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Once people discover their own purpose, decision-making becomes easier and quicker Dialogue Q2 2018

on that: that’s almost every part of life. Grades in schools, test scores, trying to work for the right company, impressing your boss, not looking bad in front of your friends. We see clearly in the research how these exogenous motivations undermine the person you can be.” This self-actualization is critical to the challenge posed by artificial intelligence, she says, which will require humans to exploit their edge as questioning, challenging, imaginative beings. “We get trapped into trying to please other people – and we lose ourselves,” she says. “The more insensitive you are to those incentives, the better your long-term outcomes.” Once people discover their own purpose, decision-making becomes exponentially easier, and quicker, Ming says. She was offered chief scientist jobs and the like at Uber, Netflix and Amazon that would have made her wealthy enough to “buy a mansion for my family”. But she applied the test: “These offers come in on a semi-regular basis and – but for the Amazon offer that came with a framing that made me think hard about it – I think about them for three to five seconds. You know, I’d love to know more about Netflix but, let’s be honest, it would be purely self-indulgent. I love a good movie. But I don’t see how this serves my purpose.”

Finding purpose

Ming is a world leader in meta-learning. Her business, Socos, uses machine-based tools to help people in the workplace and education learn from their environments, experiences and dilemmas. Rather than simply acquire knowledge, which is held in infinite volume on the internet, yet is still taught by rote in schools, Socos helps people problem-solve, craft, create, question and make choices. “Building better people,” she calls it. It’s her purpose in life. “Self-driving cars are cool but they don’t serve my purpose – in fact, they do the exact opposite. Amazon said to me: ‘In ten years we will be a million-person company, your job will be to make their lives better.’ Now that aligns with my purpose very clearly. But I still felt that – paycheque aside – I could serve my purpose better doing what I am already doing.” Her impulse to change education came, like hope from Pandora’s box, from the near-disaster of her own youth. “It seems shocking when it is someone like me who is in such a privileged position – but I never found a connection between working hard and being happy and successful,” she says. “So I thought, ‘how can I deliver the latter part of my life to people without their having to go through the first 20 years?’”

Dialogue Q2 2018  
Dialogue Q2 2018