Future Thinkers

Experts explore new perspectives and look towards the future.

Timothy Snyder

Timothy Snyder

History Professor, Yale University

Future Thinkers
  • Overview
  • Episodes
  • Recommended for you


Learn from experts in business, journalism, academia, and science about innovation in a variety of fields. Hear from Senior Editor at the New York Times Adam Bryant about how to research most effectively, from Dave Evans, Co-Founder of Stanford Life Design Lab about how to cultivate a curious design thinking mindset, from history professor Timothy Snyder about how to gain perspective on our current moment and look towards the future, why computer scientist John Seeley Brown would rather hire a World of Warcraft expert than a Harvard MBA, and more. 

What You'll Learn

  • How to get the most out of your research

  • How to connect with Gen Z in the workplace

  • To recognize long-term historical patterns

Timothy Snyder's image was originally posted by Frauemacht and the image has been changed. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 Unported license.


12 Episodes

1. Embark on a Path to Innovation Success


EdX, an early leader in free online learning from a consortium of the world’s best universities, knows quite a bit about risk taking and innovation. Its CEO, Anant Agarwal, says that innovation is a skill that can be taught, and he breaks it down into a three part recipe: Think big, never give up, and (once you’ve done the big thinking), take baby steps toward your goal.Think bigLet your mind roam free. If you had no constraints such as time or money, what could you do?When brainstorming in small groups be open. Don’t be quick to shoot down far-flung ideas.It’s OK to be crazy. Think in terms of what can work, not what won’t work.Look for opportunities to build on others’ ideas. You’ll already have buy-in.Take baby stepsMap out where you are today and where you want to be at the end. Plot baby steps in that direction.Try to achieve early success with a pilot. You’ll build confidence and reputation with each successful iteration.Never give upYou’ll be at the bleeding edge whe...

2. Tame the Information Tide


When Stephen Colbert introduces a guest on his show, he runs a victory lap around the set, soaking up the raucous applause from the audience as his guest remains stoically seated. When the interview starts, Colbert fires questions at his guest only to abruptly cut the person off. In short, the interview is all about him. This satirical interviewing style wouldn’t be so funny if it didn’t hit so close to home: the spectacle of the egotistical TV host is thoroughly ingrained in our culture.And yet, the best way to conduct interviews – or any kind of research, for that matter – is to not try to make yourself look smart. Rather, asking a “good dumb question” is an approach that will often yield the best results.This is the advice of “CEO whisperer” Adam Bryant, who writes the “Corner Office” column for The New York Times and is the author of the book, The Corner Office. In this lesson, Bryant explains how he uses this technique to gather a treasure trove of information and the...

3. Understand Gen Z: Manage Expectations to Make Life Easier in Your Workplace


Generational differences always pose a challenge for companies. How do you integrate the norms and expectations of the new generation with those of the old? Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out that Gen Z—the cohort born after 1995—differs sharply from the Millennial generation before it and offers some advice for understanding and working with a generation in some ways more sheltered and less independent than any before it.Generation Z: Also known as iGeneration, the demographic cohort born after the Millennials, starting in 1995Studies show that Gen Z has spent less time going out with friends, driving, drinking, dating, and working for money. Instead, Gen Z has spent a lot of time at home interacting with their devices. They’re the first generation to use social media from a young age.Gen Z is very different from the Millennials.Gen Z has been more overprotected than previous generations. They were:subjected to more anti-bullying content at schoolplaced under greater ...

4. Embrace Emerging Markets


In this lesson, Ian Bremmer, a political scientist specializing in US foreign policy, states in transition, and global political risk, teaches you how to incorporate political risk assessment into your investment strategy.DiversifyEmerging markets are much more unstable than the developed world.Be the first moverFirst movers can shape the regulatory, joint venture and political environment.Educate yourselfNot all emerging markets are created equal.

5. Assume Latent Wonderfulness: Iterate Your Way to the Future


People like certainty. Certainty is comforting and seemingly risk-free. And if we don’t know exactly what we’re doing, we’d prefer at least to look like we know. But the world’s most challenging problems, and the kinds of solutions that reshape industries, don’t happen in safe spaces. They’re complex, messy, human, and unpredictable, and they demand a mindset curious and brave enough to explore them. This mindset is called design thinking.Pulling Design Thinking from Your ToolboxEngineering Thinking: Best for solving tame problems that have clear, repeatable solutionsOptimization Thinking: Best for solving business problems, where there is no single, right solutionAnalytic Thinking: Best for solving research problems, using procedural methods to test hypothesesDesign Thinking: Best for solving wicked problems that are inherently human, messy, and unpredictableDesigners build their way forward. You can use design thinking to sneak up on the future with iterative prototyping.Get...

6. Accelerate Breakthroughs: Use Visioneering to Catalyze Innovation


Jack D. Hidary built his career as an entrepreneur in the finance and technology sectors and is currently focused on clean energy technology and policy. From conference crashing to crowdsourcing, Hidary is a serendipity junkie and master of maximizing the returns on relationships made in-person and online.In this lesson, he explores a group method of ideation known as visioneering. By the end of it, you’ll have a strategy for surfacing big, bold ideas and rewarding those who risk failure to pursue them.Diversify working groups across departments and areas of expertise.Allot specific time and space to focused brainstorming.Make the mandate aspirational- set big goals!Incentivize idea-generation and experimentation; create a bonus structure that rewards innovation.

7. Identify Emerging Markets


Depending on how you define them, emerging markets represent anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of the global population. The conventional wisdom has been that the balance of economic power is steadily shifting, as poor nations are rapidly catching up to the developed world.However, according to Ruchir Sharma, head of Emerging Markets and Global Macro at Morgan Stanley Investment Management and the author of Breakout Nations, this shift is “relative and unspectacular.” To put it another way, growth in countries like India has been disappointing precisely because growth has been less than spectacular.If a country like India is going to be on the move, it needs to get a lot of people out of poverty. To do that, India needs to grow at a much faster rate than the U.S. However, per capita income is still very low in India, and therefore, this “miracle economy” is in trouble.Sharma’s nuanced view of the shifting balance of global economic power comes from spending time on the ground in e...

8. Digitization: From Wearables to Supply Chains



9. Pursue Passion to Increase Potential: Lessons from a Massive Multi-player Online Video Game


John Seely Brown is the rare Baby Boomer who is completely at home in the age of digital flux. The author of A New Culture of Learning, which has become the unrivaled manifesto of lifelong, online learning, JSB (as he’s often called) is known by many names, including, most fittingly, Chief of Confusion – given his total embrace of uncertainty as a creative force.JSB is not being even slightly ironic when he says that he’d hire an expert player of World of Warcraft (the massive multiplayer online fantasy videogame) over an MBA from Harvard. Why? Because World of Warcraft represents the new culture of learning at its best. Its players organize themselves into massive guilds, choose specialties according to their own interests, set their own goals and create “dashboards” – or tools to measure their own performance.The result is a distributed, organic, highly adaptive learning community that functions much more efficiently and effectively than does the old, top-down corporate mode...

10. Beware Unlimited Growth


It’s not an uncommon problem - it happened to McDonald’s, it happened to IBM, and it even happened to Apple, says Nancy Koehn, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard University. Big companies start off with verve and energy and aspiration and incredible values that fuel their growth, then grow to the point that they’re no longer in tune with what really moved the enterprise forward in the first place.In this lesson, Koehn explores how Starbucks lost its purpose in the thoughtless impulse to expand. By the end of it, you’ll understand why if you want to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive, you have to lose the hyper-competitive attitude and pay attention to what’s actually happening to your business.

11. Getting Things Done: Innovation and Risk-Taking Go Hand in Hand



11. Distinguish Rhetoric from Risk: Use Historical Methods to Analyze Present-Day Problems


When you’re facing a problem or challenge in the workplace, especially one that has some urgency or a sense of crisis attached to it, take a page from the historian’s playbook to avoid “getting played” by the rhetoric of the moment.Good historians don’t get ruffled by the news cycle. They’re not easy prey to political fearmongering. When faced with an alleged problem, they tend to do three things to maintain equilibrium and a sense of perspective.Find familiar aspectsAsk: What is familiar about this problem? Is it part of a historical pattern?Try not to view any problem as entirely new. Seeing a problem as totally new may disable you from thinking or acting on it.Be skeptical of sourcesTake note of the first-person perspective being presented to you.Then, cast your mind out and ask: What are the other relevant perspectives on this problem? Is it actually a problem? Is it desirable from certain points of view?Seek truth by comparing different perspectives.See time as a flowMode...

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