Imagine spending 12 hours a day for a week having non-stop life changing, exponentially advancing technology breakthroughs downloaded into your primitive brain (they reminded us that our brains have not been upgraded in 50,000 years)! It is somehow both exhilarating and exhausting simultaneously.

I am writing this as I near the end of a one week Executive Program at Singularity University at the NASA Research Center in Silicon Valley with 80 peers from around the globe. Topics have included; dangers of linear thinking in an exponential world, robotics, nanotechnology, energy, health, biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, big data, crowdsourcing, and more. As I speak to the investors, CEOs, and Innovation Officers in attendance about the experience, their reactions are similar; “Transformational”, “Amazing”, “I have so many ideas to take back to my company!”

It would not be an overstatement to say that any leader who does not take the time to be exposed to the world-changing, transformational technologies that are occurring today is at a severe disadvantage and likely to find themselves as one of the 4 in 10 companies that will not survive the next decade. The world champion at both chess and Jeopardy today are not human beings, and a mediocre player with the help of artificial intelligence can now beat a human world champion.

A diesel truck running on natural gas

A diesel truck running on natural gas

The same is true in many fields. Increasingly, the best leaders can no longer win when competing with average leaders who have the best technology to back them up. Of course, this is not news. Imagine trying to lead an organization without the support of telephones, automobiles, airplanes, computers. No one could compete without those tools over the last 50 years. However, are you using newer tools like 3D printers, Artificial Intelligence, big data, robots, and gamification?

Understanding the latest tools that are available, as well as those still coming, is a space Singularity University hopes to fill among leaders desperate to know what’s coming next. Understanding how seemingly unrelated fields are converging gives us the opportunity to disrupt our industry, rather than be the one being disrupted.

A mattress company is now providing mattresses that report on vital health signs, as is a toilet manufacturer and many Smartphone apps. Previously unrelated industries like these are now converging with the medical sector and providing much higher value to their customers. The underlying message throughout the week was that the technologies that will increasingly be disrupting the status quo are exponential in nature, which means that they are initially over-hyped and underperform. Think about the first shoebox-sized mobile phones.

As they improved and acceptance doubled each year or two they began to gain traction slowly. Then suddenly, they became omnipresent and game-changing! Consider some of the statements I heard this week: “Kids under 5 today may never learn how to drive.” “We can compute inside a cell now! 8-bit computing is already possible and this is just the beginning.” “By 2029 Artificial Intelligence will be at the same level of humans.”

No one is here to play small. The challenge on a banner in front of the class all week was this:

“How will you improve the lives of a billion people?”

Imagine the world we will create if we all take on that challenge! Wear a helmet and buckle up!