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Hilbert’s list

In 1900, David Hilbert published a list of 23 problems that he proposed would be the important ones for mathematicians to solve in the upcoming century. That list led to a focused effort that lasted a century, and the vast majority of the problems have been fully or partially solved. Ignoramus et ignorabimus is a foolish statement. We can know, and one day, we will.

Technology (the technology of connection, of devices and of knowledge) can create a surplus. The cost of light, of transport and of food has dropped by orders of magnitude in just a few lifetimes. Most of us waste electricity, water and other essentials in ways that would have been astonishing just a generation ago. Privileged populations go to the doctor for illnesses that wouldn’t even be a topic for discussion among those with less access to the surplus that we’ve created in access to healthcare.

Surely, we can build a better future with technology instead of focusing on autonomous drone delivery of a latte 9 blocks away in San Francisco.

As we enter a new year, one in which technology promises to move faster than ever, it’s worth considering what our 23 problems might be. (Hilbert left one off his list, and others have created very different lists–there’s no right answer).

A personal list is a great place to start (because, after all, you’ve solved much of what confronted you a decade ago). Technology doesn’t have to be high-tech. It can simply be the hard work of finding generous solutions to important problems, big or small.

Our next steps might be far more effective than simple resolutions, which are easily ignored or pushed aside. We can work toward dignity, toward access, toward seeing the world as it is…

As citizens, creators and consumers, each of us can also propose a more global list. To get you started, here are some that come to mind for the next decades. Feel free to publish your own list, which is likely to be better informed and more nuanced, but here you go…

[This list seems ridiculous until you realize that in the last few generations, we created vaccines, antibiotics, smartphones, GPS and the Furby].

1. High efficiency, sustainable method for growing sufficient food, including market-shifting replacements for animals as food
2. High efficiency, renewable energy sources and useful batteries (cost, weight, efficiency)
3. Effective approaches to human trafficking
4. Carbon sequestration at scale
5. Breakthrough form for democracy in a digital age
6. Scalable, profitable, sustainable methods for small-scale creators of intellectual property
7. Replacement for the University
8. Useful methods for enhancing, scaling or replacing primary education, particularly literacy
9. Beneficial man/machine interface (post Xerox Parc)
10. Cost efficient housing at scale
11. Useful response to urban congestion
12. Gene therapies for obesity, cancer and chronic degenerative diseases
13. Dramatic leaps of AI interactions with humans
14. Alternatives to paid labor for most humans
15. Successful interactions with intelligent species off Earth
16. Self-cloning of organs for replacement
17. Cultural and nation-state conflict resolution and de-escalation
18. Dramatically new artistic methods for expression
19. Useful enhancements to intellect and mind for individuals
20. Shift in approach to end-of-life suffering and solutions for pain
21. Enhanced peer-to-peer communication technologies approaching the feeling of telepathy
22. Transmutation of matter to different elements and structures
23. Off-planet outposts

It’s going to get interesting. Especially if we can imagine it.

Creating a useful spec

If you want someone to help, you’ll do better with a spec. It lists just four things:

  1. What is the problem to be solved?
  2. How are we going to solve it?
  3. How can we test that the thing we built matches what we set out to build?
  4. How will we know if it’s working?

While there are only four steps, the specificity of each step is essential. The spec for a 787 jet, for example, leaves very little room for argument about what’s being created. On the other hand, “I’ll know it when I see it,” isn’t at all helpful.

If you’re not spending at least 5% of your project budget on the spec, you might be doing it wrong.

Installing the stupid filter

I’ve never once had a meeting at 3 am. Not once.

My iCal is apparently unaware of this. If I type “3” into the time box on my calendar, it blithely defaults to “am”.

A woman left a tip of more than $5,000 at a kebab shop in Switzerland, because she typed her PIN (5650) when the little card reader was asking her for her tip instead. Of course, she had never left a tip approaching this amount before, but the device was missing a stupid filter.

“Are you sure?” is something humans ask all the time. If you go to an ethical plastic surgeon and announce, through drunken tears, that you want a new nose, new lips, new hips and a skin peel, all at once, she’ll not only ask if you’re sure, but she’ll send you home to think about it first.

We keep hearing about how AI is going to take all our jobs. Perhaps it should begin with the job of asking if we’re sure.

Go find a ladder

While it might be fun (or appear expedient, or brave, or heroic) to try to scale a cliff with no tools, it turns out that ladders are a more effective way to level up.

When it’s time to drive a nail, a hammer is a lot more useful than a rock. Even if you have to invest in obtaining one.

Often, we spend most of our time throwing ourselves at the wall instead of investing the time to find a useful ladder instead.

Perhaps, instead of restating our audacious goals, we can spend more time finding useful tools–insights, skills, trust, attention, access–instead.

It’s worth the search.

The Marketing Seminar returns

In just about a week, we open the doors for the sixth session of The Marketing Seminar. If you’ve read This Is Marketing, you have an idea of the content, but you might not be familiar with the extraordinary cohort, the innovative learning approaches and the measurable transformations that happen inside. Some of our alumni have been back three times.

The last time we opened a marketing seminar was almost eight months ago, so this is a great chance for you to level up.

If you share your email address with us at The Marketing Seminar, we’ll send you a note when it re-opens in about a week.

More than 6,600 people have benefitted from this new approach to marketing (and to learning). Ask someone who’s tried it.

Enjoy your end-of-year break, and we’ll see you there.

If you don’t have time to clean up, you don’t have time to cook

Professionals understand that the project is the whole project, not simply the fun or urgent or interesting part of the work.

There are countless productive shortcuts along the way. But not finishing the project isn’t one of them.

We are all poets now

Poets use words (and silence) to change things. They care about form and function and most of all, about making an impact on those that they connect with.

Every word counts. Every breath as well.

In a world filled with empty noise, the most important slots are reserved for the poets we seek to listen to, and the poet we seek to become.

A commitment to possibility

Pessimists are right.

Optimists are right.

Expectations have magical powers.

So many people to connect with, so many things to learn. Doors to open, helping hands to be offered.

The magic of our time is that forward motion multiplies and ideas can be shared like never before.

Of course it could all go sideways. The person who invented the ship also invented the shipwreck.

But today’s as good a day as any to commit to possibility.

“Nobody dabbles at dentistry”

There are some jobs that are only done by accredited professionals.

And then there are most jobs, jobs that some people do for fun, now and then, perhaps in front of the bathroom mirror.

It’s difficult to find your footing when you’re a logo designer, a comedian or a project manager. Because these are gigs that many people think they can do, at least a little bit.

If you’re doing one of these non-dentist jobs, the best approach is to be extraordinarily good at it. So much better than an amateur that there’s really no room for discussion. You don’t have to justify yourself. Your work justifies you.

The alternative is to simply whine about the fact that everyone thinks that they can do what you do.

The thing is, it might be true.

[Hat tip to Kevin Pollak.]

In search of specific

So much pressure to be general, to be all inclusive, to aim for the middle.

That’s what meetings push you to do.



But what if you were specific instead? Precisely for you, not you. Precisely does this, not that.

When you’re specific, you only find two kinds of people: people who are delighted, and the rest.

Specific can be its own reward.

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