I attended the Milken Global Summit this week where I was dizzied and dazzled by evidence that “life as we know it” is changing more rapidly than we collectively realize. A panel on precision medicine illuminated that as the ability to screen genomes becomes routine, current medical diagnostics will become obsolete. Elon Musk talked nonchalantly about terraforming Mars, a concept I first encountered in a sci-fi novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. Drones were discussed as a new delivery system that could replace Big Brown, and satellites with absurd new powers will redefine the quaint communication systems in place today. All around me were casual conversations about the coming disruptions of online education, alternative energy, electric cars, and the seeming insignificance of our actual brains compared to the new wave of smarter, cooler, and ubiquitous computers.
When any system is disrupted, overturned, or revolutionized, there are always winners and losers. Nick Dunne, the husband under suspicion in the runaway best seller Gone Girl described how disruption works in this way:
“We had no clue that we were embarking on careers that would vanish within a decade. I had a job for eleven years and then I didn’t, it was that fast. All around the country magazines began shuttering, succumbing to the sudden infection brought on by the busted economy. Writers (my kind of writers: aspiring novelists, ruminative thinkers, people whose brains don’t work quite quick enough to blog or link or tweet) were through. We were like women’s hat makers or buggy whip manufacturers: Our time was done.”
Anyone 35 and older must intuit this “brave new frontier” we are entering. And no parent attending the Milken Conference could help but leave with a renewed mission to go home and introduce their children to the final frontier (space) or the undiscovered frontier (the ocean). Others were thinking about how to break it to their children, intent on becoming doctors, that studying genomes would be safer than med school as we’ve known it. And parents whose fortunes are invested in funds that will be undermined by the “next new thing” surely left with a new zeal to mentor their kids to be disruptors before they are disrupted.
The world is a wild and unforgiving place when it comes to the speed of change. and I’m aware that in choosing to be a disrupter I am practically a chemical catalyst for life at the speed of light. Though I am part of the “slow food” movement and have built a “slow money” company, I seem unable to stanch the speed of anything.
So to help kids slide into the stream of change at warp speed, we offer Camp Start-Up, a summer program for teenagers growing up in the Age of Disruption.
No matter how privileged, smart, well connected today’s 10 year old, 16 year old or 25 year old is, the world they are inheriting requires a new kind of preparation. Anyone who knows me at all knows this is one of Independent Means programs I am most proud and fond of. This year we have moved the program to Santa Clara University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, to expose kids directly to the forces—and the opportunities—coming at them.
Teens who attend Camp Start-Up this year will spend time with a Google brainiac who will give them a tour of the campus and challenge them to consider what it would be like to work in a true meritocracy. Kiva Fellows will share stories of making a difference in far flung corners of the world, and all the teens will get a chance to go behind the scenes at Tesla, getting a glimpse of a car company that may be to cars what the Model T was to the horse.
At Camp Start-Up this year we will emphasize how to spot weak signals from the future (so teens can be proactive, not reactive, in their life dreams). They will practice the ability to spot and leverage opportunity and will go home with their first business plan done and presented—a skill much of the planet is still trying to master. And perhaps because I am also a bit wary of the unintended consequences that come with speed of light change, we’ve increased the time we will spend on conversation and case studies that explore ethics, stakeholder management, and social responsibility. All this will be imbedded in 12 days of fun, creativity, and adventure. We know teenagers, and unless we serve a serious program with serious fun, we’ll lose them. But this is our 19th year of operation and in all that time we’ve lost less than 1% to homesickness or lack of interest.
I feel good about our ability to prepare kids for the Age of Disruption—if not their actual arrival.