Human Potential, Future of Teams, Global Security
Corporate Innovation • Entrepreneurship • Synthesis • Wellness • Future Forecasting • Future of Learning • Robotics • Leadership • GGC-Security • Human Potential • Exponential Thinking • Security • Disruption • Cybersecurity
Brian Ferguson has spent a career working in high-performance organizations, learning from leaders and decision-makers in national security, the military, and technology.
The first part of Brian’s career was spent working as a civilian in national security primarily in the policy-making component of Office of the Secretary of Defense. During those years, he was exposed to how a large, complex organization wrestled with evolutions in speed-of-information, decision-making, and new technology.
After the Pentagon, Brian served in special operations. Aside from his duties at the tactical level, he worked with senior leaders to understanding the impact of accelerating technology on the modern battlefield and was exposed to Singularity University. In addition, he found a passion at the intersection of emerging technology and human performance, going on to contribute in building several innovation and emerging technology efforts across national security.
Today, he is the CEO of Arena Labs, a company that works in High Performance Medicine. Arena Labs works with a wide range of hospitals and surgical teams to bridge the “first principles of high performance” with unique technology for training stress, anxiety and decision making in complex, demanding surgical environments.
He received an MSc from The London School of Economics and is a graduate of the Santa Fe Institute on Complexity. Brian is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations as well as the Pacific Council on International Policy. He and his wife Lindsay are both proud Midwesterners who now live in San Clemente, California.
Ethos comes from the Greek word “character” used to describe the guiding beliefs or aspirations of a community. Brian argues that all great leaders – and especially all great organizations – are rooted in a strong ethos. And yet, very few companies today have truly taken the time to write and implement a core set of guiding beliefs and aspirations. Today, organizations worry about evolving to avoid being disrupted, focusing on a variety of business and technology-based principles. In this discussion, Brian visits the power of a brilliant ethos to keep an organization cohesive, self-critical, and able to naturally evolve beyond forces of disruption.
In this talk, Brian provides a basic framework for what it means to think with an exponential mindset. Rather that covering a rubric, Brian dives into the elements of becoming an “expert learner” and developing a thought process that allows for rapid change be it in academia, industry, or relationships.
Brian borrows from leadership lessons of a wide range of disciplines: medicine, elite sport, special operations, and the creative arts to describe how world-class performers in this field continue to evolve their craft and thus, their thinking, in the rapidly changing world of the 21st century.
Whether you are leading a Fortune 50 business, conducting heart surgery, or running a small business, flourishing and finding success in today’s world is built upon understanding the implications and impact of exponential technology. For some, this understanding allows for a “disconnect” and the ability to feel more human and less tech-enabled. For others, it means using new technological platforms to impact at scale and reach a broader audience and client base. Either way, exponential thinking is a competitive advantage in the 21st century.
From business and government to large hospitals, today’s institutions were built on an ability to plan for “the long-term”. 5, 10, 15 and longer temporal cycles allowed for planning, resourcing, and “forecasting”. Yet a world of exponential change has shown us that thinking just one year ahead, let alone two or three, is nearly impossible. The speed of change in the 21st century continues to challenge and sometimes threaten, many of the greatest organizations in society. Those who can succeed understand that forecasting is still critical but it has fundamentally changed. In today’s world, strategy and “forecasting” are centered upon organizations that are built to be flexible, adaptive, and self-disruptive: Learning Organizations.
Although society continues to be impacted by new modes of learning — online courses, podcasts, distance classrooms — much of the way we build organizations and teams is rooted in traditional incentives. And, those incentives go on to drive how our organizations evolve. In today’s digital world, nearly every leader & organization feels as though “they cannot keep up”. This speed of change is only increasing in a world of accelerating technology. As we consider the Future of Learning, it is at the core of success: in medicine, sports, business, and government. Building “Learning Organizations” allows us “expect change” and hire, train, and promote people who understand that learning, adjusting, and being flexible is the single most important capability in the 21st century.
Drawing on lessons learned while in the Pentagon, White House, and special operations, Brian discusses the critical importance of trust as a foundation for every elite organization. In establishing a culture of extreme trust, organizations provide a framework that allows for candid criticism and feedback that is essential to constant improvement and evolution. In the absence of trust, criticism can be threatening when said or even worse, insidious because team members are afraid to be provide open critique. As organizations face forces of exponential technology and eventual disruption, introspection and unfettered self-criticism is essential to innovation and long-term success.
Public discussions about modern medicine over the last decade have been dominated by a focus on policy and regulatory solutions. While these are important challenges for leaders to solve, the future of world-class medicine will not be found in either the policy or regulatory spaces. Instead, it is in building high performing teams. Modern technology — more advanced robotics, AI, and sensors — allow us not only to understand patients but more importantly, the professionals who take care of patients. In garnering greater insights about doctors, nurses, & technicians, we can optimize medical teams who are enabled by robotics & AI for unprecedented medical care.
Global security organizations are traditionally large bureaucracies rooted in principles of linear progression – from hiring practices to strategy. Brian discusses the impact of accelerating technology on how these institutions are being stressed – through groups like ISIS – and how they must incorporate “algorithmic” or more creative, non-linear thinking in to their structure and strategy.
Robotic systems have continued to disrupt and change human systems — from the military and sports to business and government. Whether an AI platform in our new vehicle or a drone used by special operations personnel, modern robotics and advanced intelligence are altering the human landscapes that guide all parts of work & society. Organizations, teams, and companies that understand the impact of this change can begin to think about how to select, hire, and develop their talent for the future. In today’s world, a competitive edge is found in building human systems positioned to remain “human” but be amplified in new ways by the capabilities of these accelerating technologies.
Brian surveys the evolving world of human performance – the physical and mental feats increasingly being achieved as a result of exponential technology. He draws on examples from special operations, Red Bull, and performers who are pushing the “super human”. Despite these energizing developments in performance, the fare more powerful of our time is human potential– what we’re capable of in a lifetime. He explores “the age of the democratization of greatness” and how we combine opportunities of accelerating technology to harness “the inspired soul” to optimize our own potential, serve as better leaders, and make deeper impact in today’s world.
Brian visits three key themes in this talk. First, what is the 21st century and how has the way we live and interact evolved. He looks at the impact of accelerating technology on global events, making the case that in a dynamic, unpredictable world “strategy” today is about building flexible, adaptive organizations. Second, Brian explores common traits of effective 21st century organizations that manage to be flexible and resilient in an unpredictable age. Lastly, he talks about the most important aspect of leading 21st century organizations – optimizing the potential of people within them.
Science is rooted in first principles from which hypotheses and research are constructed. What are the first principles of elite performance? Far harder to quantify, these principles are at the core of how we all look at work and achievement. In an age of accelerating technology, Brian argues that “The First Principles” remain the same.
Having been involved in the establishment of several innovation cells – in national security and at the Federal Reserve – Brian focuses on the fact that few organizations really stop to consider the forces that are driving a desire for cells of maverick thinking. He discusses the impacts of exponential technology that continues to exacerbate change and a lack of predictability. Brian argues that while “innovation” is great, it’s usually a symptom of broader challenges that are overlooked.