radical.notes —
Meet radical Ally Eli Bressert

Eli love’s putting big ideas into action by connecting the impossible. He’s currently the Head of Siri Platform Science & Insights at Apple. Before that, he spearheaded and led R&D, engineering, and data teams at companies like Stitch Fix, Netflix, and Convoy. He authored the O’Reilly book on scientific Python libraries, mentors at Singularity University and Insight Data Science, and has a PhD in astrophysics.

➜ Eli, you have spent your career at the forefront of technological change. How do you describe your work to others, and how is your work affecting change?

I’m a shaper who operates on the notion of making science fiction become science fact. Like a surfboard shaper who works with a surfboard blank, I envision who is going to ride the board, what kind of waves that person will surf, and then design, cut, sand, glass, and deliver the final product.

Across the companies I’ve been part of, I’ve boosted their core services and products through data and algorithms. Be it deep insights into a new market opportunity to natural language processing and computer vision models improving the machine learning services. Many times, the vision and efforts have led to highly scalable results that help companies through rapid growth.

➜ If you had $10M (or $100M, or $1BN) of your wealth to bet/invest in one future technology, what would it be and why?

I’d invest in technologies that aim to increase the human capacity to learn not only knowledge but experiences. Experiences encapsulate things like applied strategy, habits, intuitions about environments and situations, emotional intelligence, people management skills, and so much more. All of which takes an individual a lot of time to learn by practice, trial-and-error, and repetition.

For thousands of years, knowledge outside oneself was shared verbally from one person to another. Then came writing where things learned became forever enshrined on tablets, walls, and eventually paper. Knowledge started to become a collection of experiences from many individuals that superseded their lives and existed on a strata above individuals, groups, or societies. The process of information gathering, hybridization, and sharing accelerated exponentially thanks to the Internet. But knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate to experience.

The ability to pass on experiences from one individual to another has stayed the same since the beginning. We cannot pass along experiences to others in a time efficient and scalable way and it’s a bottleneck to humanity’s growth. Any collection of technology that can ramp up our ability to pass on our experiences to others through some innovative medium will have an impact that is bigger than the printing press. It’s an event that I want to see realized and would gladly invest my wealth on this front to help make it happen sooner than later.

➜ In your opinion what does it mean to be a radical leader and how does one get better at being one?

Assuming that a radical leader’s objective is to make their organization succeed through the abundance of change and exponential technologies, the following qualities are needed:

  • Boldness - Make the right choices even it’s not the most popular one.
  • Ruthless Optimizer - Near fanatical drive to move in the right direction. You’re not afraid to make tough changes to improve.
  • Adaptability - What was right last year may no longer be right today. Adapt to improve and win tomorrow.
  • Be a Dreamer - Think big and simple. Don’t get sandboxed by the norm and execute.
  • Always Learning - Face each day with an empty cup to listen and learn from others. Read about new techniques or ideas from articles and books. It keeps your mind agile and you on top of the game.
  • Get it Right - A team almost always does better in getting it right vs. one being right. Get that collective mind together, listen, and execute.
  • Take Care of Yourself - One of the most overlooked qualities across the board. What you think and feel reflects on the environment around you. Make sure you’re near 100% and go change the world.

All of the above qualities are learned through experiences. Be bold, make mistakes, and then learn from those mistakes. It’s analogous to sharpening a blade. Each time you learn from a mistake you sharpen your blade with the whetting stone. Each time you don’t learn from your mistakes you’ve blunted your blade.

➜ What’s the single best piece of radical advice you received in your life (so far)?

There are two - so I’m gonna cheat :).

The First
When you know you want something, act on it and don’t look to others to verify it. When talking with others about something you want, you are just trying to convince yourself that it’s ok. Spend that energy understanding what you want, hone it, and execute.

The Second
In business never take anything that’s professional personally. Tough feedback, actions, and discussions are helping you learn and be better at what you do. Once you’ve mastered not taking events at work personally, you can make better and rational decisions - no matter where you are.

➜ What is the most enlightening book you have read?

The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov. The first books of the series were published back in the 1950s and the vision he set was revolutionary, even to this day. He developed one of the earliest notions of a data scientist which were called psychohistorians and how they could predict the future of civilizations using history, sociology, and mathematical statistics.

Learn more about Eli.

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