Thornton May

Thornton May gave the keynote presentation this morning. His presentation was all over the place but generally talked about how we should think about future technology in a way that doesn’t introduce bias from our current frame of mind.

It basically boiled down to being careful the questions you ask, referencing the old chestnut of IBM comissioning a market study that said the worldwide demand for computers at the time was 50. However, the question that report asked was what was the demand for computers that can break codes and calculate artillery trajectories. Given that question, it was an accurate answer but was not about the demand for computers that could solve lots of productivity challenges for any corporation.

4 thoughts on “Thornton May

  1. Worthwhile, but seems hard to actually do. I can’t remember the last time I tried to do something without using my current frame of mind 🙂 How did he say to accomplish this feat?

  2. David, thanks for posting on May’s talk and thanks to Nick for commenting. Let me offer a few thoughts as well:

    1. I think Thornton May was challenging us not to remain captive to our existing mental models which, as one of my grad school professors describes it, allows us to live in “the world of our own assumptive design.” We must accept the challenge to broaden our own thinking, and we should challenge others to do the same.

    2. Nick, you’re right, it is hard to question our own assumptions, which is why we need to take affirmative steps and leverage the talents and abilities of other to do just that. Building a new mindset is at once an individual and social process.

    3. David, I would challenge your assertion that May didn’t offer advice on how to develop a new mindset. He discussed the importance of traveling to different countries and cultures, building richly diverse networks and seeking out fresh conversations. To May’s recommendations, I would add reading voraciously, especially publications outside the area of your traditional expertise. I’ve done this in the last couple of years in the areas of science and technology, which is different from my core expertise in learning, strategy and innovation.

    We live in a time when our traditional assumptions about the world are tested on what feels like a daily basis. I believe each us must take personal responsibility for constantly refreshing our ways of thinking, and I found May’s talk to be a useful contribution to that effort.

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