Thu, 2 May 2019
The Sky’s the Limit
Space enthusiast, doctor, and serial entrepreneur Peter Diamandis on abundance, exponential technologies, and why the world is better than you think.
Ever since he was a child, Peter Diamandis has been looking up, literally and figuratively.
Captivated by the lunar landing in 1969, he’s spent much of his life pushing the boundaries of space exploration through his various companies. And as a proponent of the concepts of exponential technologies and abundance, he has a refreshingly optimistic outlook on the future.
“I believe that we're heading towards a world where we can uplift every man, woman, and child on this planet,” he says.
And as the founder of more than 20 companies in the fields of longevity, space, venture capital, and education—perhaps most famously the XPRIZE—Diamandis is doing his best to advance the world he envisions.
“I’ve always followed my passion,” he says. “And at the end of the day, that’s really the world that I feel extraordinarily lucky to live in, one where I am doing what I want to do.”
Exploring Medicine and Space
Born in New York to Greek immigrant parents who both worked in medicine, Diamandis felt obligated to become a doctor just like his father. But as a child of the 1960s who was fascinated with the Apollo program, he also felt compelled to explore space. So, he did both.
After getting accepted into Harvard Medical School, Diamandis co-founded the International Space University, which today has graduated more than 4,600 students from over 105 countries, and started International Microspace, a rocket company that was later acquired by CTA Incorporated.
Even after he obtained his medical degree, instead of practicing medicine, Diamandis continued building businesses, many in the area of space. He founded XPRIZE, a global contest whose winners include a team that developed the first non-governmental manned spacecraft; and Zero-G, which has helped people like Stephen Hawking, Buzz Aldrin, and Martha Stewart experience weightlessness in a modified Boeing 727 that performs aerobatic maneuvers at 32,000 feet (if you fancy a ride, the Zero-G Experience starts at $5,400 per person).
While Diamandis has worked hard to get here, he’s having a lot of fun too. “I've always been a 9-year-old kid pursuing my dreams,” he says.
Turning Science Fiction Into Fact
Looking at Diamandis’ long list of companies is a bit like reading synopses of science fiction novels. Space Adventures sends private citizens to the International Space Station to live and work alongside astronauts. Human Longevity seeks to extend the human lifespan through genomic and phenotypic data. And XPRIZE hosts multimillion-dollar global competitions to solve humanity’s most challenging problems.
There are some truly out-of-this-world inventions that have emerged from XPRIZE competitions that are worth noting here. To make space travel possible for private citizens, Mojave Aerospace Ventures designed a privately financed manned spaceship with technology that was licensed by Richard Branson for Virgin Galactic. To provide clean water to the underprivileged, the Skysource/Skywater Alliance invented an energy-efficient device that gleans water from thin air. To make healthcare more accessible, Team DMI created a device that can run hundreds of lab tests on one drop of blood, alerting the user within minutes if they have a cold, the flu, or even Ebola.
Diamandis says that XPRIZE helps address just one of his many passions: “How do I empower entrepreneurs to really go big and change the world?”
On Emerging Technologies and Abundance
Watch the evening news or read the newspaper, and the world seems pretty bleak. But Diamandis believes we have good reason to be hopeful. One of his most popular contributions is his concept of abundance, which he’s given a TED talk and written a book about. It’s the idea that technology is transforming scarce resources into abundant ones, quickly closing the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Google, for example, has given the general public access to a storehouse of knowledge that history’s greatest philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists could never have imagined.
Further, exponential technologies—such as artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and virtual reality—have made it easier than ever to produce solutions at scale, solutions that, previously, only governments and massive corporations were capable of producing.
“Energy is a perfect example,” Diamandis says. Humans went from killing whales to get oil for lamps, to mining mountains for coal, to drilling the ocean floor for oil. Meanwhile, the sun bathes the earth in more energy than we could use in a year. An exponential entrepreneur, therefore, would find a way to use technology to efficiently harness the sun’s energy and distribute it to the masses.
Through the lens of abundance, Diamandis sees an opportunity for entrepreneurs to change the world, so much so that he created an exclusive community, Abundance Digital, that aims to do just that. He hosts monthly webinars and provides courses to inspire its roughly 3,000 members to think bigger, teaching them that “the world's biggest problems are the world's biggest business opportunities.”
Because of exponential technologies, Diamandis envisions a future where AI makes education and healthcare effectively free and available to all, where self-driving electric cars make using a car service cheaper than owning a vehicle—a future where nothing is truly scarce.
Finding Your Massively Transformative Purpose
Though Diamandis keeps his eyes to the sky, that doesn’t mean he has his head in the clouds. He acknowledges that every new venture carries the potential for failure.
When asked if he ever has doubts when starting a new business, he says, “Of course, I mean, I'm not insane. But it doesn't slow me down.” That’s because, though he recognizes entrepreneurship’s inherent difficulties, he draws strength from his unshakeable sense of purpose.
Diamandis recommends beginning every entrepreneurial journey with determining your “Massively Transformative Purpose,” or MTP. This is what keeps you going when the going gets tough; it’s the thing that, even if you do not succeed, grants you the satisfaction of knowing that your time was spent improving humanity.
“People have to understand why they're building their business,” he says. “If you're just trying to build a business to make money, I view that as sort of an empty pursuit, and when it gets hard, you don't have the emotional energy to push through and succeed.”
So what are Diamandis’ MTPs? He has a few: opening up space exploration to more people, extending the healthy human lifespan, and inspiring entrepreneurs to solve the world’s biggest problems. For an advanced entrepreneur, having three MTPs is fine, but Diamandis recommends beginners start with just one.
On Hiring a Team and Finding a Co-Founder
Behind every great entrepreneur is a great team, and Diamandis is no exception. He has a roughly 12-person “strike force” that works with him across all of his ventures. Each team member has been carefully selected.
“I don't suffer assholes or fools,” says Diamandis, whose rigorous hiring process is proof of that. To fill a position, he’ll sometimes run a global contest. The winners advance to a 60- or 90-day trial period, after which, the entire team has to vote them in, meaning there must be 100 percent acceptance.
“One person who's out of whack can send the whole thing careening,” he explains. “So it's really important that we operate as a team.”
While he uses the Kolbe test, which assesses conative skills, Diamandis doesn’t rely heavily on testing to make his choices, preferring to use the team interview process as a major determiner.
Ultimately, though, his hiring decisions boil down to one simple metric: He needs to genuinely like the candidate.
“If when we're in the meeting and that person is talking, if I'm, in the back of my mind, saying, ‘I wish this guy would shut up,’ that's not a good situation. On the other hand, if we're in a meeting and I'm saying, ‘Listen, I haven't heard from you. I really want to hear your thoughts,’ that's a good situation. So I need to respect them and want to hear what they have to say.”
Those same likeability and respect factors go into his selecting a co-founder or CEO. For every company Diamandis has started, he picked a co-founder or two to help him get it off the ground. Now that he has more than 20 companies, for some of them, he may step back and serve as founder and chairman and then either promote a co-founder to CEO or hire one to run the company.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Diamandis has his hands on many projects, including a new book he’s working on with Tony Robbins. “I'm doing a lot,” he admits, “but it's all driven by passion.”
As for work-life balance, for him, it doesn’t exist. “It's more about work-life integration,” he explains. “I am ‘on’ 24/7. I have two 7-year-old boys; I do my best to prioritize them, but there have been…too many days away, and so there is, for sure, the trade of time.”
That trade-off is a familiar one for any entrepreneur trying to make a difference, big or small. “I know some of the more successful Silicon Valley gazillionaires,” says Diamandis, “and it's brutal sometimes. But at the end of the day, it's living a life of meaning and a life of where you get to choose how you spend your time and the dent you want to leave on this planet.”
4 Lessons Every Visionary Founder Can Learn From Peter Diamandis
It’s one thing to want to build a lifestyle business, one whose sole purpose is to make enough money to support the way you live, but it’s quite another to want to build a business that changes the world. If you fall in the latter camp, here’s what you can take away from our talk with Peter Diamandis:
Be true to yourself.
“The most important thing you need to do as a founder of a company is know that you love what you're doing, and you're not doing it for your parents, for your friends, for your teacher, out of obligation. … You’re doing it because it is what you love doing.”
Know your MTP.
“What's your massively transformative purpose? What is it that keeps you going? Who do you want to be a hero to?”
“I teach that the world's biggest problems are the world's biggest business opportunities. If you want to become a billionaire, help a billion people.”
Harness exponential technologies to help people at scale.
“As an entrepreneur, you can choose to work hard 40 hours a week…and impact a hundred people, or you can work those same hours and impact a million people. It's your choice. The tools we have to impact the world are extraordinary.”