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Think Like a Billionaire: Don't Seek Validation from Others

Sara Blakely, the inventor of Spanx, literally stared from the bottom. Here's how she built a billion-dollar empire without a single business class.

Sara Blakely: So, as an entrepreneur I'm such an advocate for everyone to think like an entrepreneur. Whether you want to start your own business or not, it's incredibly helpful no matter what. 

And so thinking like an entrepreneur inside of organizations or if you are starting your own business, I always say—I love to tell the people around me to do this: Close your eyes and take a minute and think about how you would be doing your job if nobody showed you how to do it. What surfaces? 

Because if you think about it we're all on autopilot. We're doing things the way either someone else showed us how to do it or we saw and learned from watching. And real change only happens when you do it different than everybody else. So all the time I put myself through mental exercises where I'm like, “Wait a minute, I know everybody's been doing it this way for a really long time, but is that the best way?” And I just want to see what comes up.

I also come across ideas and inventions by going throughout my day looking at objects and saying, “Now how could that be better?” And why did the person who first created gum—gum to me is so fascinating.
As someone who started a brand with $5000, had to get an idea out there that didn't already exist (the footless pantyhose) I love to think about people who first introduced things to society, and I think about the guy who did gum. 

Can you imagine! I thought I had it tough, this guy is walking around going, “You just chew it, you just put this wad in your mouth…” and people are probably like, “And then what?” “Don't swallow it, you just chew it.” Like that's a pretty hard sell at first. And I think that gum had no flavor in it when it first came out, so that's even crazier to me.
But everything from the pencil to the fork to the chair we sit in to the car that we drive: somebody originally had a thought and brought it forward it to society. 

So get off autopilot, look at everything every object in your life, the way that you do things; when you get up and brush your teeth, is there a better way to brush your teeth? Is it the right way to be doing it? And see what comes.

I started Spanx with $5000 in savings from selling fax machines door to door in Clearwater Florida for seven years. And I started it out of the back of my apartment. I had never taken a business class. I had never worked in fashion or retail, but I was determined to make this one particular undergarment for myself and women that filled a much needed void in a fashion. 

And it was the most challenging the first two years to get it made, because no one took me seriously. I heard the word no for two solid years. 

I actually was calling all the hosiery manufacturing plants and I ended up taking a week off of work and drove around North Carolina in person begging these people to help make my prototype and my idea.

And so there were many, many times in those first two years: When I wrote my own patent, I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a book on patents and trademarks. I created the packaging on my friend's computer after work. I thought of the name Spanx sitting in traffic in Atlanta and went home and trademarked it with my credit card for $150. 

But all of this time I was doing it I wasn't sharing it with anybody. None of my friends or family knew what my idea was, and that was really important to my journey because I didn't want to share the idea just for validation, because I wanted to make sure that I spent anytime I had pursuing it instead of defending it and explaining it. 

And I think so often, so many times, people have an amazing idea, I mean you have a million dollar or a billion dollar idea in your life, and the first thing you want to do is turn to your right or left at work and tell a coworker, tell your friend, tell your husband, your wife and out of love and concern you get a lot of feedback that stops that idea right in its moment that it happened.

But for me because I wasn't using a support system in those times that I had doubt, I ended up really—I listened to a lot of inspirational and motivational lectures. And so I would second-guess myself, I’d put those tapes in, I’d drive around, I’d have to give myself pep talks. 

I mean it was a real back and forth for me to keep believing in myself when no one else was.

 

What's the difference between a successful entrepreneur and everyone else? People who build an empire from a product or idea are the ones who take themselves off auto-pilot and ask: is there a better way to do this? That one question is how Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, went from being a door-to-door fax machine saleswoman in Florida, to the owner of a billion-dollar fashion brand. Here, she shares a mental exercise that helps foster entrepreneurial thinking, and explains why pursuing your idea is so much more important than having people validate it. Basically, here is a lesson in lighting a billion-dollar fire under your ass. Sara Blakely is also the creator of The Belly Art Project, which works with Every Mother Counts to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for women everywhere.


Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

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  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

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Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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