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Aug 12th, 2017 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

Do You Start With the Plinth or the Monkey?

At yesterday’s Singularity University Global Solutions Program closing ceremony, Obi Felten, X’s (formerly Google X) “Head of getting moonshots ready for contact with the real world” delivered an outstanding closing keynote. In her speech Obi showed a sketch of a monkey on a plinth citing Shakespeare, and asked the pointed question:

“When you want to have a monkey on a plinth citing Shakespeare sonnets — do you start with building the plinth or training the monkey?”

Most of us, when we start something new, start making a list of all the things we know need to be done. The list typically spans anything from the complex (building the algorithms which power our product) to the mundane (getting business cards).

The challenge is that we often start with the familiar — the path of least resistance. Which gets us to build the plinth but doesn’t mean that we will ever have something to put on.

And of course, you know what the right answer is when posed with Obi’s question. We just need to remind ourselves every day that we continuously need to figure out what the most important thing is we have to work on — the thing which validates or invalidates our assumptions.

What good is a plinth without a Shakespeare quoting monkey after all?

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