I mentioned in my previous post how no one at Derek Thompson’s Progress Summit, which took place earlier this week in Los Angeles, bothered to define what they meant by “progress”–no one but Astro Teller that is. Among other things, Dr Teller explained how his idea of progress is informed by his work at X, Google’s secretive moonshot factory. (According to its website: “X is a diverse group of inventors and entrepreneurs” whose goal is to solve “the world’s most intractable problems, not just 10% improvement.”) To be successful at X, Teller explained, you not only have to be open to new ideas; you also have to be willing to discard those ideas when they don’t pan out.
In other words, progress is a process of elimination! At one point, for example, Dr Teller said something to the effect, “We have to redefine our sense of victory as learning–that’s progress.” According to this more modest view of progress, “progress” (small “p”) is about learning to decide which ideas to explore further, i.e. figuring out which ideas and potential solutions are not worth pursuing and then “composting” (Teller’s apt term) those discarded ideas. But my most memorable take-away was Dr Teller’s version of the Day of the Dead tradition in Mexico, my favorite day of the year. He and his team at X not only honor their deceased ancestors; they also celebrate all their discarded ideas.