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The Demise of Madison Avenue -- 5 Steps to Crowdsource Creative Video Genius

Peter Diamandis   |   March 1, 2013    4:01 PM ET

In this blog I'm going to talk further about the video content creation site Tongal and outline its founder James DeJulio's suggestions for how best to use it.

As we saw in my last blog, Tongal uses exponential mechanisms to create video advertising content that's much more cost-effective, timely and downright creative than the "linear-thinking" mindset of Hollywood or Madison Avenue. As founder +James DeJulio told me, "When you have a closed system that's run by insiders, you're going to get closed outputs, you're going to get the same outputs all the time and you're going to get less people."

Tongal does away with that by opening up creativity to the crowd and creating competitions that reward people for their creativity, rather than for whom they know.

I'm really impressed by the thinking behind Tongal. A Tongal competition to make a 15-second ad can be done in a few days -- much less time than it would take a traditional bureaucracy-bound ad agency to even get a first round of creative conversations going.

"We just completed a great project for Unilever for their 'I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!' brand. It literally took three weeks," DeJulio said, "and resulted in multiple versions of a TV ad. The brand got really excited. It's empowering. Companies will see a thousand ideas. Statistically speaking, in the pool of a thousand ideas there is going to be some that you never would have thought of."

Another brand, LEGO, tapped into the Tongal crowd to further its connection with its audience of LEGO lovers. "LEGO was such a brilliant content marketer and its business is two times bigger than it was five years ago," he said. "They've invited people who love this brand to get involved, and that invites creativity just by the nature of it. It invites different kinds of thinking. LEGO is leveraging our platform to harness the creative energy that's out there around LEGO. It gets amazing results across different product lines. It's not canned. It's somebody's true creativity coming to the surface."

In effect, through Tongal, a brand gets to make the important big decisions but allows the creative genius out there to be the pure director. Madison Avenue, for example, will charge millions on annual retainers from a brand and the brand will get only a few content ideas for that money.

"A large brand will typically spend between 10 percent and 20 percent of their media buy on creative," DeJulio said. "So, for example, if they have a $500-million media budget, there's somewhere between $50 to $100 million going towards creating content. For that money they'll get maybe seven to 10 pieces of content. And," DeJulio adds, "if you're going to spend $1 million on one piece of content, it's going to take a long time, six months, nine months, a year to fully develop. With this budget and timeline you have no margin to take chances creatively."

By contrast, Tongal competitions generate an average of 422 concepts in the idea phase, followed by an average of 20 to 100 finished video pieces in the video production phase. That is a huge return for the invested dollars and time.

"The majority of the creative people working in the Tongal community were hobbyists who grew up making content for the Internet," said DeJulio, "but as our prize purses have steadily increased in value, we're starting to see super-talented people -- who would otherwise have been hired in the traditional advertising industry -- opt into using our platform instead. And, as Tongal-generated content gets better, brands are putting more money on the line. It's a very positive, self-reinforcing cycle. So now, it's not unusual to have a $50,000 or $60,000 prize purse result in a set of deliverables for which a traditional agency would have normally charged millions."

And compared to those millions of dollars, these purses generate dozens of usable ideas. "What we're finding is that people who are real professional are starting to develop commercials through Tongal because they can be creative and provide quality work with far less bureaucracy, without having to get on a million conference calls."

At this point in my interview, I'm sold on Tongal and thinking about how I can use it for X PRIZE, Singularity U, Planetary Resources, and even promoting Abundance and BOLD. So I ask DeJulio to give me advice on the key lessons and advice he'd offer an early user to consider. Here's his answer:

  1. Have an open mind -- allow different ideas into your way of thinking. "Don't do what's expected," DeJulio said. "Try something new." Allow the crowd to come up with wild and crazy bold ideas that might complement the genius of your brand. "Trust us, trust the process, don't try to recreate what you're doing normally. The goal is to get something new and fresh."

  2. Know what you want. "If you know where you want to go, the process will get you to that point," DeJulio said. For example, decide whether you want to use Tongal to create a television commercial or a series of YouTube shorts. "Once you know that, we reverse-engineer everything to get you there and the community will do the rest of the work. That's the brilliant part of this is. Turn the signal on and it will find its way."

  3. Offer a good-size purse. "This would still be a fraction of what you might normally pay," DeJulio said, "but if you offer a bit more, you're going to attract more players and better content. The higher the purse, the higher the quality of deliverables. The more diversity you will get." A purse size can range from $2,500 to $250,000 (and more going forward). "But we're really talking about six-figure compared to a seven- or eight-figure sum" that might be charged by a traditional advertising agency.

  4. Allocate less time than traditionally needed for a campaign to be created. The typical Madison Avenue process takes between six months to a year, and sometimes as long as two years to come up with, develop and fully execute on a concept. With Tongal, it can go from concept to execution in weeks, even days. In general, DeJulio said, "Tongal comes in "10 times better, 10 times faster, 10 times cheaper."

  5. Use Tongal as a distribution mechanism to drive traffic to your video content. "There are people who are good at coming up with ideas, there are people who are good at producing the content and there are people who are really good at sharing content so we opened up a third Tongal competition phase for them," DeJulio said. "We call it our Exhibition Phase. If someone is good at pushing page views, this Exhibition Phase is a chance for them to shine. Someone with a YouTube channel, friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter, could earn cash and prizes for sharing Tongal videos with friends and fans." In success, this final phase will drive millions of views to the videos you create on Tongal.

Tongal offers a CEO or CMO the opportunity to "have an open mind, to find new markets, to find a new voice for their brand," says DeJulio. "The world is changing so fast, and getting hung up on your brand equity from 20 years ago may not be the best decision." And if you're looking for something new, you may not look for creativity from your traditional sources. "Sometimes if five brilliant people get together you can get to something really exciting and really creative. But why would you ever bet on the same five people over and over again? The world's a big place," says DeJulio, "I believe that talent is scarce but I don't think it's just five people -- I think its 50 million people, and Tongal can help you tap into that amazing crowd of genius."

In my next blog, I follow up with DeJulio on Tongal's recent Super Bowl win for Speed Stick.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

How Science Can Deal With Sequestrations and Fiscal Cliffs

XPRIZE   |   March 1, 2013    3:06 PM ET

2013-03-01-Katsouleas_tom.jpgBy Tom Katsouleas
Tom Katsouleas is Dean of Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering. He serves as Chair of the National Academy of Engineering's Advisory Committee on Engineering Grand Challenges for the 21st Century.

Facing the threat of sequestration and declining appropriations, federal science funding agencies from the NIH to NSF and DoD and others are considering how to deal with such downturns. Administrative staff and boards are convening and some of the early suggestions are worrisome. As an example, one council member at an institute of the NIH contemplating a 10% budget cut bemoaned the fact that this would more than decimate any new proposals they could fund in the coming year. The NSF yesterday sent a message to all university presidents with the same message; namely that under sequestration they would reduce the number of new science awards by 1,000.

The rationale they were locked into was the same one that gets poker players into trouble chasing an inside straight. They viewed the prior commitments as something they were "committed" to - in just the way the poker player sees his bets as committing him. One NIH Institute Advisory Council member told me they "can't" cut existing programs because the scope of work agreed to in the grant could not be fully completed if they did. That means the entire burden of budget cuts falls to new projects and new ideas.

Engineers view the problem differently -- as a multi-variable optimization problem. In this case, what needs to be optimized is the overall mission and core values of the institution.

In this case, there is an aspect of the mission to ensure not only the quality and value of current science but the nurturing of new ideas and a new cadre of investigators that will be critical to the future. Taken in this context, one has to weigh the cost of prematurely ending a protocol and possibly jeopardizing five years of citizen investment in a current research discovery against killing off career paths and future ideas for generations to come - just like a poker player needs to weigh the odds of his hand becoming a winner with more bets. But unlike poker players, agencies have more options than just calling or folding; in many cases, the scope of work could be reduced 10% without completely eliminating the value of the entire project.

To see why this sort of analysis is so important, consider the following oversimplified model. If all grants are currently funded for five years, then 20% of the budget is in each year. If no existing grants are cut, then the 10% cut must fall entirely on the new grants which were 20% of the budget, thus reducing them by half to roughly 10% of the budget. This would reduce the pay line on already ridiculously low success rates by a factor of two -- NIH could go from an 18% success rate to 9%, cutting out half or more of new investigators and likely forcing them into other career paths, and almost certainly undermining US competitiveness in innovation, not to mention health care.

More broadly, as possible cliffs approach, we encourage the President, Congress and every administrative body confronting them to avoid the natural tendency to protect certain elements as "can't touch" and to evaluate all the tradeoffs in light of the highest priorities and overall mission of the institutions involved. Furthermore, Congress and others should avoid micromanaging how to implement the cuts and let the agencies evaluate what best suits their mission.

No matter how well intentioned (and politically appealing), protecting individual values in isolation of the consequence to other values can never be as optimal as making decisions with the full system in view and on the table. There are too many things we can't imagine doing, until we see the cost of not doing them.

Visit X PRIZE at, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

My Secrets: How I Became a Prolific Writer and Learned to Get Beyond School Essays

XPRIZE   |   February 28, 2013    3:10 PM ET

Vivek.jpgBy Vivek Wadhwa
Vice President of Academics and Innovation, Singularity University.

Some people think I am a journalist. My friends ask how I can possibly write as much as I do given all the responsibilities that I have. I write for The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, ASEE Prism Magazine, LinkedIn Influencers blog, and Bloomberg BusinessWeek. I've just co-authored a book, Immigrant Exodus, which The Economist named a book of the year. And I am working on two more books: one about women in tech and another about how the U.S. can reinvent itself. Writing is just a hobby; my day job is as an academic and researcher.


I get so much feedback from my writing that I know it is making an impact and is well worth the effort I put into it. It is the best way of sharing ideas and educating. That is why I do it and why I encourage others to write. And that is why I thought I should share some secrets about how a guy like me got into writing. It may motivate others to find their own path.

If you look at my education and background, you'll see that I started my career as a nerdy computer programmer who happened to build a far-out technology that led to the creation of a software company. This startup, Seer Technologies, achieved extraordinary success and transformed me into an entrepreneur. Much later, I became an academic.

I exited my second startup, Relativity Technologies, because of health problems. I decided to do something completely different for a while: help produce a Bollywood film. This caught the attention of BusinessWeek tech editor Alex Salkever, who had followed and written about my tech career. Alex thought that BusinessWeek readers would find my story interesting, and asked me to tell it in my own words.

I don't have any journalism degrees, and have never taken writing classes. Frankly, I barely passed English in grade school, because I hated grammar. I could never figure out what an adverb was, or the difference between a noun and a pronoun. So I had to learn by doing, and all of my writing experience was confined to high-school essays and a few university research reports.

Needless to say, I had no clue how to write a BusinessWeek article. But I didn't tell Alex that. I readily accepted his offer. Then I frantically wrote to journalist friends to ask for advice: how do you write a business article or op-ed? What they said was that I should just write down my thoughts as though I were telling a story to a friend: forget all I had learned about structuring high-school essays; and be brief, hard-hitting, and to the point.

It was really, really hard to do this. The school essays that we are taught to write start with a boring preface, ramble on forever, and save the best part for last. In articles, if you don't capture readers' attention in the first or second paragraph, they lose interest and move on. And you have to say all you can in the fewest words possible. Schoolteachers reward you for verbosity and essay length. They don't read every word; they just skim to see whether you have understood key concepts. Readers of business articles, however, want to learn something, and to gain the most knowledge by the least reading.

It took me more than 40 hours to write my first BusinessWeek piece: Bollywood, Here I come. Then it got progressively easier. It took 30 hours for the next piece, 20 hours on average for the next few, then five to ten hours; and now it takes me two to four hours per piece, depending on how much research it necessitates. When I know my stuff, I can sometimes knock articles over in less than an hour.

These really are the keys to writing blog posts, op-ed pieces and columns, and even testimonies to Congress: to speak fearlessly from the heart, get to the point immediately, keep the message simple and focused, and use the fewest words you can. Note this submission I made to the House Judiciary Committee on immigration reform. I simply told the story as if speaking to a friend.

I'll share another secret. I almost always have a friend look over what I write, checking it for spelling errors, grammar, and sensibility. I am really lucky to have a childhood friend in Australia, John Harvey, who is a perfectionist editor. He drives me crazy with his demands that I add commas and semicolons. Just as the editors I work with at The Washington Post, BusinessWeek, and Wall Street Journal do, he questions everything that I write. Good editors make you fact-check and validate every statement. You can learn a lot from their criticisms.

So writing is a skill that you can learn. It gets easier as you go and will help you make an impact. If you don't have a Bollywood story that you can get BusinessWeek to tell, just write a blog on your own website, or comment on discussion sites such as Quora, LinkedIn, or countless others. Your voice is as important as any other.

Visit X PRIZE at, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

Genius TV Commercials at 1/100th the Price

Peter Diamandis   |   February 28, 2013    1:32 PM ET

In this blog I'm going to talk about how Tongal has revolutionized the world of video-content creation, and how it's been upending the closed world of advertising and Hollywood entertainment by opening up the creative process to the crowd.

I live in L.A., where every coffee shop is filled with scriptwriters, producers and directors. Mix that with the plummeting cost of 1080p high-definition cameras and the awesome software available on every Mac and you have the making of a video production revolution.

No one has done a better job of exploiting this for your benefit than Tongal. Tongal can help you create TV-quality video commercials 10 times cheaper, 10 times faster with 10 times the number of content options than by standard means. I caught up with James DeJulio, co-Founder and president of Tongal, in Los Angeles at the X PRIZE headquarters.

Tongal, founded in 2008, helped spur the creation of groundbreaking video content by crowdsourcing creativity through contests. Tongal has 30,000 members worldwide, and will likely see a million within the next five years. In this interview, DeJulio briefed me on the company's origin and how it works.

DeJulio began his career in investment banking, but quickly realized that finance was not the kind of world he wanted to be in. So he tried Hollywood, "the traditional content development business," as he called it. Like a lot of gifted and highly qualified people in Hollywood, DeJulio started at the bottom. "I couldn't believe how hard it was to get a job that paid so little," he recalled. DeJulio eventually got a position in production at Paramount but grew as disappointed as he had been in the world of finance. "I was frustrated by how many good ideas never saw the light of day, and how there was a small list of people who tightly controlled all the creative work," he said. "It upset me how many talented people there were who want to do this work but couldn't break into the system."

DeJulio's experienced this Hollywood mentality firsthand when his boss, having received a pre-publication copy of Dan Brown's mega-best-seller The Da Vinci Code, asked DeJulio to read it. He read it, thought it was a real page-turner and gave it to his boss, saying, "This is really exciting. The studio should make this film." At that point the studio passed it off to yet another person to read whose coverage read: "This doesn't have any real entertainment value." "That summer I was walking around airports and everybody had a copy of the book under their arm," said DeJulio. "I was getting really frustrated with where we were and how hard it was to get good ideas out there and how every production was based around a financial model."

He thought about how to tackle this challenge, knowing there had to be a better way to develop content. Eventually, DeJulio befriended Jack Hughes, founder of the crowd-sourcing software-solutions company TopCoder (more on TopCoder in a future blog), who helped him realize that the same sort of approach that TopCoder employs in helping companies with their software needs would work for creativity: unleashing the imagination and genius of the crowd (in fact, DeJulio used TopCoder to help build the first iteration of the Tongal website).

"I started to think about how we could turn Hollywood on its head and attack the video content creation problem in a very different way, an incentive-based, self-selected way," said DeJulio. "There are so many people who really want to do this work. It's our mission to unlock the world's creativity and make it accessible. That's very clear. So, we're doing that in a process that we call social-content development. Right now, that process is based largely around connecting global businesses with global creativity. At Tongal our creative workforce consists of 30,000 people all over the globe who are opting in to do this work."

For now, Tongal focuses on short-form content -- videos, commercials and such -- but concentrates on working with name-brand products.

So far Tongal has run about 150 projects. The average project runs from six to 10 weeks (but can be much shorter). Tongal's customers are typically the kind of companies that might normally hire a Madison Avenue advertising firm to create a TV commercial or a webisode for one of its branded products -- a short-form video running between 15 seconds to 2½ minutes. How does it work? To initiate the creation of a commercial the company puts up a purse -- anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 that will be awarded in phases of a competition.

On the other side of the equation are the creative users of Tongal. What DeJulio calls "Garage Studios" -- a couple of guys with a 1080 HD camera and a Mac. For these creative users the service is free -- all they do is log on, browse through the projects and decide what they want to work on.

Tongal breaks down every project into three phases of a competition: (a) ideation, (b) production and (c) distribution. The site allows creative users with different specialties and talents such as writing, directing, animating, acting and social media promotion to focus on what they do best.

In the first competition, the "ideation phase," a client (say a large commercial brand) creates a brief describing its objective. For example, "we want a Super Bowl advertisement to promote product X." A small percent (say 10 - 20 percent) of the total purse is set aside for this initial competition. Tongal members read the brief and submit their best ideas on what they think the commercial should look like. They are restricted to only 500 characters (about three tweets). The customer looks at the submissions and picks a small number of ideas they like, for example the top five, and pays a small portion of the purse to those five winners. Participants can track each other's progress on leaderboards, and there's a record on the site of each individual's winnings: an online résumé of creativity.

In the second phase of the competition, the production phase, any Garage Studio can choose one or more of the five winning concepts and submit a video (e.g., a commercial) into the second phase of the competition.

To make this more concrete, I asked DeJulio for one of his favorite winning video examples. That's when he told me about a $10,000 competition they hosted for ShureTech Brands, the makers of DuckTape. SureTech wanted a 30- to 90-second video to revitalize the DuckTape public image. After launching the "ideation phase" of the process, "SureTech received over 500 video concepts (each about 500 words in length), then used our site to down select and pick the five they want to see brought to life," says DeJulio. "About $2,000 of the $10K purse was split among the winners of this phase. This makes it possible that a person can earn money by winning different phases of the contest, individually or in teams."

Ultimately this second phase of the ShureTech competition drove the creation of 60 different completed videos. "My favorite winning video, called Duck Tron, used various colored roles of duck tape to replicate the Light-Cycle race from the movie Tron. It was so good it became a viral Internet sensation. The Internet just took hold of this thing and it completely disseminated itself across all kinds of channels," DeJulio said. In summary, this $10,000 prize generated some 500 usable video concepts, over 60 completed videos created by people working in their garage studios, and ultimately led to millions of free video impressions for ShureTech. Everything was done outside of the standard operating procedure of an advertising agency and a client. "This was open to the crowd, and the results were far better, and far more cost effective," said DeJulio, "than would have been possible using the old way."

In my next blog, I'm going to explore how Tongal saves companies money, and DeJulio's five steps to keep in mind when considering working with Tongal.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

Crowdcast's Predictive Modeling Bets on Inside Knowledge

Peter Diamandis   |   February 27, 2013    1:39 PM ET

In this blog I'm going to talk about how Crowdcast extracts useful knowledge out of the "information sphere" within a company and helps you predict the future. Crowdcast was recently acquired by Spigit, the leading social innovation platform for enterprise.

When will the product ship? How's the financing going? How's recruiting going? Everyone in business wants status reports. Too often, though, the feedback companies get can be biased by a lack of perspective. Or, frankly, an employee's fear of speaking the truth to upper management.

What Crowdcast does is make collecting critical status updates (predictive modeling) into a kind of betting game, and uses the input from people's insights to analyze possible outcomes. Crowdcast taps into the power of a diverse group of people who have a common set of knowledge but different points of view on the same subject. Employees bet anonymously on answers to questions about the future of their product. It's predictive modeling as a game.

I sat down with Leslie Fine, Crowdcast's chief scientist, at the offices of Singularity University to learn more about Crowdcast, its vision, and to quench my own curiosity of how well these predictions actually work.

"What we do at Crowdcast," said Leslie, "is take the kinds of things people talk about around the water cooler but aren't in the official plan of record. It's all about delivering collective intelligence inside companies, helping companies with what we call social forecasting, taking the power of internal information -- mostly in teams but also in partners -- and aggregating them to better forecast things such as when are we actually going to ship the product and how good it's going to be and how the market may react to it."

Crowdcast came about because CEO Mat Fogarty, who founded the company five years ago, had seen the need for better predictive modeling. At the time, predictive technologies weren't particularly useful outside of stock trading -- they didn't work for the nuts-and-bolts projects within a company. "He wanted numbers and probabilities," Fine said, "and the answers weren't designed for the average person, the average person who wants to come in and say, 'I think it's going to be delayed, I think it's going to be between X and Y,' and be rewarded if he's right and move on. He was really looking to do something a little more business-centric."

Crowdcast is a leveler of opinion, Fine believes. "Inside of companies what we've discovered is there is a big role for anonymity and engagement and recognition," Fine said. "Those things sound like they wouldn't necessarily go together but if you can give people a safe and anonymous way to talk about what they really know in a fashion that is equally valued to superiors, it's that much more useful. One's opinion is heard, and it means something. It isn't just because you're a VP and your voice is louder than mine as an individual contributor."

Crowdcast "can tell you what's going to happen in the future so you can manage towards it," Fine said. "Inside a company you can actually manage the future if you have a better sense of it. Our best implementation is in places where management or middle management has been enlightened enough to say, 'Okay, my people are giving me a really good view of what the future would look like if I don't take action.'"

Crowdcast customers use a software program to express their thoughts, anonymously, by answering questions, knowing that their predictions will be judged on accuracy. "One of the things that we built into our system is also the ability for people to comment and to vote," Fine said. "Sort of Reddit-style with people's comments, all through a dashboard. That allows people to say, 'I think we're going to ship six weeks late because we have promised supplier X.' He just said that anonymously to management. Other people are voting that not only what's going to happen but why. And then management can come in and either react to that or close the loop and send out a message to the people without identifying them and say, 'Hey, we changed to supplier Y. How do you think that's going to affect the future?'"

For example, Crowdcast worked with a large airline manufacturer that had a problem delivering its innovative new aircraft in a timely manner, which proved costly and embarrassing. "We started working with some people at a very senior level in the company," Fine said, "who believed that while there were technological challenges... there were also informational challenges. Often in companies like this one there are a lot of levels of management, and not a very clear path to go talk to senior management about a challenge you see." In addition, Fine said, "As with so many companies, there can be finger-pointing, in which it's someone else's fault. So we came in and started forecasting the very small milestones that led up to those major deployments." The Crowdcast project started with a few hundred people and has proved so successful it's going companywide.

A large or a small company can use Crowdcast's methods. "It's really not about the size of the company so much as the complexity of the group," Fine said.

Fine outlined three prime motivating factors for people participating in a Crowdcast project:

  1. What they say matters; their opinion counts with management. "It's really a very good tool not only to get information but to create a dialog to feel that he is being listened to," Fine said.

  2. It's an acceleration tool for change. "You're often well-trained as good managers not to go to your boss with a problem but with a solution," Fine said. "But that solution may not be immediately apparent." Often people play a sort of game of telephone when someone hears something that might be bad, the story gets diluted by the time it gets to the right person's ears, making it essentially meaningless as a measure of a problem to be fixed. Crowdcast eliminates that: it provides accurate assessments of where things are. "It's not so much a crisis as an opportunity," Fine said. "It's a speed tool as well."

  3. Prizes and recognition -- and action. "While this is funny money, we do strongly encourage companies to do some kind of giveaway for people just to kind of get the ball rolling and a little excitement going," Fine said. She also recommends "motivating through leaderboards so you can see what your status is when compared to everyone in the organization and in your own team. We usually create teams running a work chart. How's marketing doing versus product, how's product doing versus operations and within operations, who's performing? The prizes kind of get people in the door, the leaderboard entertains people for a little while. Management then has to close the loop and thank people for their input, saying, 'We're going to now do X, Y, Z.' That really gets people."

Crowdcast works to extract useful knowledge out of the information sphere within a company. "The loudest person in the room doesn't always have the information," Fine said. "That's a lot of the value of what Crowdcast does: Finding out who knows what and not just who knows how to speak most loudly."

In my next blog, I'm going to look at an amazing company called Tongal that is revolutionizing the way anyone can create a TV commercial.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

10 Steps to Gamifying Your Next Project

Peter Diamandis   |   February 26, 2013   12:54 PM ET

In this blog I'm going to talk more master game entrepreneur Luis von Ahn about his new game Duolingo, which he's using to help translate the web, and his top 10 lessons in game design.

Luis von Ahn is a master "micro-game" designer, whose last major success reCAPTCHA is now is digitizing 100 million words a day -- about two million books a year. His newest game, called Duolingo, is intended to help translate the World Wide Web.

"Duolingo really started when I asked the question of how can we translate the Web into every major language," Luis told me. "First of all, more than 50 percent of the Web is written in English and less than 50 percent of the world's population speaks English, so we'd like to really translate the Web into every major language," he said.

Luis knew that computers could do a bit of the translation work, but not all. "Sure, you can use computers for certain brief snippets," he told me, "but really they're not good enough yet to translate the Web. But if you want to translate the whole Web, you can't do it with 50 people or 100 people, so we started wondering how we might get, say, 100 million people, helping us translate the Web into every major language. That's kind of how Duolingo started."

"One challenge is the lack of bilinguals. I don't even know if there are 100 million people out there who are bilingual enough who use the Web to help me translate," said Luis. Another problem was this: "How are we going to motivate people to do this for free? I can't pay 100 million people."

Then Luis and his colleagues realized they could get work done by transforming translation into something that millions of people already want to do, learn another language. "There are about 1.2 billion people out there trying to learn a foreign language," Luis said. "Stuff needs to be translated, so why can't we get these people who are learning a foreign language to translate this stuff for us? That, in essence, is Duolingo, a language-learning website where, as people are learning, they're helping us to translate the web."

The gamification part of Duolingo comes from what Luis describes as a skill tree. "It really works out well," he said. "Basically the whole game is laid out as a tree and you unlock parts of the game." As a user completes a tree, he or she becomes more proficient in that language.

It's been super-successful, Luis said, with some 300,000 active users. "Of course, our goal is 100 million, but we're on it."

Next, Luis outlined for me his "Gamification 101" lecture, which he offers to entrepreneurs who want to utilize gamification to build their business or solve problems.
Here are his top 10 pieces of advice:

  1. Gamification can solve a lot of problems with data interpretation. If you can figure out how to turn the problem into a game, you can have the crowd solve it, Luis said.

  2. Playing a game should be easy, but companies should realize that creating one is extremely difficult. "It's a lot harder than you would imagine," Luis said. "Simply slapping points in there doesn't usually work that well."

  3. Games themselves don't keep people engaged very long, unless they have a social component. Games "keep people engaged for the first week or the first month, but not for years," Luis said. "I think it's other people that keep people engaged for years. So, I think if you're thinking about gamifying, think about gamifying with other people."

  4. Games must be social. "The experience of the game has to be with other people and there has to be a way for the other people to be creative as well," Luis said. "What keeps people coming back to Facebook is that there are other people there who are being creative, who are expressing their thoughts, who are putting up pictures." (You can sign into Duolingo, for example, through Facebook, and keep your friends informed of your progress.) "That keeps people coming back for years," he said. "Things like Tetris don't keep people coming back for years. You really need to have other people involved to create loyalty to a game."

  5. The problem you're solving has to be really well integrated into the game mechanics. "It's deep integration to the game mechanics as opposed to shallow 'let's put some points and a leaderboard,'" Luis said. With Duolingo, learning the language is tied in to recognizing the digital version of a book in that language: you learn and contribute at the same time.

  6. Playing has to mean something to the player: A player can't win all the time, a player has to be able to fail to keep it interesting. "Basically, in all the most fun games in the world you can actually fail," Luis said. "It's a tricky thing, though, of how often you let people fail: How hard do you make the game? I think it has to be hard so that it's not super easy to win, but if you fail too much you get frustrated."

  7. Leaderboards are good, but only for the best players in your game. Be careful not to alienate entry-level players. "Leaderboards are awesome for the people near the top of the leaderboard and not for anybody else," Luis said. "Leaderboards tend to motivate the top players. The other 95 percent are not. If a leaderboard only helps motivate the top 5 percent, you've got to do something else," he said. One solution is to have regional leaderboards, so people don't feel overwhelmed.

  8. Be cautious when using monetary rewards or awards. "I've never seen the use of prizes," Luis said. "We tried prizes for a little while. It didn't do anything. I've never been able to make monetary awards work for me. Usually, it just makes people cheat at the game to get the monetary award. But I don't know if it makes it that much more fun. Gambling works for a reason so I assume it can be made to work. But we just never really made it work."

  9. Add random rewards, however. "Randomness is quite powerful," said Luis. "The fact that there is some chance that you will win gives you hope," he said. "That's why card games are so fun in some sense. You don't have to be the best poker player on earth, but you still have a chance of winning. In different games we have added things like a random bonus. It's completely random and now you get a bonus round or something and it really motivates people."

  10. Play the game yourself offline. It avoids mistakes later. "If you're going to make a computer game, the first thing you should do is play it without the computer. Somehow figure out a way to play the game just with pencil and paper," Luis said. "That really tells you a lot. About 90 percent of the things that I come up with are just not super but you can catch the majority of them early. So, if you're coming up with a game, you should try it on pencil and paper beforehand. You will spend two hours on that and this will save you eight weeks of coding later."

In my next blog, I'm going to look at the work of Crowdcast, which uses the power of the crowd, and gamification, to make predictions for businesses.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

The Moon is a Natural Platform for Asteroid Mining, Detection and Deflection

XPRIZE   |   February 25, 2013    2:06 PM ET

2013-02-25-naveen_jain.jpgBy Naveen Jain
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Naveen Jain is a trustee of Singularity University and X Prize foundation and a Founder and Chairman of Moon Express.

There has been much talk in the media about what to do since last week's astronomically unlikely double asteroid attack.  efforts to detect asteroid threats such as those of the B612 Foundation have received much deserved attention. Ironically, a United Nations committee was in conference over this very question while the dramas unfolded.


Many people are asking, "What is the government doing about this?" Well, the answer, sadly, is not much. NASA and other space agencies have had a few on-again off-again attempts to search and catalog asteroid threats, but there is no active government program to identify threats, and absolutely no programs to try to protect us from them. Contrary to Hollywood imaginations, the hard truth is, if we detected a large asteroid on a collision course for Earth, we couldn't do a thing about it.

But there is hope. In the near future we could have technology to not only watch out for asteroid threats, but to deflect these planet killers and harvest their vast resources. We can turn swords into ploughshares on a cosmic scale. In fact, Earth has a natural ally in this effort - the Moon.

If you wonder how often asteroids have hit us, take a look at the Moon. The Moon is saturated with craters, caused by billions of years of asteroid bombardment. The Earth has many impact craters too - but they have become disguised over time by dynamic weathering and geological activity. Most of Earth's surviving impact features are so large that you have to go out into space to see them.

By comparison, the Earth grazing Asteroid 2012 DA14 and the Russian meteor that caught the world by surprise on Feb 15, 2013 are relatively tiny objects, hardly even rating a mention in the solar system scale of asteroid impactors. Even so, the Russian meteor exploded with over 20 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, and is the largest recorded impact event since the much larger "Tunguska event" of 1908, when an object about the size of Asteroid 2012 DA14 exploded over remote Siberia, leveling a forested area of over 2,000 square kilometers.

One day it will be worse, much worse. The good news is, we can do something about it. And with our recent wake-up call fresh in our minds, the sooner the better.

How does the Moon fit in? The Moon acts like an asteroid magnet and has been aggregating asteroids for billions of years. Early in its history, the Moon swept up planetary debris and helped clear Earth's neighborhood for safe living. As a result, the Moon has trillions of tons of asteroid material shattered and pulverized all over its surface. But unlike the Earth, the Moon has no atmosphere, so when asteroids hit you don't have an "air burst" detonation like we witnessed over Russia last week. The asteroids hit the surface hard, over and over, and since the Moon has been a solid body for most of its history, their materials stay on or close to the surface.

It turns out that our sister world the Moon is the best place to study and harvest asteroids. It's dormant, unchanging surface is a museum of solar system history and represents a planetary Rosetta Stone of the asteroid bombardment record. And the Moon is close by and always in the sky, unlike the asteroids that flyby the Earth at incredible velocities or inhabit orbits tens of millions of miles away that take years to reach.

But more than just a scientific curiosity, the asteroid resources deposited on the Moon over the past 4 billion years represent an opportunity to harvest those resources in the construction of lunar bases for the benefit and protection of Earth. In fact, China and Russia have both declared objectives to set up lunar bases over the next ten to twenty years. The US is not so clear about its intentions right now, but China landing on the Moon later this year and a resurgence of international interest in the Moon could change that.

The Moon has many interesting natural virtues for scientific and commercial opportunity. It is a remarkably stable platform for astronomical observatories. And because of its very low gravity and vast resources, it will also be Earth's space port and a fuelling depot for missions to Mars and beyond.

The Moon will also play a vital role in the future of Earth's planetary protection, one day supporting robotic sentinels that will watching the skies, able to rapidly respond to asteroid threats.

This is far from science fiction. Thanks to Elon Musk blazing a trail for commercial space with SpaceX, private spaceships have already docked with the International Space Station.  My company, Moon Express, is focused on the next stage of commercial space beyond low Earth orbit, and is already developing early precursor robotic missions in partnership with NASA to explore the Moon and learn how to develop its resources for the benefit of life on Earth. Our first task is to explore the Moon's resource hotspots and establish infrastructure on the Moon, starting with robotic explorers who will lead the way for the first permanent human outposts and colonies.

This is the dawn of a new era of commercial space, driven by entrepreneurial ventures partnered with the deep experience and know-how of NASA. How timely nature's wake-up call, thankfully with no fatalities, that brings to us a new awareness of our fragility as a species and our obligations to our children to do something about it.

The asteroids that threaten us can also enrich us and enable us. It will be our smart choices for investments in space technology and strategic collaborations between the public and private sectors that will leverage the value of the Moon and its asteroid-rich resources to safeguard our planetary home for future generations.

Visit X PRIZE at, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

'Micro-Play' -- Getting the Crowd to Have Fun While It Earns You Money

Peter Diamandis   |   February 25, 2013    1:45 PM ET

In this blog, I interview Luis von Ahn, a brilliant entrepreneur and game-design strategist and continue my exploration of how online games can help the crowd sort through data in a fashion that is both Fun and Free.

When you log into certain websites, sometimes the site makes you copy a bunch of blurry, squiggly, "drunken" letters to prove you're a human instead of a bot. Did you know that when you're typing in those letters, you're actually helping to digitize old books and newspapers through a service called reCAPTCHA? In this interview I sat down with its creator, a visionary entrepreneur named Luis von Ahn. (For more details, check out von Ahn's 2008 Science Magazine article called "reCAPTCHA: Human-Based Character Recognition via Web Security Measures.")

I began the interview by getting Luis's background. A computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon, Luis was pondering how humans interact with computers, and what people could do better than computers. He remembers thinking, "There are a bunch of problems that computers cannot do: Why can't we just get people to solve them for us?" Back at the turn of the millennium, Luis said, "nobody had realized this power of the Internet. The word 'crowdsourcing' didn't exist." So Luis came up with this idea of a game to see for himself how he might tap into the power of the crowd through its game-playing.

One thing that humans still do better than computers is recognize images. In one of Luis's earlier games, originally called ESP Game, he gamified the process of labeling images. "The way the ESP Game worked was this: two random people were paired with each other and they got the same image on their screen and were told to type whatever the other guy was typing," he said. "People typed a lot of words related to the common image. I realized that if we could get two people to agree on the same word, that would be a really good signal it's a good tag for that image," he said. But there was a caveat: "Turns out that wasn't quite enough in it to make it fun," Luis said.

"The way to make it fun was by adding a timer." Both players, randomized from different parts of the globe, entered possible words until they had a match. The game then showed them the next image. They had two and a half minutes to label 15 images. "It turns out that the time component for this really made it a lot more fun," he said.

"In fact, that was the entire motivation: to enjoy oneself for a few minutes online." Luis's estimate was that over the course of four years, some 10 million people played the ESP Game and labeled some 100 million images.

Even though the game was later acquired by Google and operated under the name Google Image Labeler to improve image search, the game is no longer available for play. "There's a good reason for that," Luis said. "It lasted about five or six years as a popular game, and then it started losing popularity. That's the thing with games. You've got to keep on. Almost no game lasts."

This idea of doing two things at once -- playing and contributing to research or analysis -- eventually led to the creation of reCAPTCHA, "where we started getting people to do useful work while they're typing the CAPTCHA," Luis said. "We are getting people to digitize books while they're doing this," he said. The number is colossal: All told, about 200 million CAPTCHA squiggles are typed in a day. Why not tap into that?"

"The thing is, each time you type one of those you waste about 10 seconds of your time," Luis said. "If you multiply that by 200 million, you get back that humanity as a whole is wasting around 500,000 hours every day." The inspiration was this: Why not use the phrases from books to be digitized as CAPTCHA squiggles and have people do two things at once?

As the company's website explains, "reCAPTCHA improves the process of digitizing books by sending words that cannot be read by computers to the Web in the form of CAPTCHAs for humans to decipher. More specifically, each word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is placed on an image and used as a CAPTCHA."

I asked Luis to pick out three lessons he'd learned from creating his games. Here's what he selected:

  1. Online games for data-mining have a short virtual shelf life. People get bored, especially if the game seems stagnant.

  2. The games must be fun AND the data must be worthwhile. Luis created a game called Verbosity, "but the data I collected was not that useful," he admitted. "The idea was to collect what are common-sense facts, such as milk is white and water is wet. The idea is, if only computers had common sense they could be as smart as us. We were able to collect a lot of common-sense facts with this game. The problem is, the facts that we were collecting were just not very structured so we had a bunch of facts but we didn't take that a step further to make them useful to some sort of reasoning engine."

  3. Choose "Cooperation" or "Competition." "In your game design, you can either have your players competing or cooperating. That's kind of a big, big difference," Luis said. "For example in the ESP Game you were not competing with the other guy you were cooperating with them. You both got points together. That, I think, attracts a different type of player. You can experiment with both types to see whether to make the game cooperative or competitive."

With gamification, a company can actually do something that had not been doable, Luis said. "Sure we can do all kinds of things we weren't doing before [with computers], but I don't think we've covered 50 percent of what we need to cover. Anything having to do with language and visual recognition is very hard." And for the foreseeable future it will require both humans and computers -- and games.

In my next blog, I'm going to look at Duolingo, another company Luis co-created, and I'll explore his 10 steps a company can take to ensure the successful gamification of a project.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

Arianna Huffington's Top 10 Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Peter Diamandis   |   February 22, 2013    1:06 PM ET

In this blog, I'll share with you what I learned from Arianna Huffington on creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation -- 10 key lessons of extraordinary benefit to any entrepreneur or CEO.

I've gotten to know Arianna Huffington very well over the past few years. We share a common Greek heritage and she sits on my board at the X PRIZE Foundation. Arianna is both the force behind the Huffington Post and a force of nature herself -- a brilliant, powerful and loving person. When I talk about taking bold actions in the world, few things are bolder than creating the Huffington Post from scratch and reinventing the newspaper business. In 2012, this work was recognized when Huffington Post (now part of AOL) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

In August 2012, at Joe Polish's 25K Abundance event, I sat down with Arianna to talk about what inspires her, what worries her, and what bold ideas she's most excited about. She was remarkably frank about how she tries to be different, what drives her, how she comes up with ideas, how she stays focused, how she taps into her creativity and how she manages expectations.

We began the interview talking about taking BOLD actions in life -- specifically what advice she has about pushing the frontier. She addressed how she deals with failure and criticism and where she looks for inspiration. Here are the key points that she herself follows in doing BOLD things:

  1. Think differently from other entrepreneurs by accepting failure and learning from it. "There are a lot of failures along the way," Arianna said. "I always stress that. I have two daughters, one just graduated from college, the other a junior, whom I always talk to about my failures." Entrepreneurs need to address the possibility of failure, she said, "because so often, I think, the difference between success and failure is perseverance and not giving up after one or two or three failures. Just keep connecting to that place where failure doesn't matter," Arianna said. "If we become so dependent on things always being a success, then we're in a very vulnerable position -- because we're not in control of how the world is going to receive something," she said. "I'm reading Marcus Aurelius, who was a Roman emperor and a Stoic, about how to get to the place where bad things can happen and you are not affected by them. This is now my ambition because I think that from that place then you can act so much more effectively."

  2. Pick something you are passionate about that aligns with the zeitgeist. "For me, the most successful enterprises are always when the entrepreneur's passion matches something happening in the zeitgeist... There is a spirit of the times," Arianna said. "There are things that are happening, that have the wind on their backs and when we tap into them and when our passion converges with what is happening in the world then magic happens. It doesn't mean there's no hard work, but definitely entrepreneurs have the wind on their back. For me the Huffington Post was something like that. I mean, being Greek I was always about connections and conversations. The beginning of the Huffington Post was actually, then, just taking those conversations and moving them online. I could see that the important national conversations were moving online."

  3. Relax in order to get your best ideas. "I'm very interested in how people get their ideas." Arianna said. "A lot of my ideas come in moments of peace, relaxation, hiking and reading. Something completely unrelated. Not in moments of dealing with my email or cleaning out my inbox," she said. "There is a great book by Arthur Koestler called The Act of Creation that tracks where great scientists get their ideas, not just the ones that we all know about. Again and again you come across the fact that creative ideas come in moments of relaxation, not in moments of stress. That's why if you talk to the people who've achieved great breakthroughs, whether it's Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, they all talk about how they manage their life. Bill Gates taking time to go in a cabin away from everything and read."

  4. Never tolerate a toxic person in your organization. "I heard Jeff Bezos say it best," said Arianna. "He said that he will not allow anybody in the company who comes to his attention who is toxic person, however talented, to stay in the company. I'm a big believer in that. Zero tolerance for toxic people. I would rather have somebody much less brilliant and who's a team player, who's straightforward, than somebody who is very brilliant and toxic."

  5. When hiring, trust your feelings. "When AOL acquired the Huffington Post and we had more resources, one of the hardest things I had to do was staff up rapidly. We're now almost at 700 employees," Arianna said. "I would spend weekends in hiring sessions that were like speed dating. Time is so precious, so I set up a system where I would have other people in the interview with me. I would participate for the first 10 minutes, and then leave them with editors to talk. In interviewing a candidate you know almost immediately if it's a 'no.' There's no need to spend more than that initial time."

    "You also know if it's a yes," she added, "that moment of falling in love. You know it's a yes 100 percent. The hard thing is in between. If there is any slight doubt about it, my answer is no. I don't proceed if I have any doubt because the hardest thing is hiring somebody who turns about not to be the right fit -- that mistake is very costly. We've all done it. It's problematic. So, 'If in doubt: Don't,' is a very good rule for me, whether in relationships or in hiring people."

  6. Handle criticism and public scrutiny by refusing to doubt yourself. "I wrote a book called On Becoming Fearless where I talk about the voice in our head, that voice of doubt which is ultimately your worst enemy," Arianna said. "You can deal with everything outside. The hardest thing is dealing with what I call the obnoxious roommate living in our head. That voice that doubts us and learning to deal with that with a sense of humor or the way we're educating a child is also eliminating a huge drain from our lives."

    When the Huffington Post first began, Arianna added, it received negative reviews from some quarters. "In fact, if you'll go back to the first day, some of the reviews were not kind. I've learned one of them by heart. It was: 'The Huffington Post is an unsurvivable failure. It is the movie equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven's Gate all rolled into one.' A year later the woman who wrote that review emailed me and said, 'I was clearly wrong, and I would now like to write for the Huffington Post, to blog for it.' I said absolutely -- and that's the other thing. You never hold grudges. It's really again part of living in abundance."

  7. The truest drive comes from doing what you love. "I feel very blessed to be doing exactly what I love to do," Arianna said. "I feel very grateful. It doesn't mean that there aren't many things every day that happen that I wish didn't happen, challenges I'm dealing with, as we all are, but nevertheless the overwhelming sensation is one of gratitude."

  8. It's important to step back from work to recharge. "One problem is learning to unplug and recharge," Arianna said. As somebody who loves what I'm doing I think we run the risk of forgetting to recharge ourselves. I have a lot of rules around sleep. One of my rules is I never charge my devices near my bed. It's really important because you may wake up for whatever reason in the middle of the night and be tempted to look at your data. There is medical evidence that if you do, even if you go back to sleep it's not the same recharging sleep. You know what? What is it that can't wait? The other thing is a lot of people say oh, I need my iPhone by my bed because it's my alarm clock. Eliminate your excuses. We all know there's nothing better than waking up recharged and nothing worse than going through your day like a zombie."

  9. Find hope in the world by focusing on abundance. "I think the world is like watching a split screen. Depending on which side you are looking at you can be hopeful or despairing," Arianna said. "I focus on what gives me hope. It's key that we focus on abundance and surpluses rather than just our shortages. To that effect, I think, we in the media have not done a good job at spotlighting what is working. So, I think beginning to put a spotlight on what is working not just on what is not working is what gives me hope and we're doing a lot of that. On HuffPost we have a section dedicated to good news. We have a section called Impact, which is all about giving and what people are doing to transform the world."

  10. Build a tribe that will support you. It's important to have a group of trusted friends, colleagues and family -- who will support your efforts. "For me the tribe always started with my mother and my sister, which is very Greek," she says. "What's important, is the combination of whomever it is that helps us connect with ourselves, our mission and passion."

In my next blog, I'm going to dive into the world of gamification. A means of getting people to enjoy doing work for you, for free.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

8 Steps to Drive Innovation in Large Companies

Peter Diamandis   |   February 21, 2013    1:47 PM ET

This blog outlines how my friend Lajos created an atmosphere of innovation at GE HealthCare (Hungary) -- a lesson we'll all want to remember.

Most people want to be creative, but at big companies, they're often stymied by rules, regulations and fear of failure. Lajos Reich, chief technology officer for GE Healthcare (Hungary) ran an experiment giving his staff a no-strings-attached "week off" with which to do as they wished... Create, or go to the beach. What he found was a team of engineers hungry to create. Employees who, when given a specific window of unencumbered time, actually spent that time coming up with new ideas for the company.

A key part of Lajos' strategy was to get his engineers, who were typically stove-piped inside their disciplines, to work together across disciplines and to exchange best practices. He did this by organizing both an annual symposium and a monthly meeting at which engineers presented their work to each other independent of their team focus. He also created a number of competitions where engineers could demonstrate to other engineers -- and to company leadership -- their innovations.

Finally, Lajos also worked to make it easier for his employees to get patents for their work. What's the use of coming up with an idea if it goes nowhere? Historically, the patenting process was very time-consuming and cumbersome. This led to situations in which engineers dismissed novel ideas out of hand because of the difficulty in protecting the intellectual property.

"It was very complicated to submit a patent," Lajos tells me. "You had to submit it online, then if the patent was selected to proceed, people had to cooperate with attorney in the U.S. or India. Theoretically that's okay, but it killed motivation. The attorneys were in different time zones. The window to cooperate was small. The language was different. The patent attorneys were changing all the time and few understood the context of the design work."

To help break through this logjam, Lajos found and selected a local patent attorney -- in the same time zone, speaking the same language -- to work with his staff. "The attorneys could personally come to engineers and discuss how this patent can be best described, for the U.S. patent office and the European patent office," Lajos says. This sped up the patent process and reduced the frustration.

In addition, Lajos set an inventor fee. Now, a company generally owns all the ideas for which an engineer is developing working plans, but Lajos awards $1,000 to each inventor once the patent has been accepted. "It isn't for the idea itself, but for the working out of the idea," he says. "This motivates the people to work together with the patent attorney," he says.

But that was just one component of a much larger cultural change that Lajos engineered. Here is the eight-step plan he outlined to unleash creativity in a large organization:

  1. Before venturing into new territory, first assure that all corporate deliverables are met at best quality, highest speed and lowest cost. Accomplishing this first gives you and your team the credibility and freedom to next be creative and do something even more interesting, challenging and productive.

  2. Establish a strong culture that incentivizes innovative ideas even if they are not on the official technology roadmap. The trigger needs to be something concrete and demonstrable to receive the incentive, such as a "patentable prototype," not just an idea. Also, the staff should feel free to innovate wherever inspiration strikes.

  3. Continuously facilitate the sharing of knowledge and cooperation between independent engineering teams. The first step Lajos took was an annual Technology Symposium. Last year 220 engineers made 54 presentations to each other. The second step was a monthly Technology Seminar, followed by online unlimited open brainstorming. The results of this sharing of knowledge has been a very fruitful cross-pollination across a variety of specialties.

  4. Organize a competition. This can be part of the weeklong "vacation" in which engineers are free to create. In Lajos' case, the weeklong semi-sabbatical led to many ideas that would have never seen the light of day because the engineers were otherwise too busy. This one week helped unleash numerous ideas. The engineers were not only productive but extremely grateful for the opportunity to shine.

  5. Create an award that is emotionally attractive to the participants. "I find this much more powerful than monetary awards," Lajos says. Last year iPads were awarded for best prototypes. This or next year it might be DNA sequencing. Further along it might be something from the new exponential technologies. Ultimately, the prize is secondary to achievement.

  6. Expect and require tangible results that can be touched, tried, demoed, showcased. This forces engineers to think it through to the next level and creates physical representations that further inspire other engineers.

  7. Make sure that the winners are introduced to the company leadership, so that they are aware of those talents hidden in the depth of the large organization. Educate leadership to expect further surprising prototypes.

  8. Let the winners proudly share their results with the entire team to set an example for others and encourage further innovations going forward. The real prize is often the pride of success.

In my next blog I'm going to introduce you to Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post and now editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, since its acquisition by AOL. Arianna and I will discuss her passion for creating, for innovation and for how to work up to one's peak.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

How Large Companies Can Innovate

Peter Diamandis   |   February 20, 2013    1:45 PM ET

In this blog, I am going to show you how one GE exec (at GE HealthCare Hungary) figured out how to instill a sense of creative freedom among the employees that led to a real burst in innovation.

Dr. Lajos Reich was an Executive Participant in a recent Singularity University session. When he told me his story of spurring innovation at his division at GE Healthcare Hungary, I literally booked an interview with him the next morning at 6 a.m. so that I could capture his story for my book "BOLD" and for this blog. I thought his story was THAT important for you to hear.

Lajos Reich is currently GE Healthcare's Chief Technology Officer in Hungary. On his way to this position, he worked at chief technologies at a small Connecticut firm specializing in lighting, then onto GE facilities in Cleveland, Ohio, Bangalore, India and, ultimately, Budapest.

"I learned a lot," he says. "First of all, the difference between leading a small company versus a large company. In a large corporation it's hard to be nimble, because people are so hard-pressed to do their work, and they're often kept isolated in their own departments or on their own projects, without interacting."

"When I returned to Hungary to take the CTO position, my goal was to foster greater teamwork -- literally to institute a complete cultural transformation."

Since his arrival in 2008, Lajos has not only increased the number of employees at that GE division by 50 percent, he has also dropped the company's attrition rate from 15 percent to 2 percent. Better than that, under his leadership, GE Healthcare is now responsible for generating 20 patents per year, which is more than any other company in the country. So how did he do that?

"Innovation is a modality," he says. "Before, my teams were separate. A big part of the change was to move them closer so they could learn from each other. "Here are the two principal things that I did," he says:

  1. "First, I started to host a technology symposium every year for all the engineers where they could hear across the divisional lines what they were all up to. Before, since teams did not work together very often, there was a tendency to reinvent the wheel." At last year's symposium 200 engineers gave 54 presentations. "This knowledge-sharing opportunity was so popular that I started a monthly technical seminar series, where people present their work to other GE engineers in a deeper context."

  2. "Second, I was actually inspired by your X PRIZE, and I wanted to create a competition to foster creativity. I was also inspired Google's 20 percent time, where they give each employee 20 percent of their time to innovate, no strings attached. So I ended up doing a combination of both in a very risky fashion," he says.

"I decided to create a competition for best innovation, with the prize being a 64G iPad (which, in fact, equaled around one month extra net salary for an average engineer). Rather than offering 20 percent more time, I offered people an entire week to do with as they wished. They could go to the beach, or shopping or even stay at home -- or they could work on an invitation and enter the competition. It was totally up to them.

"Engineers always complain that they do not have time to innovate. That there's too much documentation. They tell me that 80 percent of their time is spent on documenting rather than creating. So in this one-week competition I said: 'No documentation; just focus on creating and innovating. Do whatever you want. If you want to use your time to develop a prototype, great.' I gave them access to every resource and didn't disturb them with any last-minute meetings. They were totally free."

Lajos had conducted this experiment in innovation without letting his supervisors know and, should it have been a failure, he could easily have been sacked, he says. But the results were staggering.

The upshot: No one took any time off to go shopping or to the beach. The engineers formed 13 groups and came up with 13 different prototypes. Lajos created a one-day symposium to present the ideas. The management team selected the top three for awards, and six of the 13 have led to patents, with one or two of those products actually likely to become a marketable product for the company.

Many companies would not take the risk of giving engineers a whole week to innovate, Lajos says, "but a concentrated time does make a difference. They are not taken out from the flow of the idea, they can fully concentrate on it."

In my next blog I'm going to explore Lajos' steps for unleashing creativity.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

Missing the Innovation Mark: What's Wrong with Corporate America

XPRIZE   |   February 19, 2013    1:44 PM ET

2013-02-05-DeborahPerryPiscione.jpgBy Deborah Perry Piscione
Deborah Perry Piscione is a Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur and the author of the upcoming book Secrets of Silicon Valley: What Everyone Can Learn from the Innovation Capital of the World (April 2, 2013, Palgrave Macmillan)

It's been a long time since I've been around a traditional corporate executive. Six years ago I migrated from the East Coast to Silicon Valley, where I've adopted a completely different mindset. As I prepare to embark on a book tour that includes speaking at many sizeable, yet traditional corporations around the world, I've been having lots of conversations about the content of my upcoming book, Secrets of Silicon Valley: What Everyone Else Can Learn from the Innovation Capital of the World (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2, 2013).


No matter what our starting point, the conversation inevitably gets around to innovation. What exactly is it? How does Silicon Valley do such a good job of it? Can other companies do it too?

What I have come to understand is that innovation isn't something traditional companies can add on, like a warehouse or benefits package. It's not an add-on anything. It's built into the cultural foundations and soil of Silicon Valley, a unique environment that spurs innovative thinking and performance.

Here's how I see the difference between how Silicon Valley and traditional corporations approach innovation:

Big corporations: Offer and throw some bonus money at employees who create intellectual property value, but only if the work leads to a patent.

Silicon Valley: Foster an environment that supports creativity, encourages employees to take risks, and tolerates failure.

Needless to say, the Silicon Valley way has a better track record. But how do they do it? While all night hack-a-thons may be fine for the twenty-somethings, that's not a model for the entire workforce.

The answer is simple: you have to value your employees.

Take Google, a company renowned for innovation and market success. It's not just Google's famed benefits and compensation package that sends the message to employees: "We value you." It's also a remarkably lively, creative, and colorful place to work.

Hey, Googlers (how Google employees refer to themselves), feeling stifled today? Why don't you go out for a game of bowling? Take a yoga class. Ride one of our Google bikes around campus - heck, ride it all the way over to the San Francisco Bay and come back in a few hours when you've worked out all your mental and physical kinks.

Google actually talks like that to its employees and offers dozens of other activities that, outside Silicon Valley, would sound more like play than work.

Or consider IDEO, one of the world's most innovative consulting firms. IDEO helps its corporate clients by building innovation into everything from product design to business and community-building processes to re-branding.

What does innovation look like to IDEO? The company's designers have invented some truly great stuff - things the world would be much poorer without, such as the mouse for the Apple computer, the Palm Pilot, the deodorant stick, and the standup toothpaste dispenser.

But at IDEO, a great idea doesn't have to be a grand invention that launches a new design or product line. It can simply be improving something that already exists.

IDEO co-founder David Kelley says if human resource professionals want to attract more innovative thinkers, they should seek out "T-shaped employees." These are individuals with deep expertise in one specific area who've also gained broad knowledge in a range of other areas. So think of a highly-qualified software engineer (the vertical part of the T) who can talk knowledgeably about higher education and art history (the horizontal part of the T).

According to Kelley, IDEO isn't actually teaching new skills; it's restoring "creative confidence" - the natural ability to generate new ideas and the courage to try them out.

Take, for example, the fear of a child who has to endure the harrowing experience of a CT Scan.. In a TED talk in 2012, Kelley spoke about children who walk into the CT room and are handed a black felt pirate cap. "Aaaarrr ye ready?" the technician growls to them. The child walks a set of brown planks leading to his CT ship - actually a specially decorated CT machine. The exam bed look like the hull of the ship, and the tube is a wooden steering wheel. From a nearby vaporizer comes the pleasant scent of tropical coconuts.

The day I toured IDEO's offices and warehouses in Palo Alto, I saw a place where my twin boys, who are turning eight, would love to hang out - every day. There are no business suits. There are no stuffy boardrooms. Executives in blue jeans sit cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by big boy toys like 3D printers and large tables with Exacto knives and foam core for people to congregate and make fast, rough prototypes. There is even an outdoor grassy knoll right in the middle of the offices that one would think serves for visiting children or their playful parents. Rather, the space is designated (among others at IDEO) to foster collaboration. It is this collaboration that fosters creativity that leads to innovation.

Yes, Silicon Valley thrives because there are a lot of smart people who live and breathe innovation. But there is so much more. There is flat management, where there are smart people in the room at all levels who contribute and are heard irrespective of their pay, age, or years of experience. This is how people continue to grow way beyond their skill set, how they treat and value one another, how people give back, and how they learn not to take "it" so seriously.

The roots of Silicon Valley were planted back in the 1950s, when it was mostly fruit orchards and quaintly known as the Valley of Heart's Delight. A bunch of East Coast transplants with disdain for the old hierarchies came to the valley and set up shop. Their easygoing, open culture took root, deepened and flourished - because they appreciated changing lifestyles and habits. Because they were ready to dispense with the old habits and respond to the ways people actually wanted to live their lives.

Now that's innovative thinking.

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This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

Why Billion-Dollar, 100-Year-Old Companies DIE

Peter Diamandis   |   February 19, 2013    1:35 PM ET

In this blog, I am going to talk about why large companies typically can't innovate... What goes wrong? Why do they ultimately DIE?

The year 2012 marks the death of Kodak, a $26-billion, century-old "cornerstone" company of the U.S. R.I.P.

Did you know that Kodak actually invented the digital camera that ultimately put it out of business? Kodak had the patents and a head start, but ignored all that. Why? That's what this blog is about.

To put an exclamation mark at the end of the Kodak story: In this same year, Instagram, another company in the image business, was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion... The catch is, Instagram had only 13 employees at the time.

This is the difference between a "linear" company and an "exponential" one.

One of the biggest challenges that large companies have today is creating an environment that allows for innovation. Everywhere the rate of change is so fast that large U.S. companies are in constant danger of disruption. Not from competition in China or India, no. They're in danger of being made obsolete from two guys/gals in a garage in Silicon Valley, or anyone, anywhere, empowered by exponential technology, willing to risk it all, driven by their passion.

Whether it's steamships disrupted by the railroads, or railroads disrupted by the airlines, it's typically the large entrenched incumbents that are displaced by innovators. It happens over and over and over again... Why?

Here are my four primary reasons:

  1. True disruption means threatening your existing product line and your past investments. Breakthrough products disrupt current lines of businesses. My rule of thumb is: "You are ether disrupting yourself, or someone else is." Most companies and boards are not willing to change, give up near-term profits (public companies are driven by quarterly perspectives) in return for long-term gain. These companies that are linear, myopic and inertia-driven will ultimately follow the path of Kodak.

  2. Companies have too many experts who block innovation. True innovation really comes from perpendicular thinking. While this isn't always true, I've met too many experts who are fantastic at telling me why a breakthrough can't possibly occur. Think of it this way: experts whose field is disrupted are no longer experts, are they? They're now "has-beens." Plus, as we'll see below, a true breakthrough requires massive risk... risk to reputation, something that an expert has spent decades building and protecting. This is why, to some degree, peer-review science really leads to incrementalism versus breakthroughs. This is why the National Institutes of Health, according to Michael Milken, funds more researchers over the age of 70 than under the age of 30.

  3. Technology is changing exponentially -- disruption is coming from outside the field -- and large companies are unable to keep up. Technologies that used to be in a completely different field are now disrupting complete new arenas. Who would ever have thought that biology would be a disruptive force in the energy/fuel business? Or in the insurance business, with rapid genome sequencing being able to predict what disease a person is likely to have? Or that synthetic biology would become the new programming language for the 21st century? Companies that depend only on their internal experts cannot possibly evolve fast enough during these times of explosive innovation. They are the large, lumbering, doomed dinosaurs surrounded by thousands of rapidly evolving small furry mammals.

  4. The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea. And experimenting with crazy ideas requires a high degree of tolerance for risk-taking. Large companies and government agencies have a lot to protect and therefore are not willing to take big risks. A large company taking a risk can threaten its stock price. A government agency taking a risk can threaten congressional investigation. Remember what happened with the solar-panel company Solyndra? It manufactured thin-film solar cells. The Department of Energy, through the Energy Policy Act of 2005, helped fund the company. The company filed for bankruptcy in August 2011, and then the witch hunts began... Who was to blame? How could the government back a losing idea? Clearly, the only option for a government bureaucrat who sees this is NEVER TO TAKE A RISK AGAIN...

The Department of Energy made an investment that failed, and it got raked over the coals for that failed investment. This is ridiculous. The fact of the matter is, the government should be making a lot of risky investments, the majority of which are likely to fail. But if every time the government makes an investment that fails, it gets negative front-page news and pulled into congressional investigations, pretty soon the government is no longer making any risky investments and progress become incrementalized.

So it really is difficult for large organizations or government to make disruptive change. For that reason, the how of creating approaches that limit risk but allow for upside is very important.

Can large organizations be innovative? Can they take risks?

The answer is YES... And the subject of my next blog.

This is a remarkable story. More to come!

In my next blog I'm going to share with you how Lajos Reich, Chief Technology Officer for GE Healthcare in Hungary drove record innovation despite the limitations of working in a large company.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

Prof. Hawking Goes Weightless -- The True Story

Peter Diamandis   |   February 15, 2013    1:20 PM ET

In this blog, I want to share with you how I overcame the risks involved in taking the world-famous wheelchair-bound physicist Stephen Hawking on a zero-gravity flight.

Doing anything bold and significant in life requires taking risks. And one of the biggest risks I took this past decade was flying the world-famous physicist into zero-gravity.


This blog is the first time I'm speaking about the behind-the-scenes story of those risks and the countermeasures we took. What might have seemed easy from the outside world, was not in any fashion in its execution.

Back in 2007, I had the opportunity to meet Professor Stephen Hawking through the X PRIZE Foundation. In my first conversation with him I learned that he was passionate about flying into space someday. I told him that while I couldn't get him into orbit, I could offer him the chance to fly aboard our specially modified Boeing 727 and experience weightlessness. After all, the idea of flying the world's "greatest expert in gravity" into zero-gravity was too good to be true. He said yes immediately -- or for as long as it took him to type out the letters on his machine.

In 2007, I had been running Zero-G for almost 14 years. Co-founded in 1993 with astronaut Byron Lichtenberg and NASA scientist Ray Cronise, it had been a very, very long startup. It had taken us nearly 11 years to get permission from the FAA to offer the general public the experience of weightlessness (our first flight was in September 2004).

Meeting with my team, we brainstormed making the flight into a fundraiser for ALS (Hawking's motor neuron disease is related to ALS, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). Hawking quickly agreed and we sent out a press release the very next day saying, "Zero G to fly Stephen Hawking into weightlessness to raise funds for ALS." I had expected nothing but positive reaction. But what happened next shocked me. I received two phone calls. One came from our airline partner saying, "You're crazy. You're going to be flying this guy who has been in a wheelchair for 40 years and there's a good chance he might get injured." The other came from a friend at the FAA who said, "You know the rules under which you are operating require that anyone flying must be certified 'able-bodied' and I can't imagine anyone here would view Prof Hawking as able-bodied." On top of that, I had a number of people in the commercial space world approach me saying that this was a bad idea, that a major accident could set back everything we had been working toward for decades.

I was in a quandary. I had started Zero-G specifically to broaden the public for access to weightlessness. Commercializing space was all about giving the experience to a much broader audience, especially amazing people like Prof. Hawking. To be told "no" was all the more reason to figure out how to make it happen. The challenge was getting there without aggravating the FAA lawyers and also making sure the flight was indeed safe for the world's most famous physicist.

It took me six months, many phone calls with lawyers, my friends at the FAA, our aircraft partner and a number of physicians... but we finally got there.

The first thing we did was ask the question, "Who determines if someone is able-bodied?" The second question we asked is how we could maximize Hawking's chances of safety.

The answer to the first question, in our opinion, was that the only folks qualified to judge Hawking's physical health status were his own personal physicians, and perhaps experts from the space-medicine world. So after purchasing liability and malpractice insurance policies for a few (not disclosed here) physicians, we were able to submit three letters to the FAA stating without question, that Hawking was "able-bodied" for the Zero-G flight.

Regarding the second question about safety, we decided to turn the forward half of the G-ForceOne (our special weightless 727 aircraft) into a mobile emergency room able to deal with any slew of medical conditions that might arise. We also decided to conduct a practice flight with a stand-in for Dr. Hawking on whom we would practice a series of zero-g healthcare maneuvers... everything from CPR to electroshock conversion.

With this plan in place and a final blessing from all concerned parties I set out to make this happen. Here's what happened next:

  • We sold about 20 tickets at $15,000 each from donors and raised about $150,000 for ALS. At the same time, we covered our costs for the flight and press conference. (The flight was also sponsored by Spaceport Florida and by Sharper Image.)

  • We flew a practice run the day before the actual flight. All of the paying donors got to fly on this flight as well, and float around and enjoy the experience (the next day, they'd be concentrating on observing Hawking during the flight).

  • As a stand-in for Hawking during these "medical test runs," we found a 15-year old high-school boy who had a passion for physics and who was roughly the same height and weight as Hawking. He was put in a wheelchair, told not not to move a muscle, and we practiced what to do if Hawking had a heart attack and tachycardia or suffered a broken bone. These were things at risk: Hawking is very frail.

  • Onboard we had four physicians and two nurses monitoring the 15-year-old's heart rate, blood pressure, Po2 and breathing at the same time that they ran through all of their emergency medical procedures in zero g.

But the day of the flight was extraordinary.

The entire event took place at the NASA's Kennedy Space Center on the 15,000-foot-long Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) -- one of the longest runways in the world. That morning in front of hundreds of reporters, we held a press conference announcing our intention to conduct "a least a single 30-second parabola" (normally on a consumer zero-g flight, we do about 15 in total). We chose to do a pre-flight press conference because, frankly, we had no idea what shape Hawking would be in at the end of the day.

What stood out most in my mind that morning, was his answer to the press conference question: "Professor Hawking, why are you doing this flight?"

This was Hawking's answer: "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster... I think the human race doesn't have a future if it doesn't go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space."

We boarded Hawking on his wheelchair using a scissor lift, then carried him off his wheelchair into one of the seats for takeoff. Once we reached cruising altitude of 24,000 feet, we carried him to the front of the airplane and lay him on top of pre-positioned padding and pillows. At Hawking's feet was my partner and two-time astronaut Byron Lichtenberg. I was at Hawking's head. As we entered the first parabolic arc and Hawking floated into the air, the entire airplane erupted into cheers. Thirty people in the back of the plane were hooping and hollering. Hawking was free of his wheelchair and the bounds of gravity for the first time in over 40 years. While his entire body is paralyzed, he does have use of a few facial muscles, and the smile that expressed his emotion was extraordinary. He looked like a kid floating in zero-g. After the first parabola, when we returned to normal gravity, I looked over to the lead physicians monitoring his vitals. Apparently everything was rock solid and I was given the thumbs-up to proceed.

While my original intention was to do at least one parabola, at most, perhaps three, Hawking wanted to keep going. At the end we finished up doing eight parabolas, with Hawking still raring to go.

Hawking was so filled with energy that after we landed he even did a post-flight press conference. The result was front-page press worldwide.


Again, doing anything significantly big and bold in life requires taking risks. This was a big one for me personally and for the company. One question people ask me is how do you know when to take a big risk? My answer is twofold:

1. If the risk is fully aligned with your purpose and mission, then it's worth considering. In this case, flying people like Hawking is exactly why we had created Zero G.

2. Second, you need to do everything you can to retire as much of the risk as reasonable, such that you can honestly say that you covered all of the situations you were most concerned about.

I get demoralized by organizations that start off with a mission and pull back when they find it's risky. I view risk-aversion as crippling America in many ways. Most people (and politicians) forget that 500 years ago, thousands of people risked (and gave) their lives to cross the Atlantic and settle America. And then, again, 200 years ago they did the same to settle the West.

For me, Stephen Hawking's flight also allowed us to pioneer the ability to take handicapped people into weightlessness and a year later we had the opportunity to take a group of six wheelchair-bound teenagers into zero gravity. These were kids who had never walked a day in their lives. Their experiencing the ability to fly like Superman around the airplane without their wheelchairs was remarkable.

Ultimately when you are doing something new, you have to ask yourself is it worth the risk to you? Is it something that you're willing to bet everything on? If you're doing something big and bold that's sometimes what it takes.

Zero-G today has flown over 12,000 people into zero gravity. The company operates flights in cities across the U.S. The ticket price is $5,000 -- reasonable when you think of the 11 years of start-up time! If you're interested in flying, you can find more on the company's website: It is a truly remarkable experience and worth every penny!

In my next blog I'm going to teach you one of the most important fundraising lessons I ever learned. It's worked for me for over 30 years. It's something you need to know, too.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.