It Can Take Just An Hour To Rethink Everything

If you want your every assumption challenged, spend just an hour with Peter Diamandis. The same holds true if you want to rethink everything about how credit unions may do business in 25 years, or even bigger picture, if you are in any way pessimistic about the future of mankind.

Diamandis will have you reconsidering every bit of that, and so much more. Just give him an hour.

The 51-year-old Diamandis is creator of the X Prize Foundation and the embodiment of a big, audacious vision. He announced a challenge to all the world that he would award $10 million to the first private company that could build and launch a spacecraft capable of carrying three people into space, even though he didn't actually have the money.

And yet the challenge succeeded and the $10 million was paid. Now, the X Prize concept has expanded to a whole series of other brassy, dauntless goals, and Diamandis has no doubt all of them will be reached. For he has great faith in the capacity of human beings, despite what your own plains-of-Africa-evolved brain may be hardwired to tell you.


A 'Star Trek' World

Diamandis recently shared his energetic vision and history with credit unions execs who were in Orlando for PSCU's Member Forum. PSCU uses "Forward" as its single-word slogan, and Diamandis personifies that word. The father of 22-month-old twins, he is focused on the "'Star Trek' world my children will live into."

But before we can get to the "USS Enterprise," it helps to start with a craft that's a bit older: the Spirit of St. Louis.

Growing up in the Bronx, Diamandis' dream was to become an astronaut. He won a rocket design contest at age 12, and later while at MIT he co-founded Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. But that ambition was tempered by a slow and disappointing recognition that at just 5'5, he would never qualify to be an astronaut.

In 1994 Diamandis was reading about Charles Lindbergh and what struck him wasn't the long odds against the aviator or the heroic effort to make that first trans-Atlantic flight that is the focus of so many accounts. Instead, it was what put the flight into motion in the first place; Lindbergh was chasing a prize of $25,000.

"I said 'Ah ha, I'm going to create a prize for commercial space travel,'" said Diamandis, and he did. But there was still that one small matter.

Diamandis did indeed find a backer and on Oct. 4, 2004, what was by then called the Ansari X Prize was claimed by Scaled Composites. Richard Branson has purchased the technology rights and his company, Virgin Atlantic, has pre-sold close to 1,000 seats on those space flights.

What the X Prize has shown, said Diamandis, is the extraordinary capacity humans have for solving big, global issues via community and collaborative efforts. What does all that mean?

"We are going to be able to meet the fundamental needs of every person on the planet. Not in the next 100 years; in the next 20 to 30 years," he told credit unions. "Too many people predict the future by looking in the rear view mirror..."

Diamandis challenged CUs with numerous other observations, including:

* How every company should work to avoid a "Kodak moment."

* How "crowdsourcing genius" is going to resolve so many current challenges.

* That "infinite computing" will bring about technological changes unlike any seen before, including artificial intelligence, which could eliminate call centers at CUs.

* How robotics and 3-D printing will revolutionzie manufacturing and jobs.

* Why CUs will likely need to find something to replace auto loans.

* How the media has become a "drug pusher" as the result of human evolution.

Diamandis described the other extraodinary challenges the X Prize Foundation has established in other fields, such as medicine and environment, and touched on a dozen more more provocative ideas.

If all of that sounds like crazy ideas, Diamandis said no one should be too surprised.


It's Crazy, And Yet...

"The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea. And if it's a crazy idea it has a high likelihood of failing," he pointed out. "Where in your organization do you allow for crazy ideas that can fail in the hope of a breakthrough?"

Diamandis needed just an hour, and yet in that time shared many more insights than can be shared here. For a broader report on his full remarks, go to CUJournal.com and enter "Diamandis" in the search engine.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.