Unlike the glory, endorsements, and global adulation associated with Olympic records, peak human performance in this respect is measured by how many days a 11 yr old can walk through a desert with little food or water in search of a better life.

As part of the Host Committee of the recently held ThinAir Innovation Festival in Park City, Utah, I consider myself fortunate to have met, supported, and befriended a fabulous new group of people. The inaugural theme of this year’s event was Innovation in Peak Human Performance. While there were dozens of motivational stories shared by incredible people, from Olympic athletes to visionary entrepreneurs, for me, it all boiled down to a simple premise:

Through training, diet, sleep, and psychology, we have pushed human performance, as measured by timed feats of standardized skills, to the brink of our capability.

At one end of the spectrum, a ThinAir panel focused on individual performance. It referenced how we measure everything from 50 meter swim events to two-mile downhill ski races in 100ths of a second. We ask if records that seemed unfathomable a generation or two ago will continue to fall with increasing regularity. But when those records do fall, some, if not many among us, immediately question whether the athletes breaking those records have done so with the aide of unfair or illegal performance enhancing substances or technologies.

For comparison sake, it takes three to four hundredths of a second to blink your eye and 1.4-2.0 hundredths for a hummingbird to flap its wings once.   Imagine being the second best in the world, the silver medalist, the former world record holder … by half an eye blink or a single hummingbird wing flap. Imagine wondering the rest of your life if you could have done anything different to shave off that infinitesimal margin? A huge psychological weight to bear for sure.

At the other end of the spectrum, another ThinAir panel focused on Global Populations. The moderator for that panel, Desi Matel-Anderson, works with individuals and organizations to provide innovative solutions and emergency management during natural and man-made disasters and crises. Unlike the glory, endorsements, and global adulation associated with Olympic records, peak human performance in this respect is measured by how many days a 11 yr old can walk through a desert with little food or water in search of a better life. Or how many years can that same child endure with the memory of parents and friends drowning while trying to cross the Adriatic or Aegean or Mediterranean Sea before wishing he or she had drown also?

Unfortunately, there is no limit to the innovative means by which people inflict pain and suffering on other people, causing the afflicted to push well beyond the brink of any conceivable human capacity.

A HUGE     PSYCHOLOGICAL       WEIGHT               TO                   BEAR…….

Though I work in the world of entrepreneurs and technological innovation, I emotionally, spiritually, psychologically live in the world of global conflict and human suffering. And that is why I was so heartened by Daniel Chao’s focus on improving brain performance. His venture backed startup not only accelerates performance gains for elite athletes, but also holds the promise of medical breakthroughs like alleviating some of the suffering from the debilitating tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease. During his remarks, you could see Daniel took as much if not more pride in the latter.

Because of the world in which my thoughts so often dwell, I found myself imagining my own precious 11 yr old as a migrant. How I wish she could wear a cooling vest with the most advanced UnderArmour wicking fabrics.

I imagined those drowning victims as my own family. How I wish they could wear the most advanced waterproof Skull Candy – Halo Neuroscience earbuds with motivational music and muscle enhancing stimulus sustaining them until they reach the shore.

Imagine your own children in their UnderArmour clothing and Skull Candy headphones. What is your wish? How much psychological weight can you bear?


PERSONAL NOTE: This week’s title comes from a letter I wrote to a college friend now in Jordan with the ICRC. I wanted to thank him for his work trying to mitigate the hardship of those impacted by the war in Syria. Five years ago, I lost a former business partner and cherished friend to the war in Syria. Fady was a fearless entrepreneur, with a passion for adventure and limitless optimism about the future. He left behind a wonderful wife and three beautiful children. I think of him and his family constantly, especially when I talk about the entrepreneurial gift of viewing obstacles and challenges as opportunity.

I took the photo used for this post in 1996 while distributing humanitarian aid with the Danish relief and development organization, Mission East. We were in Kapan, Armenia, about 20m north of the Iranian border. While I remember countless images and details from that weekend, what I remember most are the faces of those two children. I see them over and over again when I look at my own daughter and see how excited she is to pursue a limitless future.


For over 20 years, Paul has flown under the radar while pursuing a series of entrepreneurial initiatives in the United States and across five continents. In the process, Paul bagged a Career Big 5 in employment – working with startups, NGOs, the federal government, higher ed and investors. Through this combination of experiences, and his singular focus on early-stage entrepreneurs, Paul has developed an unusually broad and insightful perspective on what it takes to launch and build companies. With this new blog, The Rumination Paradox, Paul shares some of his insights on entrepreneurship and hopefully inspires some creative thinking among others. Share your thoughts with Paul at pjc@sustainablestartups.org.


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