Create the future? Here? Now?

Create the future? Here? Now?I went on a journey last week. Truth be told, I actually went on multiple journeys. Physically, I traveled from my home in Marblehead down to Providence to attend the Business Innovation Factory’s BIF-9 Summit. But I took another journey once I got there, one that I didn’t expect. It was a journey of enlightenment, but not in a religious way. It was a journey of inspiration, but not in a post-“Hoosiers” way. Let me explain.

Upon entering the Trinity Rep and obtaining my registration materials, I found my way to the theater and grabbed a seat next to my Innovation Excellence colleagues. “This should be good,” I thought to myself, but honestly, I had no idea what to expect. Within minutes I was challenged by Saul Kaplan, founder of BIF, to check my pretenses at the door and listen to the people I was connecting with. Don’t spend BIF time convincing other people that you are right, he said. Instead, listen to what others say and be inspired to create the future that we all know and want. You transform, you don’t tweak. Tweaks are not going to cut it.

Create the future? Here? Now?
Founder Saul Kaplan opens the 9th annual summit with an  invitation to audience, performers and extraordinary storytellers

Create the future? Here? Now? Huh. I’m intrigued but like any good non-cultist, a little skeptical. How exactly are we going to do this?

The answer came quickly: by meeting 30 storytellers on the stage and experiencing Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects (#RCUS, sounds like ruckus) with some of the 300 attendees during the extended breaks, lunches, and receptions. But it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows from the beginning, at least not for me. Saul described the BIF Genome: Connect, Inspire, Transform. But new BIF-ers — about half of the audience, based on a show of hands — may have experienced a slightly different three-word experience: Reflect, Accept, Respond.

Step 1: Reflect

The first four BIF speakers were perfectly suited to the Reflect stage. Doug Ulman, CEO of Livestrong, described his personal battle with cancer and how that led him to create Livestrong, a community of support for cancer patients and survivors and those afflicted by the disease. Whitney Johnson, author of Dare, Dream, Do (2012), evoked beloved lowercase poet t.s. eliot with his quote, “do I dare disturb the universe?” and suggested that last night’s dreams are the foundation for tomorrow’s disruptions.

Create the future? Here? Now?Next came 17-year-old Easton LaChappelle, who is pretty much your average Colorado high school student except for the fact that he taught himself robotics so that he could build a shoulder-to-fingertip robotic arm with a Nintendo Power Glove, some Legos, and a 3-D printer — for $400.

Create the future? Here? Now?The first session ended with Stacy Pearsall, a veteran Air Force combat photographer who, after suffering a traumatic brain injury, reinvented herself as an author, educator, veteran’s advocate, and owner of the Charleston Center for Photography. She reminded the crowd of the haphazardness of personal reinvention and the hazards of relying on preconceived notions, as most people do when thinking of military veterans.

During the first break, I walked to the lobby in a muted silence and immediately overheard one of the most memorable quotes from the event from an unknown participant: “I don’t come to BIF to feel inadequate; it just happens naturally.” That was it! The muted silence was driven by a low-voltage feeling of inadequacy. While I was certainly inspired by the incredible stories that I most definitely didn’t do justice to in this article, I can’t deny the fact that I was reflecting on my situation, my job, my place in the world — and how meager and selfish it seemed to be. Was I alone? Clearly not — there was at least one other person in the room who felt similarly. This moment of reflection was a necessary first step in experiencing BIF and thinking about my place within this new community — and whether or not it was ok that my life’s work hadn’t been driven by aspirations similar to those of the storytellers I had just experienced.

Step 2: Accept

The Accept stage is driven by accepting others’ influence upon you, regardless of who they appear to be. For me, this was driven by the deeply personal stories related by a number of speakers. I’ll admit that I always scan the list of speakers for any conference I’m thinking of attending, and I make judgements of quality based on title and company. While those are important pieces of information, they are (along with the requisite head shot) the proverbial cover of the judged book. The backstory for many speakers is what led them to become who and what they are today, and is what can drive you toward your own defined or undefined goals.

Create the future? Here? Now?Take Ping Fu, whose resilient character was built as she overcame an unrelenting series of personal obstacles: separation from her parents in China, being asked to leave the country due to her unpopular perspective on single-child policies, arriving in America alone with no money and little English, achieving her degree in computer science, and eventually to her role in founding Geomagic, a pioneering company in what I believe to be the next transformational industry: 3D printing.

Or Dr. James Doty, a neurosurgeon whose personal experience with heartache and heartbreak have fueled a passion for compassion. His research into the neuroscience of compassion and its impact upon health, wellness and longevity has led him to drive for changes in technology to create more healthful and compassionate states of being for all global citizens.

Create the future? Here? Now?To give you a sense of the emotions that were evoked within the theater, consider this: I nearly cried five times at BIF-9 over the course of two days, and did shed tears once, thanks to an emotional moment delivered by Rabbi Irwin Kula as he closed his story. The emotional connection to the storytellers and what drove them to their current destination was powerful, important, and memorable.

Step 3: Respond

The Day 1 program set me up for the final Respond phase. How would the reflection on my own situation and my acceptance that unlikely participants can fuel enormous change translate into my response? The truth is, I don’t yet know. But there were many words of inspiration and encouragement laid at my feet for the taking, none of which had anything specific to do with what I do for a living, but all of which offered motivation to do more in some way, at some time.

Angela Maiers asked the audience to believe that we were geniuses, and that the world needs our contribution — the same message she shares with kindergarteners, middle-schoolers, and high-schoolers, and the same message I shared with my children upon my return home. Andrew Mangino encouraged the pursuit of passion, because when we discover a passion, we discover we can do anything. Carmen Medina declared that optimism is the greatest form of rebellion, and I believed her. Rosanne Haggerty cautioned that our pride in our most recent innovation might be the barrier to finding the next. And Evan Ratliff perhaps put it best when he asserted that “[s]ometimes you have to create the world you want to live in.”

Angela Maiers (educator, advocate, author) engages students to share what matters

These are just a few of the many morsels of inspiration from the storytellers that initiated a response in me. The conference closed several days ago, and yet I am still going back to the Tweet stream for #BIF9 to continue the conversation and find additional connections that might influence my response, that might allow me to create the future.

After the conference ended, I was having a decompression drink at the Trinity Brewhouse with some new friends. When asked what I got out of the conference, I shared my early feelings of inadequacy. Was it not ok to simply be trying to build an innovative small business, to pay my mortgage, to keep my family fed, clothed, and happy? Must everything we do need to be about creating the future? I shared that even if I were to be given the opportunity to tell a story on the BIF stage, I wouldn’t have anything meaningful to say. And then I realized something important, something important enough to share with everyone who hasn’t spoken from the BIF stage.

My story isn’t finished yet.

Disclaimer: I attended BIF-9 on a media pass. Food and beverages were provided.

image credit: mari anixter, stacy pearsall

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Announcing IX Research: Research for Innovation PractitionersDoug Williams, Chief Research Officer and Principal Analyst, leads the development of IX Research. Doug is the primary author of IX Research‘s syndicated research reports, and is responsible for the development of the IX Research Panel and IX Custom Research lines of business. A former analyst at both Forrester Research and JupiterResearch, he launched and led Forrester’s innovation and co-creation practice for product strategy professionals. He authored 36 highly rated Forrester Research reports on innovation, open innovation, and co-creation, and was the primary author and developer of Forrester’s Open Innovation playbook. Doug tweets from @DougWilliamsMHD.

Doug Williams




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No Comments

  1. Derek on September 26, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Ping Fu: Who is Richard Lynn Ewald?

    Did Chinese government really ask you to leave the country?

    Did you really write a so called thesis and got UN sanction?

    • Jose on September 27, 2013 at 10:16 am

      This New York Times Op-Ed addresses these things:
      “Cultural Revolution Vigilantes” by Joe Nocera

      • Derek on September 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm

        I can not find the answer as to who is Richard Lynn on that New York Times article.

        I can not find if Ping Fu Really wrote a thesis either.


        Can you help? Thanks!

      • William McGregor on September 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm

        Bloomberg: Ping Fu’s Book Isn’t Worth Joe Nocera

        Ping Fu’s resumes include fabricated degrees and working experiences which have nothing to do with Cultural Revolution.

      • William McGregor on September 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm

        Why my posting on

        Ping Fu’s Book Isn’t Worth Joe Nocera

        was not proved to appear here?

        Does this mean you guys are biased and have hidden interest in Ping Fu?

      • Nancy Chen on September 28, 2013 at 2:49 pm

        Did Ping Fu clarify how she could be working as a lecturer at a semi-military university in China when she was supposed to be persecuted by the Chinese government? Did Ping Fu clarify how she could be working for Lane Sharman in California while at the same work working as a teaching assistant at University of New Mexico? Did Ping Fu clarify how she could join the Communist Youth League if she was such a “black element” as she claimed to be?

      • William McGregor on September 28, 2013 at 3:35 pm

        I don’t care a bit of Cultural Revolution. I don’t care about her fabricated stories. I do care that Ping Fu used falsified resumes to apply tax payers founded government grants, which is a crime!

        Because of statute of limitation, Ping Fu can get away from criminal charge, but Americans should condemn this kind of act.

  2. Paula Chen on September 27, 2013 at 2:04 am

    Ping Fu’s Chinese memoir tells a completely different story about her life in China: she never suffered from hardship in China, her hardest time was in America. Most stories in her English memoir Bend Not Break were fabricated.

    Excerpts and translations of Ping Fu’s Chinese memoir can be found here:

  3. Paula Chen on September 27, 2013 at 2:04 am

    Ping Fu used her first marriage to gain her green card, and used her second marriage to gain company Geomagic. She used falsified resumes to gain a job and government grants. Because limit of statue, Ping Fu can no longer be punished by law, but her behavior should be condemned.

    Ping Fu’s falsified resumes can be found here.

  4. Derek on September 27, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Getting Ping Fu’s Resumes to NSF from FOIA request is a good idea.

    All different Resumes to NSF.

  5. Nancy Chen on September 27, 2013 at 11:42 am

    For those of you who believe what Ms. Fu says, please take a look at the following facts:

    According to her memoir/statement, from 1982 to 1983, she was persecuted by the Chinese government and virtually under house arrest, yet according to her resume, she was working as a lecturer at NUAA, a semi-military university in China.

    According to her memoir, she was computer illiterate at University of New Mexico in 1985, yet according to her profile submitted to the NIST, she would be developing software back in China before she came to the U.S. in 1984.

    According to her memoir, she studied at UNM from Jan. 1984 to June 1986, yet according to her resume, she was working for Lane Sharman in San Diego, California, from May 1984 to June 1988.

    According to her memoir, there was no mention of her ever attending University of San Diego, yet according to her resume, she worked as a teaching assistant at USD in 1987.

    According to her memoir/statement, she never graduated from Suzhou University, yet according to her resumes submitted to the National Science Foundation, she had a BA degree and MA degree in Chinese literature from Suzhou University.

    Last but not the least, according to her memoir, she suffered under the communist rule in China, yet according to her own college registration form, she joined the Communist Youth League in 1973.

    Do you believe a person who has so many inconsistencies in her life stories?

  6. Nancy Chen on September 27, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    If you have read my previous comment, you may wonder why there are so many inconsistencies. They each served Ms. Fu’s purpose at the time. When she just graduated from UCSD and was applying for her job at NCSA and her grant from NSF, her resume would be too sketchy to qualify her for the job or the grant if she did not put her fake degrees, professional titles, and job experiences. That’s why she made up these fake credentials and experiences. When she started her company, she needed PR work, and what would be more fascinating to promote herself and her company than a “fantastic tale” of her suffering in China and achieving her success in America? That was the reason why Ms. Fu is better known for her fascinating tales of suffering in China than for her real professional accomplishment. All these fabrications succeeded in serving her purposes because things in America usually operate on the honor system and people simply trusted what she said. It is sad that Ms. Fu is still paraded as a role model on American public scenes. Are her lies too big to fail? It seems so, as most people would not lie this big, they tend to believe Ms. Fu’s big lies must be true. My comment backed with facts is not even allowed to be posted. No wonder Ms. Fu can go on telling lies to defraud more people and win government funding.

  7. Liangfu Wu on September 28, 2013 at 11:28 am

    It has been almost 10 months since Bend, Not Break was published. So many fabrications and lies were exposed. Because of the size of the world, Ms. Ping Fu is able to continue her fabricated stories going in different reader communities. But, for those who can see through her book, debunking Ms. Fu’s fabrications and lies is not a full-time job. Eventually, people have to go back to their daily life, which will give Ms. Fu more space to continue her stories. Her lies on her resumes submitted as part of federal grant applications, as of today, have not been addressed by Ms. Fu herself. Did Ms. Fu offer an answer to her true identity as a member of the Chinese Communist League? No. Because that membership would completely wipe out her entire dark childhood story.

    We have a book, The Bent and Broken Truth: A Pathological Analysis of Ping Fu’s Rags-to-Riches Stories, is coming up soon. Hopefully, this book will leave a place where people who are interested in learning the truth will find some closure.

    Judging by Ms. Fu’s words and actions in the past 10 months, it is very unlikely that she will apologize to her readers and those who believe her. However, eventually, she will have to answer to one person: herself.

    Mostly and lastly, it is very surprising to me that 3D Systems is still sending Ms. Fu around and promote the company business.

    Liangfu Wu

  8. Derek on September 28, 2013 at 12:25 pm
  9. Nancy Chen on September 28, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Hi Mr. Williams,

    Why are you not approving my two comments? Did my comments violate any of your house rules? Could you care to explain? What are you afraid of?

    I am going to post my comments on Amazon and let others see if my comments are not fit for your comment section.


    Nancy Chen

  10. Nancy Chen on September 29, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Hi Mr.Williams,

    Thank you very much for posting my comments. Ms. Fu’s supporter said that in America people have the freedom to tell lies. I really appreciate you giving us the platform to exercise our freedom of speech to expose Ms. Fu’s lies. Your kindness lets me see the true spirit of freedom of speech in America.

  11. Alchemist on October 2, 2013 at 2:28 am

    I don’t know if I am missing something here, but the majority of posts seem to have little or nothing to do with the main thrust of the article, which by the way I found to be very thought-provoking. New, over-the-wall thinking is desperately needed in the world at the moment..thanks for sharing these ideas Doug!

    • Toni on October 2, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      Agreed. Great article (and misplaced comments)!

  12. Van on October 3, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    You didn’t miss anything regarding the article.

    But you are very gullible. By reading the posts, I have found Ping Fu is a dishonest person who pretends to be an innovator. As a matter of fact, she is nothing but a charlatan.

    What you have missed is that you are admiring a liar. Is this funny in the tech world? Especially among those who supposed to be very intelligent? A simple google will give you enough information.

  13. Derek on October 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Ping Fu:

    Which UN Resolution caused UN’s santion on China based on your thesis?

    China is one of the five permanent member of UN and has the veto power. Did you mean your “article” caused China to sanction itself?

  14. Doug Williams on June 27, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Hi all,
    First of all, I find it unfortunate that so many commenters spent so much time and energy writing about Ms. Fu’s alleged fabrications, instead of focusing on the larger story of inspiration that draws on many of the 30 storytellers at the BIF-9 event.

    Second, we have an open platform at IX. I am not personally responsible for approving comments, but I gather that anyone who posted a comment eventually saw that it was published. I am hopeful that in the future, comments will be centered more on the ideas being shared in the article rather than on personal attacks.

    Third, as per point number one, IX is neither a supporter or a detractor of Ms. Fu’s. I was simply conveying that the story she told on stage was one of inspiration, and inspiration can be a powerful motivator. Was it truth or fiction? I have no idea.

    Finally, thank you to Alchemist and Toni for the kind words about the article. I’d encourage you both, and anyone else who took something positive away from this post, to keep an eye on BIF and get to one of their events if you can.


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