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Engineering Serendipity and Other Advice from Award-Winning Futurist: Mark Stevenson

Mark Stevenson won the getAbstract book award for We Do Things Differently, his study of innovative ideas.

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Remarkable trailblazers around the globe are brimming with unconventional ideas and the gutsy pragmatism to carry them out, Stevenson writes. For this book, he traveled the globe to find innovators who were inspired by such hardships as life in Brazilian slums or diagnoses with terminal diseases.

“There has always been a subset of people who think differently,” Stevenson writes. “A smaller number ‘do’ differently, people who look at the status quo and not only think, ‘I could fix that,’ but actually roll their sleeves up and start working.”

Stevenson, a London-based futurist, spoke to getAbstract about his work.

getAbstract: I’d love to be an innovator, but I don’t live near a favela and haven’t been diagnosed with an incurable disease. What advice would you give me (or any would-be outsider) about thinking differently and creatively?

Stevenson: Engineer as much serendipity in your life as possible. Smash yourself into as many new ideas as you can, stretch your boundaries and let the resulting thoughts collide in interesting ways. Make yourself an outsider by going outside your current norms. And, to make it easier, hang out with people who do this already. Create a culture of curiosity around you.

getAbstract: What common themes emerged among the mindsets of the outsiders you interviewed?

Stevenson: They all embraced what I call the “Eight principles of successful optimists.”

getAbstract: One of the challenges of innovation is that most new ideas and concepts fail. How should innovators cope with the inevitable failures?

Stevenson: Understand that most ideas and concepts fail because the people behind them give up. The moment you feel that everything is hopeless and you should quit is the moment all your competitors are. Stick with it and you’ll be a strong player in a much thinner field.

getAbstract: As you researched this book and interviewed innovators, what was the most surprising thing you discovered?

Stevenson: “Discovered” is probably wrong, but the deep realization of how stratospherically incapable many of our current mindsets and institutions are when it comes to dealing with our grand challenges was even more stark than you might suspect. We really are at a crucial turning point in human affairs where the old world is dying and a new one is being built – very painfully. The next 20 years are going to be very messy. That’s why the innovators in the book, who are successful system changers, are so important – they give us a window on better future, and a roadmap out of the mess.

getAbstract: What’s next? Are you working on another book?

Stevenson: Yes, a new book on the Future of Fairness is in the offing, there’s hopefully a TV series of the current book. And I’m being asked to help more and more people become literate about the questions the future is asking us – so some meaty strategic work on both national and international scales. On the artistic side my band Quantum Pig has its first album out in 2018, my play (co-written with Jack Milner) Octopus Soup is hopefully touring the UK and my partner in comedy and futurism Ed Gillespie and I will continue to take The Futurenauts to the public with more regular live shows and a new series of our podcast. If you cannot move the heart, you cannot move the mind.

 

About Mark Stevenson

Mark Stevenson is a writer, entrepreneur, broadcaster, futurologist and founder of The League of Pragmatic Optimists. He has written for The TimesWall Street JournalGuardian and New Statesman, and is the author of the critically acclaimed An Optimist’s Tour of the Future and We Do Things Differently. He lives in London and is an adviser to the Virgin Earth Challenge and Atlas of the Future.

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