The Spectrum’s interview with Peter Diamandis

XPRIZE founder discusses his companies, biggest setbacks and the media

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Businessman and innovator Peter Diamandis has founded over 22 companies, is a New York Times bestseller and teaches Silicon Valley technology innovation at Singularity University –– which he co-founded. 

Diamandis sat down with The Spectrum for an exclusive interview Wednesday afternoon ahead of his lecture at the Center for the Arts as part of UB’s 32nd Annual Distinguished Speaker Series. 

In between taking breaks to sign books and grab handfuls of pretzels, Diamandis talked about his work in space travel, extending human life spans and the way our brains respond to the news.

Q: Over the past 20 years, you've created Singularity University, started the XPRIZE foundation and formed Human Longevity, Inc. What were your biggest setbacks? And where do you see yourself going from here?

A: The setbacks have always been [that] things don't move as fast as I want. Or, one of the CEOs that I bring in to lead a company isn't the right person. And it's really hard at that point. Because the difference between a company that's in formative mode where you're brainstorming, and you're getting ideas going, versus one that's operational and really focused on being profitable, it's two different beasts. And it's two different people for that job. So, I mean, those have been the difficulties at the end of the day. Where am I going next? I love starting companies, for me it's more of an art form. And I've had the pleasure of starting my 22nd company right now. I'm [also] enjoying mentoring and teaching and inspiring and helping people see the world a different way. So it all mixes in. I've learned early on to do things that I am most passionate about versus anything else. When I'm really true to my passion, and I'm communicating in my writing, and my lectures, and my programs and my companies, then I'm having a much better time and people are seeing that. It's inspiring them more when it [became] authentic, so [I] never do anything that’s not fully authentic for myself.

Q: You’ve said that you would like for “100 to be the new 60.” Can you elaborate on this theory and how you think this may tie into healthcare accessibility, mortality and resource availability?

A: When I was in medical school years ago, I was doing a joint medical degree and engineering degree. And I remember watching this TV show on long lives to see life that species of whales, sharks and turtles could live many hundreds of years. I remember thinking to myself, ‘If they can, why can't we?’ And my reaction was, ‘It's either a hardware or software problem. And we should be able to fix that.’ So I think that plus being sort of a dad later in life, and also just being super excited about what tomorrow is bringing, and wanting to get to Mars and get out the asteroids and see the universe, you know, I think this idea of living 80 years is not sufficient. And so I have spent a lot of time thinking through supporting investing in starting companies in that arena. 

Q: During your 2012 TED Talk, you mentioned that the media tells us bad things because it's what our minds are drawn to. Do you feel as though the media should not report on bad news and if so, what would this mean for society, to remain uninformed? Or how should the media report on the news?

A: Our brains are wired to pay 10 times more attention to negative news and the media’s business is to bring your eyeballs to their advertisers. I mean, that's the business. And so consequently, given 100 headlines –– 50 percent positive, 50 percent negative –– they will deliver 90 percent negative news and maybe 10 percent [positive] and it's just, you know, opening newspapers and you can count the numbers. Their responsibility is to to provide truth. I think it’s the viewer’s responsibility to decide what they want to listen to and what their mindset is. Ultimately, your mindset is your most important asset you have. And if you're listening to negative news all the time that can destroy the way you see the world.

Q: Through your multiple universities and your Ansari XPRIZE, you've advocated for the involvement of young people in science and breakthroughs time and time again. You've even said that you tell business owners to listen to the “crazy ideas 20 year olds” have. What does this mean for students right now? What should students be doing to become the innovators of tomorrow?

A: Students need to figure out what they’re passionate about. Not [what] their parents or their teachers told them to do but honestly, in your life, what do you want to do? What’s the dent you want to make in the universe? What is it that you care about more than anything else? Because it's [those] green times when you read [what you’re interested in] and you [participate] in conversations for yourself and you go and you watch programming you care about. It's that passion that drives you to become a sponge and allows you to find a discontinuity that will allow you to become a great entrepreneur as well. I think that if I were giving advice to my kids, and I will eventually, it's [to] find great mentors, apprenticeships, it's going beyond just classes and reading. It's [going and getting] real life experience and you know, a great mentorship is [worth] its weight in gold and I think the future is about apprenticeships and in mentorships to really learn what it's really like to to be an inventor, scientist, engineer, a CEO with an entrepreneur or whatever it might be.

Jacklyn Walters is the asst. news editor and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com