Singularity University at Ten Years: The SU Mission

This year, we’re celebrating Singularity University’s tenth anniversary, and our theme is The Power of 10. I’ve been reflecting deeply on our journey, what has worked well, what we need to improve, and what ultimate success looks like for our organization. As we’ve been rapidly learning and evolving over the years, there is much to share, and I’m eager to go into greater detail about who we are, what we do, and why we do it. To that end, this is the first post in a series about SU and our 10-year record of empowering positive social change. This first post will cover:

  • Our mission
  • Our business and what we do
  • Our impact and GGC model

While my goal is to be informative, my desire is also to foster dialogue and ideas for how we can improve our model and amplify our impact.

Our mission

SU’s mission is to educate, empower, and inspire leaders to leverage exponential technologies to solve humanity’s grand challenges.

When Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis (and an amazing group of other contributors) started SU in 2008, they envisioned an organization that would convene passionate, action-oriented leaders from around the world and show them how exponentially accelerating technologies could help shift humanity from an era of scarcity to one of abundance. This commitment to helping individuals and organizations better understand and apply technology to solving grand challenges and building a better future is unwavering. How we do that continues to evolve.

In our early days, our focus was largely on technology…the range, growth, and convergence of emerging technologies that were unlocking solutions to the most intractable problems, fueling new industries, and enabling massive disruption. In the classroom, our multi-disciplinary faculty would paint a picture of the future driven by exponential technologies and simply blow people’s minds.

Today, talk of these technologies has become ubiquitous. Artificial intelligence, robotics, AR/VR, self-driving cars, synthetic biology, etc. are being discussed and debated in boardrooms and dining rooms globally. In the classroom today, our faculty are spending more time on the “So what?” and “Now what?”…the implications and potential impact of these technologies across a wide range of disciplines and industries.

Regardless of whether our program participants are CEOs, mayors, entrepreneurs, investors, teachers, or policymakers, the call to action is the same: use technology to create a better future for all.

An abundant future

In an abundant future, every human has access to energy, food, clean water, shelter, safety, education, and healthcare. Basic needs are met. Technology is enabling us to unlock currently scarce resources in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way. To be clear, however, technology alone is not enough. We also need to meaningfully evolve policy, ethics, law, economic and social structures, etc. And that’s a tall order. But this is where we are heading. The rapid growth and power of technology will enable this future if we have the social, political, and individual courage to let it. At SU, we are optimistic about the possibility of an abundant future and have been convening a global community of like-minded people to help build it.

This vision of the future is in stark contrast to the dystopian, hunger games, zombie apocalypse scenario embraced by the media and Hollywood today. I firmly believe that the world needs a new narrative…a positive, inspiring, and credible narrative that can serve as a beacon of hope and source of motivation for people to take on the biggest challenges of our time.

Our formula for change

Today’s accelerating pace of change and the widespread disruption enabled by technology feels extremely uncomfortable. Our brains have been hard-wired to think linearly for hundreds of thousands of years. Learning to think and anticipate exponentially is incredibly hard…but critical.

SU helps individuals and organizations learn to embrace exponential thinking and adapt to this new paradigm by focusing on three areas: Mindset, Tools & Resources, and Network. The diagram below models these areas in what we call Singularity University’s “Bridge to Exponential Thinking.”

Singularity University’s Bridge to Exponential Thinking

Mindset

The concept of “exponential” is fundamental to how we think and what we do at SU. Understanding the doubling patterns in a technology’s price, performance, capacity, and scale and learning to forecast scenarios accordingly is critical if we are to more accurately anticipate the future. Too often, we rely on “experts” to project where technology will take us…but without an understanding of exponential growth, these experts are often wrong…really wrong…and with significant consequences.

We also talk about “exponential” as a mindset…the idea that incremental ideas and growth are no longer sufficient…that big, bold, 10x, moonshot ideas are mandatory if we are to harness the power of technology and solve the most intractable problems. Our current tagline—Be exponential—is a call to action to think bigger than today, beyond the comfort of business-as-usual…to push ourselves to embrace change, overcome short-term hurdles, and vigorously pursue a better future. A concrete example of this ethos is the challenge we issue to entrepreneurs who attend our programs to build companies that can positively impact a billion people in a decade. Startups in our community focus on ideas and projects that can have a large-scale global impact. I’m often asked whether SU has impacted a billion people yet, given we’re in our tenth year. I look forward to answering that question in an upcoming post!

Tools and resources

Many of the tried and true ways of building and managing a business are evolving. Core disciplines like strategy, leadership, and innovation must change in order to accommodate the new pace of change and persistent uncertainty about the future. Relying solely on common frameworks, case studies reflecting the past, and best practices everyone else is using is risky. Leaders must build new muscles, transform their cultures, and embrace new methodologies to ensure a resilient and adaptable organization prepared to ride each new wave of change.

At SU, our curriculum empowers participants with new tools and resources designed for an exponential world. Using such frameworks as Design for Exponentials, future forecasting, narrative-driven innovation (using science fiction storytelling), exponential leadership and organizations, and more, we help leaders envision a new future that can help them design products and services today for their customers of tomorrow.

Network

SU attracts individuals and organizations that are like-minded in their desire to positively impact the future. At the same time, our global network—almost 200,000 strong—is diverse across every dimension, by design. The value of this network of faculty, startups, corporations, governments, nonprofits, academic institutions, investor groups, and passionate individuals is significant. Through events, programs, and volunteer and licensing partners, we enable the community to convene, connect, and collaborate on a wide range of impact initiatives at both the global and local levels. We are investing significantly in new tools, programs, and structures that will help us scale this network and its impact.

Our high-level strategy for achieving our mission is to scale and empower a global ecosystem that is actively engaged in impact initiatives that will contribute to solving the global grand challenges and moving us towards a better future for all. I look forward to sharing our business model that supports this strategy in an upcoming post as well as some of the unique elements of our community and structure to make a big impact.

In my next post, I’ll talk about SU’s early days and what we learned. Meanwhile, I invite you to get involved with SU. There are so many ways you can join us and start having a positive impact in the world!