Tom Chi has pioneered a unique approach to rapid prototyping and leadership that can jumpstart innovative new ideas and move large organizations at unprecedented speeds. He was head of Product Experience at Google X, and currently works to accelerate a future where humanity becomes a net positive to nature.
→ Tom, you have spent your career at the forefront of technological change. How do you describe your work to others, and how is your work affecting change?
My work is already out there affecting change, whether it be the self-driving car creating significant waves in the future of transportation and already beginning to save lives, AR/VR technology which is allowing us to have new, fully embodied, digital experiences, or even earlier work in big data/AI (our team at Yahoo dramatically expanded Hadoop). I am a named inventor on 75 patents spanning several fields and have spent much of my career teaching the skills of repeatable innovation to organizations around the world. I’m currently expanding the use of all the above skills toward creating a world where humanity is a net positive to nature, and where humanity is a net positive to humanity.
→ If you had $10M (or $100M, or $1BN) of your wealth to bet/invest in one future technology, what would it be and why?
I’m currently betting on technology that can pull down 1 Trillion tons of CO2 (only biological approaches, not machine-based get into this category), re-invent agriculture via robotic farming and cell-based meat production, restore soils and healthy hydrology via soil regenerative agriculture, and actively restore key ecosystems. I know the spirit of this question is to answer with one technology, but we need everything above. Part of what has broken us is this single focus culture that leads to the reduction of nuance and understanding. This is also not a theoretical question for me as I am already deploying capital against this more nuanced Earth systems understanding.
→ In your opinion what does it mean to be a radical leader and how does one get better at being one?
Being a radical leader means working on problems that matter (not just ones that are profitable), and doing so in a way that includes and empowers (not simply because it works better, but also because it is just). Being a radical leader means moving fast when others are dragging, and being patient and consistent around the big changes. It means being bold while continuing to listen, learn, and improve.
One gets better at being one by first asking what deeply matters. What matters enough to you that you will give your all to listening, learning, contributing, and being resilient to setbacks? From there, it is about being in the medium. Staying in the work, finding contemporaries and learning from them, and sharing as you pursue your own practice of mastery. In time, you will realize that mastery practice has no end – it is a process of deepening that is infinite in nature. There is no single achievement or goal that completes this process, only the pure translation of commitment, care and creativity to beneficial outcomes.
→ What do you wish you knew when you were starting out your career that you know today?
Everything is a combination of mechanics and psychology Mechanics is just the way that matter and energy moves over the steps that get you from A to B. Becoming skillful in that is just about follow the steps of how things happen. Psychology is a deep discipline, and there are many places to go with it. Some people practice it for political/personal gain and this appears to them to be a win, but is a long-term pitfall. Understand psychology as the discipline of how people create their worlds and how they work together to create a shared world, and do your best to learn from those that create beautiful (kind, productive, resilient) shared worlds.
→ What’s the single best piece of radical advice you received in your life (so far)?
A cynic is just a frustrated idealist.
→ What is the most enlightening book you have read?
The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit by Melvin Konner.
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