he imagines could (will?) be a dramatic transformation in what it means to be human. He sees us rapidly heading towards what he calls a “Meta-Intelligence,” a future in which we are all highly connected — brain to brain via the cloud — sharing thoughts, knowledge and actions. While extraordinary to consider, I believe we don’t need to wait until all of our brains are uploaded and synthesized to tap into the magnified benefits of connected beingness. Said another way, I firmly believe that if we value and incentivize three behaviors, we’ll have a healthier, happier and increasingly productive society. I see “the human cloud” as the potential realized when we invest in:

1)         stoking our immense curiosity

2)         forming strong, reciprocal connections with each other and

3)         becoming more aware of and in tune with our own (and our collective) consciousness.

While these may seem like basics, I rarely see these actively encouraged or incentivized in organizations, schools, many families or even within ourselves! Makes sense — in the face of growing email and Slack threads, reading a whole book, going to a play or inviting a person to lunch can feel like a huge indulgence. Yet I am convinced that investing time and energy in learning new stuff and building meaningful relationships is fundamental to being an effective, confident navigator through constantly changing terrain. It’s what nearly every author who writes about innovation concludes. How creators spend their time. And it is what our kids should see us doing.

The research is also becoming increasingly clear that we need each other. Not only is loneliness starting to actually kill us, but artists’ colonies have demonstrated for years — and the rise of co-working and now co-living movements are proving again –- that cultivating community really matters. We are more confident and courageous builders of the new when we are around those who can teach, stretch, and support us. When we feel a sense of belonging, we can offer the same to others. And a story just out yesterday describes how global co-working company WeWork is even trying to help rework how DC does business.


Meet our new PYNKr’s!

It’s also why I’m so grateful for the PYNKrs my kids, my TEDxYouth@Austin team, my clients and I get to have in our lives… these folks are architecting what’s coming next in all sorts of ways and domains. They are also the people you need to know and so we’ve updated our public list and are thrilled to introduce you to brilliant non-conformists such as:

  • Dr. Leyla Acaroglu –- passionate founder of Disrupt Design and The UnSchool + recent recipient of the UN Environmental Champions Award
  • Doreen Lorenzo –- former president of frog design who’s now leading the new Center of Integrated Design at UT
  • Dr. Mike North –- an “Experimental Gentleman”, Inventor, Technology Storyteller your kids have likely seen on “Outrageous Acts of Science”
  • Chip Conley –- a legend in the hospitality world who took on a dual role at Airbnb as both intern + mentor last year… and is now writing about the need he sees for the “Modern Elder” … and
  • Julia Ormond – actress and founder of ASSET, a non-profit tackling labor slavery in bold, systemic ways

These PYNKrs – and the rest we’ve listed — are designing new social structures, tackling growing societal issues and redefining norms. And they want to help you!


Wanna join us for a Human Cloud Experience?

This year I plan to create an event where humanism meets the most disruptive technologies (doesn’t that sound like fun?!). Gigaom Change 2016 was a potent event in which the leading experts in the most disruptive technologies helped us see how these advances are changing business. And while it helped us better understand what each of these technologies are, why they matter and where they are heading, it raised twice as many questions as it answered. Especially around what all this means for us as people.

At the close of the 2.5 day event, my dear friend and long-time PYNKr with the biggest brain ever, Jerry Michalski, and I had a stage discussion in which we explored how these same technologies are impacting society. You can see it here … but this is just a peek into a much bigger, deeper and more interesting conversation for us all to have. Ethics, sharing the wealth, the need to (re)build trust, redefine our identities, our values and our social structures …and learning how we can best support each other, redesign our organizations and keep ourselves strong and sane during this shift are ALL conversations we should be having right now. And that we want to have with you! So let me know if this excites you, too, and please stay tuned for details…

Because you, my friend, rock. As we jump into this wide open future, thank you for being a part of my world… and for all you are doing to make it brighter, safer and more accessible to everyone. And let’s please give today’s youth lots of good to believe in, too!

Wishing you a very happy and hopeful New Year!

Love, Nancy

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