Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure … than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.  – Theodore Roosevelt speech (“The Strenuous Life”), April 10, 1899, Chicago.

The Dare Mighty Things conference, formerly called Compute Midwest, began its life in Kansas City, MO in 2012, but this year moved to Chicago. More than 1,000 attendees were on hand to hear an impressive roster of speakers, including Andy Grignon, who helped build the first iPhone; Dr. Renee Wegrzyn, program leader for CRISPR ‘Safe Genes’; and NASA AR/VR innovator Victor Luo and others. While the conference had no overarching theme, all the topics were future-focused:

  • Quantum computing
  • Supersonic travel
  • DNA editing
  • Augmented reality and virtual reality
  • Mobile devices
  • Mars exploration
  • Robotics
  • User and gesture interfaces

Several Intouchers were there, and two — Joe Doyle, SVP of strategic development, and creative director Irene Westcott — brought back highlights to share.

“It was a fabulous day of thinking and motivation,” said Joe. “There weren’t many ‘themes’, as each presenter really had a different topic. Overall, there was a call to ‘dare mighty things’ after listening to the people who have done so, or are currently leading the way.”

Dr. Renee Wegrzyn, CRISPR ‘Safe Genes’ Program, DARPA

  • Gene editing could come to a place where we get injections to help our bodies ward off potential maladies. “What genes are you on?” is a question we could all be asking one another in the future.
  • Genome editing is at a brisk pace and outpacing biosafety measures.
  • Pharma implication: Take note, because alternatives are coming.

Andy Grignon, Design & Technology Fellow, JPMorgan Chase; former iPhone Engineer

  • Sometimes you need to just burn it all down and start fresh.
    • Example: Grignon discussed the early part of the process of developing the iPhone, which was originally envisioned by much of the Apple team as an “iPod that made phone calls.” He attributed this to our nature as “iterative thinkers”–– that is, we’re most comfortable making incremental improvements of an existing thing.
    • It was (in large part) Steve Jobs’ stubborn insistence on rethinking and doing something really different that led the team to stop iterating and start inventing.
  • We’ve managed to create an industry that isolates people more than connecting them.
  • Bionic chip in X = signal processing and AI. It’s where we are going.
  • Voice and AI provides context.
  • On average, we interact with our phones 2,617 times a day
  • Pharma Implication: Content is no longer just king, it’s the whole royal court.

Jordan Evans, Deputy Director for Engineering and Science, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

  • Set the bar high and expect to fail along the way.
    • Example: As part of the engineering team that landed the rover Curiosity on Mars in 2012, Evans talked about all the abandoned schemes/plans for getting the rover to the surface. They had to fail repeatedly to arrive a viable solution.
  • At JPL, there’s a “culture of criticism” that encourages persistent challenging; people should be willing to poke at design and offer a critique. Idea makers need to separate themselves from the person and vice versa. It’s okay to fail. At JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), it’s viewed as a necessary part of the process of strengthening ideas/solutions.
  • Traits for a new hire at JPL:
    • Intellectual curiosity
    • Ability to see the big picture
    • Ability to make system-wide connections
    • Exceptional two-way communication
    • Strong team member and leader
    • Comfortable with change, uncertainty and unknowns
    • Diverse tech skills
    • Appreciation for process
    • Self-confidence and decisiveness

Melonee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics

  • Computer power is finally effective enough for late 90s/early 2000s robotics tech.
  • We are a long way away from robot help as a medical device or otherwise.
  • In 5 to10 years, warehousing and manufacturing will see the biggest growth.

Jason Fried, CEO/Founder of Basecamp

  • Be boldly individual in everything you do. Your work will be more authentic, and you’ll find greater personal satisfaction in it
  • Stay small to avoid headaches and maintain a solid product.
  • Don’t try to be everything to everyone; simplify and offer the best that you have.
    • Example: Fried has spent years fending off offers from venture capitalists and other firms that want to buy out his technology/company. But he has a clear vision of the kind of company he wants to own –– intimate, nimble, collaborative –– so he stays stubbornly small and independent.

John Underkoffler, Co-Founder/CEO, Oblong

  • Let human needs/wants/problems be your guide in solving problems.
    • Example: Underkoffler’s firm, Oblong, is focused on imagining next-generation user interfaces (UI). The solutions Oblong is working on allow for entirely new forms of group interaction via devices. He believes they’re able to explore this new technology because they focus on human needs and fearlessly question conventional wisdom –– e.g., “How are existing UIs limiting us? How are they circumscribing what we can do?”