Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The McKinsey & Company Report, “And the winner is…” Capturing the Promise of Philanthropic Prizes was released March 3, 2009. The Report concluded that incentive prizes are a unique and powerful tool that should be in the basic toolkit of many of today’s philanthropists. The recent renaissance of prizes is largely due to a new appreciation for the multiple ways in which they can produce change: not only by identifying new levels of excellence and by encouraging specific innovations, but also by changing wider perceptions, improving the performance of communities of problem-solvers, building the skills of individuals, and mobilizing new talent or capital. If you'd like to read the complete report it can be downloaded here.

I recently had an in-depth interview with Paul Jansen of McKinsey & Company on the origins of X PRIZE and discussed my passion and understanding of how incentive prizes work.  Thought you might like to hear it...


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

This week marks the launch of a new University.  It’s rare to launch a new University these days, so I’m very honored and pleased to have given birth to Singularity University ( along with fellow X PRIZE Trustee Ray Kurzweil.  Singularity University (or “SU”) is located on the campus of NASA Ames/Moffett Field.  It has been founded with the support of Corporate Founders of Google and ePlanet Ventures, as well as a dozen Associate Founders (Moses Znaimer, Keith Kleiner, Barney Pell, Klee Irwin, Sonia Arrison, Dan Stoicescu, Georges Harik, Reese Jones, David S. Rose, Sabiha Malik Foster, Peter L. Bloom, Geoffrey Shmigelsky).

SU has just completed the first of 9 weeks of the Graduate Student Program (GSP’09) and I’m extremely pleased and proud of what we have created.  It is real, off and running, and here to stay.

From the Student perspective, we have pulled together an incredible group of brilliant and dedicated graduate students who are all entrepreneurs, driven and passionate about taking on the world’s grand challenges (this year’s class is 40 in size from 13 nations, the program will expand to 120 graduate students next year).  When we selected our students based upon the criteria of academic excellence, demonstrated entrepreneurship and big-picture thinking, we did not know we’d be attracting fun, high-spirited and good natured individuals as well.  I’m pleased the traits matched-up!

Equally rewarding is the Faculty from 10 different disciplines including a half-dozen exponentially growing fields.  Going from a lecture by Vint Cerf on the internet’s origin, to Ralph Merkle on the basics of nanotech, to a lecture by Astronaut Dan Barry on high-risk scenarios in space exploration all in the span of 4 hours is an intellectual feast.  Having Trustees Bob Richards, and Michael Simpson present for the opening week, as well as my co-Founder Ray Kurzweil was fantastic.  We all greatly enjoyed the screening of Transcendent Man -- a truly beautiful film.

Our home at NASA Ames, courtesy of Dr. Pete Worden and NASA HQ is tremendous.  The facilities are excellent and the setting could not be better.  As Pete said in the opening ceremony… Welcome to Starfleet Academy!

SU runs 24x7, and the nickname “sleepless university” has its merits… hopefully things will settle down shortly.  As the first week of ‘getting to know each other’ and ‘introductory lectures’ is behind us, the real work of focusing on the curriculum and figuring out how to bring life to the “10 to the 9th plus” design project (10^9+) is our next challenge.  How can all of the students, staff and faculty work together to design technologies, systems or programs that can positively affect 1 billion people within a decade?

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, SU is special in what and how it teaches.  Homo Sapiens have evolved as a species to think “locally” and “linearly” and SU is focused on teaching how to think “globally” and “exponentially.”  This is not an institution which seeks to compete with the MITs, Stanfords, or Oxfords of the world, but rather has been founded to complement those existing programs in a meaningful and unique fashion.  Most importantly to build a cadre of future leaders who are connected and empowered to take on humanity’s grand challenges in a significant fashion.

It is my fervent hope that the Graduates of SU will be the leadership that pursues X PRIZEs in the decades ahead.

For those of you not able to participate in SU this summer, there will be two options for you going forward (   Consider applying for the GSP-2010 program which will take place in late June through August 2010.  Next year we will be accepting ~120 students into the program.  ALSO, for the Executives interested in SU, we will be launching our 3-Day and 10-Day Executive Programs starting this November 2009.  They are limited in size so please let us know of your interest ASAP.

I’d like to close by saying thank you to our super-star staff and teaching fellows who are working 48x7 to make this program happen.  Special thanks to Susan Fonseca-Klein, Bruce Klein, Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom and our Executive Director, Salim Ismail for all that you are doing.

Best personal regards,

Peter H. Diamandis

Chairman & CEO, X PRIZE Foundation

Vice-Chancellor & co-Founder, Singularity University

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rev up Your Company’s Innovation Engine with Candor

By Keith Ferrazzi

I spoke at the X PRIZE Foundation’s incentive2innovate (i2i) Conference last month in NY. But when it was my turn at the podium, my take was that a conference about collaboration and innovation shouldn’t be dominated by one way communication – so as usual, I got the audience interacting with each other. Also as usual, my emphasis was on the need to be CANDID.

When candid exchanges between people collide, the fusion generates entirely new insights, new ideas, and new approaches—what we collectively call innovation, where value is created—that might never have been considered independently. Candor gives us the ability to take risks, preparing us to solve problems collaboratively—both at work and in our personal lives—with better results than we would ever have achieved alone.

So the question is, how do we create a culture of candor in our workplaces? For one, we need the core mindsets of Generosity and Vulnerability to create what I call a “safe place” where we can trust each other to be honest.
But also, whether or not you’re officially a leader in your workplace, you can create a tremendous impact on its culture just by showing others the value of inviting in candor. With that in mind, here are some specific tips for drumming up some candid feedback in your life and work.

1. Find People You Respect
We can’t be candid with everybody—nor would we want to be. Which is why we should each find or create a workplace where we're surrounded by people whom we respect. What do I mean by respect? It comes down to acknowledging another person’s uniqueness, value, perspective, and wisdom. If you don’t respect someone, believe me, they’ll sense it, and it will be impossible to establish a safe place between the two of you.

2. Create the Opportunity

To open up a dialogue with another person and ask for his candid feedback, you might need to tee things up in advance of a meeting with an e-mail, so your friend or coworker has time to ponder what he might say beforehand. Here’s an example: “Jim—I was hoping you would do me a favor. You know I’m gunning for that promotion. Frankly, I could use all the advice I can get. I really respect your opinion. You see me every day—would you be willing sometime to give me a half-hour of candid feedback about what I do well, and what I am less strong on, from your perspective?”

3. Make It Clear Any Feedback You Get Is a Gift

Express your gratitude when you receive feedback. What you’re asking for is a gift—of time, honesty, and thoughtful feedback.

4. Acknowledge Your Faults

Don’t try to pretend to be something you’re not. Most of us know, deep inside, what’s holding us back. By acknowledging that you have things to work on, you make it much easier for others to be honest with you. You might begin: “Listen, I know I’ve got plenty of stuff to work on, but I hoped you might be able to point out a few things in particular that I could focus on.” By acknowledging up front that you’re imperfect (who isn’t?), you pave the way for another person to be honest with you.

5. Tell the Other Person What You  Plan to Do with the Advice

You’re not asking for advice to put the other person on the spot, or to “test” her. You’re certainly not going to get angry or defensive. Make clear that you’re simply gathering information and you'd like his or her honest opinion.

6. Don’t Tell Them What You Want to Hear

My advice is to begin generally and wait for the other person to make the first move by coming up with something specific. If she hems, haws, and otherwise resists giving you targeted feedback, say something like, “Really—I mean it. I would be deeply appreciative.” Then pause. A pause is a very effective way to encourage others to respond—most people will do anything to avoid an awkward or embarrassing silence. Be sure you don’t start by leading the witness—by identifying your faults and asking the other person to confirm them. You’re after candor here, not an echo effect.

7. Ask Specific Questions

Once the other person has given feedback, it’s okay to bring up specific examples about yourself that you want to get reactions to. For example, you may say, “I think I may come across too strong. What do you think? Do you recall any specific examples?”

8. Take It or Leave It—but Deliver on Safety

Remember that asking for criticism doesn’t mean you have to act on it. Criticism is what it is: candid feedback from someone you respect and whose opinion matters to you. Ultimately, you decide how or whether you use or act on that feedback. When I disagree with someone’s perspective, I simply say, “Thank you,” or “I appreciate hearing that.” If I’m confused, I’ll ask for clarification—before thanking the person once again!