It has been a while since I wrote you. We were both very busy. You, rising your unicorns, being five, building Lego cities and making a space helmet from old newspapers, glue and tinfoil. Me, I spent ages watching you discover this planet, and protecting you from dragons and nightmares while keeping our economy going by keeping clients happy.
We certainly have not seen a lot of each other this week. You sleep, while I am happily hopping around at the biggest innovation show on the planet: SXSW. You asked me why SXSW makes me so happy. That struck me. Because it does, it really does. But how did you know?
It oxygenates my brain
Listening to enthusiast, energetic and passionate people talking about their art, their trade and their vision on things, activates every old neuron of my brain. Discovering what problem gets them excited; and how they proceeded to turn it around, examine it and plot ways to a solution is fascinating. I learned more from all these smart, but humble people’s failures and successes than I learned in all my school years combined.
“Use it, or lose it” said Willie Nelson, Texan legend: if you do not let your brain touch other brains, your view spar with other views your brain will shrink until it’s a peanut Tara. I cannot let that happen. My brain is feeding like a shark on all those thoughts.
It reassures me
There is a lot not right about the planet you start to discover Tara. Us, older humans, made rather a smelly mess. There are still kids with no education, no computer, no internet, no drinkable water, no food, and no access to a doctor. Kids your age still die because us adults are still spending more on shiny weapons and golden Rolexes than on feeding everyone.
Tara, kids your age, but with a skin as soft and fragile as yours, but just in another pantone color are at this very moment discriminated or in danger. Because they are labelled as different, “not like us”. They get bullied and beaten. Mocked.
We pollute. The air. The rivers. The seas. Our cities. Our bodies. We’re burning forests, killing trees. Annihilating complete species of plants and animals at a staggering pace. We’re slowly cooking this planet to death. Biting the very Mother Earth that harbors us.
But these last years Tara, in the different SXSW tracks, I found that some people have not given up. That there are ways to fight back. To get better. To address what is wrong. To find solutions, see opportunities, amplify strengths. I saw people stand up for good. With an intention to better the heaps of misery that is life for some.
It starts with astronauts
Yes, girls can become astronauts Tara. SXSW shows that too: the power of diversity: everyone regardless of age, race, hair color, sexual orientation or religion can make a difference. When I met Jessica Meir at SXSW a couple of years ago, she whacked me of my feet. Jessica Ulrika Meir was born in 1977. She is a professor at Harvard Medical School, and finished a postdoctoral research in comparative physiology at the University of British Columbia. As an intermezzo, she studied the diving physiology and behavior of emperor penguins in Antarctica and the physiology of bar-headed geese, whom are able to migrate over the Himalayas.
She flies T38 fighters, and graduated with a Master of Space Studies from the International Space University. She survived a NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation. Something I can barely even spell. She outsmarted, outran, outbeat and outlearned an army of boys to become an astronaut. Because she knew she was the best, and she proved it. Having her tell that story to dads like me, is important for girls like you Tara.
But astronauts are real magicians Tara: when Jessica Meir points at the earth from the ISS where she was for 7 months, she shows us gently how small, fragile and breathtakingly beautiful our planet is. “In this window, on that marvelous blue ball lives every living creature we know” . And that hits home. She is so right. By showing us our planet from space, astronauts deliver a message of peace, and an urgent call to unite, and save what we still can.
Unite, mix and match
SXSW shows me also that one cannot do all Tara. We are so used to do things our way. To apply the things we know. To go the path we travelled earlier. To use yesterday’s thinking for tomorrow’s challenges. To rely on our skills. But the magic happens when we unite. When we think outside the box. When we discover thoughts from other people, from other trades, with other specialties and apply it to our own. SXSW shows that the future is in working together, rather than in endless specializing. Seeing the big picture, and learning from it to apply it in our work is an art we were losing.
David Epstein showed in his book “Range” how we were let to believe that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead in their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up a whopping 10.000 hours of deliberate practice. Research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, showed him that early specialization is the exception, not the rule. The most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists in the world are… generalists, -especially in fields that are complex and unpredictable- They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.
It should be mandatory
It should be mandatory Tara. To make sure you’ll still have a decent world to live in in a couple of years, we should take managers, CEO’s, teachers, dads, moms and journalists to gatherings like SXSW. To force them, even if it is only for a week, to observe where the puck is going. To invite them to ponder about all that new thinking for a while. To give them strength to challenge the status-quo. To dare them to put purpose over profit. The key to your future is somewhere in there Tara. And I hope that you, as the first princess-astronaut will find it.
Because, as Bertrand Piccard pointed out: your generation will have to do something big: save the planet.