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The People Out There Are Your Platform

Stylianos walked in through the café door with his usual confident swagger...

Stylianos walked in through the café door with his usual confident swagger and sat next to me. He had just finished a meeting with the owner of one of the biggest law firms in Cyprus.

Asked for advice on how to best prepare the firm to embrace a future driven by technology, Stylianos had replied, without a moment’s hesitation:

“When Amazon started in 1994, they had far fewer resources than your law firm did at the time. The difference is that, for the last 29 years you’ve been hiring lawyers while they were hiring engineers and computer scientists.”

His answer startled me. It doubtless startled the Head of the Law Firm too. Little did I know that our short chat over coffee would lead me a few months later to the other side of the Atlantic on what turned out to be a modern-day personal journey of discovery.

Beyond Limits

I have a confession to make. Don’t get carried away by my Social Media consistency. If it wasn’t for my trusted friends and associates, I would even have trouble resetting my e-mail password.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the rapid development of new technology have occasionally made me feel deeply uncomfortable but my thirst to learn and hone my craft as a speaker and trainer is always pushing me to go beyond my limits. I have always had a strong desire to grasp the future with both hands and open the black box of AI, knowing all the while that, if I succeed, I might not be able to handle what’s inside.

I knew that there was only one place where I could at least try that – and it was miles away. So I pressed “pause” on all my business commitments and decided to fly to Silicon Valley and experience the “Exponential Innovation Program” at Singularity University.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

A Changed Mindset

At Singularity University, I soaked up theincredible atmosphere, I learned from some of the world’s finest minds and I even walked across a narrow high-rise bridge on an augmented reality platform, feeling as if my days were over! I gained many deep insights and learnt things that will surely form a part of many of my future keynote addresses, workshops and blog posts.

Most importantly of all, I came home with a changed mindset.

From Linear to Exponential

Never mind the law firm that can charge one wealthy client a million euros. You can make a million euros by charging a million people one euro each.

So, the real question is: “How do you serve a million people?”

The answer is by shifting your mindset from linear to exponential. This means investing in scaling the knowledge rather than in scaling the number of people.

Google did not print seven billion world maps, even though it could have easily done so. Instead, the company hired engineers and invested time and effort in creating a single state-of-the-art digital map that can serve seven billion people.

Similarly, Airbnb became the biggest accommodation provider in the world without owning any rooms; Alibaba is the most valuable retailer in the world and yet it has no inventory; Uber became the biggest global taxi firm without owning a single taxi and Facebook is now the world’s most popular media owner but it creates no content.

According to Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg (authors of How Google Works), technology companies always think “platforms, not product.” Hence, Airbnb is a platform for the lodging industry while Uber is a platform for personal transportation services.

Based on this concept, there is every reason to believe that, sooner rather than later, the biggest law firms in the world might have no lawyers! They will need platforms, though.

Open Minds. Open Hearts. Open Sources.

No-one doubts the talent of professional advertising agencies when it comes to promoting products but can you imagine what might happen if your company decided to give consumers a chance at creating your advertisements? Disaster, right?Wrong! That’s exactly what Doritos did in 2006 with their annual Super Bowl Ad. It was a risky, radical and bold move but it paid off. “Crash the Super Bowl” did not just give Doritos an incredible sales boost but is now widely seen as a groundbreaking innovation that put crowdsourced ads on the map.

This concept doesn’t apply exclusively to advertising. For 15 years, scientists had struggled with finding a way to fold proteins in the human body in their efforts totarget and eradicate diseases. The University of Washington’s Department of Biochemistry was eventually persuaded to collaborate with the university’s Center for Game Science and turned protein folding into an online video game. Ten days after it went online, the first problem was solved – not by a scientist but by an American housewife.

The People Out There Are Your Platform.

As Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems says: “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people in the world work for someone else.” The realization that there are smarter people than us out there creates a space for connection and collaboration.

Our ability to grow as human beings will be determined by how willing we are to learn from an increasing number of active contributors and how courageous we are to share our own ideas, learn from feedback and overcome the fear of failure. More importantly, it is all about our eagerness to open up and let in people who can contribute to our lives in meaningful ways.Open platforms can drive exponential growth for businesses but open minds and open hearts can drive exponential growth in people. Times are changing and the Internet era is rapidly transforming people from passive spectators into active contributors. 

Step Into The Future

The consequences of the vast technological advancements of the last few years are now coming into sharp focus, from the automated Volvo mechanic recruiting system to AI-powered computer assistants like Siri and Alexa. It’s hard to grasp it all at once but books like Peter H. Diamandis’ Bold and Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus have mapped out the various possibilities for our future.

Despite the uncertainty regarding the exact consequences of these technologies (Will they help or harm us?), most of the opportunities, risks and complications are already being laid out in front of us.

Technology and AI are growing exponentially. The question is, will we humans step exponentially into the future too?