Adjacent Possibilities: The Future Captains of Spaceship Earth
This year at Cisco Live Las Vegas, attendees had the pleasure of hearing Jason Silva, the host of National Geographic’s “Brain Games” and YouTube Channel “Shots of Awe” speak. If you are not familiar, Silva compiles short videos which he calls “philosophical shots of espresso”, that weave together disparate yet oddly connected ideas like enlightenment, neuroscience, biomechanics, transcendence and the Internet.
As an early-in-career employee at Cisco, Jason’s perspective was inspiring for me. I really connected with his premise of an achievable future that is accessible for all. I joined Cisco fresh out of college, almost a year ago, wide-eyed at the possibilities of shaping the future. It was around the same time our own CEO, took the helm. We entered hungry with the potential, and for me, the ambition to help shape the next generation of technology.
While Silva’s philosophies are existential in nature, Cisco’s applications to them are very much real. In the keynote he talked about the role of Cisco and our partners, in playing a leading role in designing adjacent possible futures. He challenged us to think of Cisco as a captain of ‘Spaceship Earth’.
I’ve seen Cisco channel that passion into brilliance in my first year, but I believe there’s more to come. In this blog, I will share some of Jason’s philosophical shots that resonated with me in my contributing in Cisco’s quest to captain that future.
Consider two questions when we think of the future: What is and What if. Throughout our development into adults, millennials are asked to brainstorm, to problem solve, to create models of reality to help solve existing issues. Simply put, we use our current reality as our guide to make simulations of the one we live as accurate as possible.
“the more we overlay digital information on top of the physical world.. the more cognitive activity there is occurring in the interface between self and world until self and world become one”
The world beyond information technology is still quite new to us. Consider the fact it has taken us over a generation to have developed to now, a world that is shrunken in reach but not in size. Technology has allowed the rate of change to significantly increase and will do so exponentially. Our tools (including language, science, math, etcetera) were used to design the next round of tools (better phones, cars, even supercomputers with cognitive ability).
We as millennials are the first generation to be born in an era, where transformative change happens at the speed of Moore’s Law, roughly one year. We’ve had to adapt our minds to tap into the information ‘over-flow’.
Although we are the first generation be born into the digital age, our minds have been engineered to think with a linear lens by those before us. From generation to generation, year to year, it’s intuitively assuming that our current rate of change will continue for future periods. Rather, it’s a cognitive bias that tells us to see the future as the recent past.
You see examples of this everyday: subconsciously navigating a city landscape, picking up the kids from soccer practice from when they’re just starting to when they’re about join college, or the passing on of mother’s kitchen secrets. For us millennials, it’s the every day commute, blaming ageism for college nostalgia, see a Pokémon, catch a Pokémon.
We are human. We are genuinely concerned about the future because we will spend the rest of our lives there. But our linear view is blindfolding us from how the world really operates. Rather it’s exponential. It’s taking a grain of salt and imagining a beach. Or in Jason’s example, trying to visualize your next thirty steps on the same scale to realize you’ve taken a billion and circumnavigated the world twenty six times. It’s unfathomable.
As a millennial, the notion that the world today can radically change tomorrow is what drives me, that a sustainable future is yet to be discovered, that we still haven’t defined what it means to be human 50 years from now. It will cause paradigm after paradigm shift and it’s already doing that. What will that mean for Cisco and her customers? How can we apply Moore’s Law to not just 30 steps, but rather 50 plus years? For Cisco and its employees to help make a monumental societal steps forward, we can’t just think linearly, but must train ourselves to recognize those shifts.
We are at a point in society where our connection to technology is at its strongest and our possibilities endless. In the video he shared, he quotes Edward O. Wilson to say “..We have decommissioned natural selection, and must look within ourselves to decide what we will become”.
Over the course of history, we have continuously revolutionized society, technology, and what it means to be human. We have built complex tools, transformed cities, and increased every comprehensible aspect of our day-to-day to its maximum efficiency, in an effort to make our lives simpler. In doing so, these tools inherently built us. We’re able explore and understand the depths of the cosmos, communicate with others around the world in less than a second, and have the ability to dissect an atom down to its protons and neutrons.
“Our technology is getting smaller, subtler, and more symbiotic – more elegantly and seamlessly absorbed into life’s fabric”
But what’s next? How do we transcend this plane and achieve something greater?
Cisco’s mission has and will continue to be to connect the unconnected, create sustainable environments with the help of technology, and develop an augmented space to trade, share, and store infinite amounts of data. But there’s more. As a millennial, connectivity isn’t just the barrier to entry, it’s the enabler. Realizing that we can imagine exponential future landscapes, the very rules that governed and shaped our society today are up for grabs.
When I consider the work I’ve produced in my time with Cisco, it’s quite similar, it’s foundational growth towards my future, towards my better self. Technology will help boost my physical, intellectual, and psychological capabilities beyond what I was naturally capable of without it. Considering that same idea at the scale of Cisco, the possibilities are endless. What it means to be human is changing and Cisco is in a position to re-write it.
Besides the “basic” millennial mantra that experiences and adventures make up our dichotomy, we are also largely driven by wealth. Wealth in relationships, experiences, but more often than not, in the tangible greenback that sometimes doesn’t yield as much as its value.
The new definition of a billion is far more promising: positively affect the lives of a billion people. During his keynote, Silva references the movie Interstellar when he says, “Empathy rarely extends beyond our line of sight”. To feel how someone else feels, to understand them, to extend that emotional connection.
In part, I believe Cisco is well on its way to positively affect the lives of more than just a billion. Some of our technology already has the capacity to be empathetic: Jabber to communicate, Webex to relate, and our hardware to provide the power for those two to come to life. The resources exist. The tools exist. The passion to transform exists.
Cisco has developed new constructional tools that have helped in mapping the universal node, the cognitive membrane for the world to share one voice. Our technology has allowed our people, our customers to revolutionize how they connect with others, extending their line of sight. With that power, it has become our responsibility to start mapping the uncharted world of technology for humanity to follow. How we control the narrative is something I hope to be apart of.
Looking back at my first year at Cisco, I cannot help but feel that there’s more to accomplish, more to look forward to, more to be excited for. I’ve had moments of challenges and some of brilliance; I suspect Cisco has had a similar journey. We both have the potential, as well as the capacity to proverbially “drop the mic”.
The adjacent possibilities hover on the present state of things, and I want to be a part of Cisco when we take our learnings, our innovations beyond the edge. Millennials do not believe in conforming to any preset set by past generations and neither should Cisco. Neither should you.
We Are An Evolutionary Force. We’ll create our own contextual templates, and with Cisco’s help, become future captains of spaceship earth.