By Peter High, published on Forbes
Peter Diamandis has lived his personal motto, which is “the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.” He has founded or co-founded more than a dozen entrepreneurial ventures, including the X Prize Foundation and Singularity University. Additionally, he is the best selling author of a number of books, including Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World and Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think.
The common threads between these initiatives include his passion for space, longevity, and innovation, among other topics. He is also keenly aware of what his strengths and weaknesses. For example, he has found that he is better suited to develop an idea, build leadership teams, develop a vision, and then let them run things. He is less well suited to run businesses day-to-day. By assembling world class talent around his ideas, his impact will continue to be felt in many corners of the world.
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Peter High: Your personal motto is “the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself,” and not so surprisingly, you are a serial entrepreneur. You have founded several companies including International Space University, XPRIZE, Singularity University, Human Longevity Inc., and Planetary Resources, just to name a few. What are the ties that bind your areas of interest and the companies that you have founded?
Peter Diamandis: I think the common theme that binds them together is my passion, which has evolved over time. My passion – as Juliann [Guthrie] so well described in her book[How to Make a Spaceship] – early on was space, and space has always been one of my core underlying passions.
I think it was during medical school a decade or two later that I became enamored with the idea of longevity as a theme in terms of trying to extend the healthy human lifespan. I was in medical school and I had been reading about species of life on Earth and in the oceans, such as whales, turtles and certain species of shark that had lifespans measured in hundreds of years. My feeling was that if they can live that long, why couldn’t we? This interest in longevity also stemmed from my interest in space, in the sense that there is a lot to explore, and if we can live longer, we will get to see more of it.
Space led to the XPRIZE, and the XPRIZE led to this real empowerment of the notion that we can do extraordinary things. Technology, in the hands of individuals today, is growing at such an extraordinary rate that we do not need to depend upon a few wealthy robber barons or government officials to solve our problems. Through technology, we are empowered more than ever before to solve our own problems. As a result, the XPRIZE grew from a focus on space to a focus on solving Grand Challenges.
That also tied into Singularity University. I had created International Space University as my first university, again driven by that space passion. As I became more enamored with the ability that individuals had to problem solve and became enamored with the implications of exponential technology and got to know Ray Kurzweil, the idea of creating a Singularity University that was focused on these technologies and focused on their ability to be leveraged to solve big problems became more clear.
All my companies weave together, they are all passion driven. They all tie back to that theme of “the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.” It is about creating a future of abundance in the future of an exploring species and a future of healthy longevity. These are areas that I am excited about.
High: How do you divide your time, and how do you find your partners across these businesses? You only have so many hours in a day, and you have chosen your partners wisely. I am curious how often the idea comes up and you seek a partner or if it is in the partnership that the idea itself arises.
Diamandis: There are a couple of points to make there. One is that I have learned over the years to know what I love doing and what I am reasonably good at, and what I do not love doing and what I am not good at. I love the early creative phase, coming up with the idea, brainstorming the idea, laying out the vision, finding the formative team, raising the capital, and then stepping back and hiring a CEO to run it – or if I take the CEO position myself, as I have a few times, replacing myself. The hiring, the firing, and the detailed minutiae is not my forte. In the case with almost everything, I am proud to have a great CEO as a partner there. I typically will take a role as Executive Chairman because while I still am involved in some elements of the day-to-day, it is more the strategic partnerships, the capital and the long term, big picture, not the day-to-day operations of the company.
In the case of Planetary Resources, there is Chris Lewicki, at Human Longevity Inc., the CEO is Cynthia Collins, at Singularity University, Rob Nail is CEO, and XPRIZE has Marcus Shingles. The only place I keep a CEO role is in PhD Ventures, which is a company that manages my speaking, my book writing, and my Abundance 360 conference. It is my little think tank. I have a group of nine millennials, age 21 to 30, that support me across everything I do. It is my deployable team to support me in each of these companies.
I split my time equally in supporting my companies. If I had had a large exit 20 years ago, I might have built these things within a single company like [Richard] Branson has done and the Virgin Group or Larry Page has done inside of Alphabet. However, they have all been built independently to have them properly capitalized. For me, it is a joy – I love the constant freshness and the constant new challenges. I will either go from opportunity to opportunity or from challenge to challenge depending on what phase each company is in.
High: One of the central themes in your work is that the pace of technology change is accelerating, and you note that companies should disrupt themselves or risk being disrupted. We have just spoken about the companies you have founded, and in each case these were startups. That said, as you take the lessons that you learned, and you apply them in work with more traditional Fortune 500 organizations that are many decades old and have legacy technologies, to say nothing of legacy cultures and mentalities, I am curious if you have any lessons that separate those organizations that can adjust and can disrupt themselves versus those that are at risk of not doing so.