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Why ethical decisions escape us

by Jason on July 22, 2015

It turns out that we as groups of humans are pretty bad at actually making ethical decisions. And according to professor Ann Tenbrunsel, it’s mostly because we don’t recognize we’re making ethical decisions when we make them.

According to a Harvard paper (that predates her book, Blind Spots), we tend to make decisions that have ethical consequences “in the moment”:

We argue that the temporal trichotomy of prediction, action and recollection is central to these misperceptions: People predict that they will behave more ethically than they actually do, and when evaluating past (un)ethical behavior, they believe they behaved more ethically than they actually did.

The paper’s authors also divide a person into two “selves”:

The “want” self is reflected in choices that are emotional, affective, impulsive, and “hot headed.” In contrast, the “should” self is characterized as rational, cognitive, thoughtful, and “cool headed.” The presence of these two selves within one mind results in frequent clashes: We know we should behave ethically when negotiating with our client, for example, but our desire to close the sale causes us to make misleading statements.

It seems like what they’re dancing around is that we all imagine ourselves to be a certain kind of (ethical) person, but when we get into the details of making decisions, we often:

  1. Don’t recognize that there are ethical dimensions to the decision
  2. Make the decision based on specific incentives at hand, not general principles


Everyone’s heard the adage that you manage what you measure, and so we all understand that it’s important to pick business metrics that encourage the right kind of growth.

But this recent retrospective on YouTube’s recommendation engine change from serving up videos with lots of views to serving up videos with lots of view time — a subtle but important difference — highlights how much metrics impact product design and your relationship with your customers.

The metrics you choose are, in fact, scope defining: if YouTube weren’t tracking how many minutes into videos people were watching (metric!), then it might not have occurred to them to re-structure their algorithm to weight it more heavily.


Inside Out This year, the Dent Library included the new book Creativity, Inc, and it’s one of the best business books I’ve ever read. Every time I finish a chapter I feel like I’ve gotten a book’s worth of knowledge out of it.

It’s also full of insights into the movie making process and Pixar, and one thing that strikes me about their approach is that Pixar really builds movies through auteurship, probably more than almost any other studio. Which means: the movie is really, substantially the vision of the director — the director keeps the ultimate artistic vision for the film. Sure, the brass can cancel or greenlight it, but the don’t provide story input.

Yesterday evening I went to see the latest Pixar release, Inside Out, which reminded me a lot of Up and Monsters, Inc. — which were the other two Pixar movies he directed. And since Pete is from Minnesota, and I assume moved to San Francisco to work at Pixar, the movie may even be a bit autobiographical in some ways.

In Creativity, Inc, Catmull says he never understood why people debated over the dichotomy between a great idea and a great team. Ideas (he reasons) come from people, so great ideas come from great people… so there’s no debate.

It seems to me like Pixar, as an experiment in finding and enabling great people, is a wonderful success story. Because apparently we needed proof to know that committees can kill creativity 😉


We’re very excited to announce that thanks to several generous and early Alchemist-level Dent registrants, we’ll be able to provide a scholarship program to Dent 2016.

The press-release version of the announcement is below, or you can just go visit the scholarship page and apply (or help fund it by registering as an Alchemist).

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Now entering it’s fourth year, Dent — an intimate, invitation only retreat for people who are “denting the universe,” — is launching a scholarship program that will set aside up to a dozen registrations to be awarded for free to folks who would not otherwise be able to attend the event.

“This year we’ve introduced a new type of registration, something we’re calling an ‘Alchemist’,” said Jason Preston, co-founder of Dent. “Alchemists are invited to a private reception, get a free room upgrade at the Sun Valley Resort, and receive several other perks, but mostly the extra fee goes to fund free attendance for Dent Scholars.”

Already, three scholarship registrations have been fully funded. The number of funded registrations is updated live on the Dent Scholarship page as Alchemists register for Dent throughout the year.

Dent Scholars will be invited to attend the Dent Conference and all associated events. Denters will arrive on Saturday, March 19th and depart on Wednesday, March 23rd. Every Dent registration includes the cost of meals, drinks, receptions, managed activities like the photo walk, scavenger hunt, wine tasting, parkour, and of course conference sessions.

In addition to the normal Dent schedule, Scholars are invited to attend a special reception immediately prior to the kickoff party on Sunday afternoon, where they will have the chance to meet and talk with members of the Dent Advisory Board, Speakers, Alchemists who have made Scholar attendance possible, and the conference Founders.

Dent brings together a wide-ranging group of highly motivated entrepreneurs, investors, innovative thinkers, designers, artists, and leaders who are all looking to “put a dent in the universe.” It’s a unique opportunity to meet and build relationships with the kinds of folks who can help you make a difference.


Future Toys: Our Comic-Con Panel

by steve on June 11, 2015

As I mentioned a few weeks back, we are again orchestrating a number of science and technology themed panels to be held at San Diego Comic-Con this year. Another approved panel is titled “Future Toys: How AI, Robotics, Sensors and Mobile are Changing Play” and here is the description:

Future Toys: How AI, Robotics, Sensors and Mobile are Changing Play

In this session, panelists Rob Maigret (chief creative officer at Sphero, Inc.) Brian Torney (design manager, New Business Group at Hasbro) Carly Gloge (CEO and co-founder of Ubooly), Oren Jacob (cofounder, CEO at ToyTalk, Inc.) and moderator Steve Broback (cofounder, Dent the Future) will discuss how new technologies such as A.I., mobile computing and robotics are powering the latest toys, which of our favorite comic book/media properties they align with, and how unconventional tech/media giant collaborations are changing the future of play.


As I mentioned a few weeks back, we are again orchestrating a number of science and technology themed panels to be held at San Diego Comic-Con this year. Another approved panel is titled “Rise of the Aqua(wo)man” and here is the description:

Rise of the Aqua(wo)man
The idea of a water-breathing superhero is nothing new. In fact, “Namor the Sub-Mariner” appeared in 1939, six months before Batman premiered. Since that time, numerous Atlanteans and water-breathing humanoids have graced the pages of our favorite comic books. Heroes like Aquaman, Hydroman, Fathom, the Fin, Dolphin, Aqualad/Tempest, and Merboy are just a few of the prominent subsea protagonists we’ve seen grace the pages of our favorite comic books.

As millions have seen via the free diving videos on YouTube, humans never been closer to becoming an aquatic being reminiscent of the ideal set by these Atlanteans. Thanks to breakthroughs in physiology and technology, there are now humans like panelist Mandy-Rae Cruickshank who have descended to 289 ft on one breath, and the world record for breath holding is now an astonishing 22 minutes.

In this session, panelists will discuss how aquanauts are living undersea for extended periods, how science is extending the abilities of humans, and what tips and techniques can make us all a bit more like Namor.

Joining me onstage will be world champion free-diver and record-holder Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, along with the President/Founder of Performance Freediving International Kirk Krack and others TBA.

See Kirk in action in this video Wreckage by Water Born. It’s the first of a series of creative freediving films about the rise of Homoaquaticus from Homosapiens.


Building the Holodeck: Our Comic-Con Panel

by steve on June 10, 2015

As I mentioned a few weeks back, we are again orchestrating a number of science and technology themed panels to be held at San Diego Comic-Con this year. The first that was approved is titled “Building the Holodeck” and here is the description:

Building the Holodeck:
From the X-Men’s “danger room” training facility, to the Star Trek holodeck, immersive simulations have been central to comic book, TV, and film storytelling. Unlike other depictions of far-off inventions, the year 2015 has brought us surprisingly close to possessing what has been thought of as a 24th century technology. In this session, several leaders from the VR and space exploration industries will talk about how recent developments like the Oculus Rift headsets enable “holodecks” of today. They’ll also show some of the exciting virtual experiences under development. An actual holodeck-style rendering of the Enterprise (Star Trek: Next Generation) bridge will be presented.

Our speakers so far include:

  • Nonny de la Peña (CEO of Emblematic Group)
  • Jason Cruzan (Director, Advanced Exploration Systems Division at NASA )
  • Philip Lelyveld (Consumer 3D Experience Lab at USC School of Cinematic Art’s Entertainment Technology Center)
  • Jamie Kelly (President, VRCade)


Introducing the Dent highlight video

by Jason on June 10, 2015

Those of you who joined us in Sun Valley this past March might remember a few folks wandering around with video cameras, or maybe Kyle Kesterson‘s drone flying around. We’ve spent some time cutting the moments together (and cutting way too many moments out), in order to try to capture some of the spirit of what Dent is for all of us each year:

We think this video does a pretty good job. Feel free to share it with friends, colleagues, or Mark Zuckerberg. Whatever floats your boat.

As a reminder, we’ve already got some very cool people lined up to join us for next year’s gathering on March 20-23rd, 2016. If you don’t have an invite code yet but would like to join, you can request one here.


Denters Headed to San Diego Comic-Con

by steve on May 21, 2015

Who is headed to San Diego in July? We have some big things planned for Comic-Con and would love to meet up. Several members of our community have said they will be there, we’d love to know who else is headed to #SDCC.

Last year, I assisted the programming team at SDCC by developing some science and tech-based panels. In 2014 I hosted 2 sessions, one was called “Pop Culture and the Robot Reality”. This featured panelists from NASA, Intel, Rethink Robotics and General Motors. Also, Brent Spiner (“Data” from Star Trek) introduced the session. We followed that with our robot party.

Once again I am collaborating with the show organizers and we are gearing up to showcase the latest in VR “Holodeck” technology as well as toys with the future in mind.

We are actively looking for partners to help us underwrite our VR demo zone. Eager to hear from anyone with ideas on this front.



We’re really excited to announce that Dhani Jones, who played in the NFL as a Linebacker for about a decade, but also made up his own major in college (“Self-Representation”), is the founder of the Bowtie Cause, and a poet — will be joining us on stage next year as a speaker at Dent 2016.

With the addition of Dhani, we’ve now got three amazing speakers confirmed for next year’s event in Sun Valley. Also joining us are Digital Media innovator and visiting fellow at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation Amy Webb, and PATH CEO Steve Davis. Many of the activities are going to be back, and of course we’ll have some new ones added to the mix.

There are still some limited-edition registrations available, but most of them are now gone. If you know you’re going to be in Sun Valley with us next year, be sure to request and invitation and sign up now.

(If you’ve been before, chances are you already have an invitation code in your inbox — search from:team@dentthefuture.com to find it, or just shoot us an email.)