Entrepreneur Rising: Lessons from Singularity University

The first time I had heard of Singularity University was from a former classmate, a businessman who had taken a program there and got his mind totally blown. “Whatever it is you’re doing or thinking, Singularity will make you realize that it’s not big enough.” I was intrigued.

There have only been a small number of Filipinos who have taken the Executive Program in Silicon Valley, and up to that point, I could count on one hand the people I knew who had. The cost for the week-long immersive program is one thing, the selection criteria to get in is another. The program is intended for senior leaders in business, government, and nonprofit sectors who are in a position to make a positive impact at scale, and who want to create their organization’s future—and the world’s future—and not simply react to it.

I was part of the January 2019 batch and found myself in a cohort composed of people from 32 countries and 22 industries. We were “handpicked to create the future.” I was surprised to find myself in the company of the chairman as well as CEO of the Philippines’ biggest media company, a business being disrupted in a very big way. We were there for different reasons. Mine was to find where to take my next big leap.

Peter Diamandis and John Aguilar

We covered topics such as AI and the future of learning, blockchain technology, microbiomes, digital biology, space, the future of mobility, exponential economics, cybersecurity, the future of food, the imperative and challenges of corporate transformation, energy, augmented and virtual reality, and the power and implications of exponential change, among others.

All of this to give us perspective on the inevitability of exponential technologies impacting every facet of our existence, and in response crafting our own major change, our 10X future. But how do we do this?

As Stanford lecturer and Design Thinking guru Dan Klein said, we must practice delighting in the unknown. When you create an environment where people are free to fail without the blame, you create psychological safety for the team. In essence, if we embrace and celebrate failure, we can learn much faster. And if we make mistakes early and often, we have a greater chance to discover something new.

Amin Toufani of TLabs presented a powerful challenge for CEOs to begin initiating “talking about everything we don’t know.” Get your people to ask: how would you kill my business? In a world where the value chain rises from content to product/service to platform to ecosystem, the ultimate value drivers are the ones who create the OS or operating system. Recent events point to this truth when Elon Musk literally put out as open source his electric vehicle technology patents to share with the world and “will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.” Indeed, bold visions necessitate bold, sometimes counter-intuitive moves.

Peter Diamandis and John Aguilar

But my biggest learning is from Singularity University Executive Founder and Director Peter Diamandis. He urged all of us to find our MTP—our massively transformative purpose. The world’s biggest problems are also the world’s biggest business opportunities. If you want to make a billion dollars, help a billion people. Does your company have a crazy idea department? Is there a place where those ideas are incentivized? His message to big business is this: partner with entrepreneurs and startups. Partner with them and give them access to your data and resources. Invest in them but do not take majority; otherwise, you will kill their spirit.

Peter Diamandis

Locally, the nascent SingularityU Manila Chapter (singularityumanila.com), a diverse and inclusive group of Singularity alumni and like-minded future thinking change drivers, has just conducted our first mixer event, with more to follow in the coming months. We invite you to take part in our future events and join us as co-conspirators in creating the future. Visit singularityumanila.com and be part of our community.


John Aguilar attended the Singularity University Executive Program in January 2019. We regularly feature posts from alumni and community members who share their perspectives and experiences. Content in this post originally appeared in John’s article, published in the business section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on June 1, 2019.