really care, I’ll just let you fail, but I’ll tell
everybody that you suck. But if you come
and say, “Look, what should I be doing?
What could I have done differently?” I’ll
give you the feedback, and you’ll learn
it. I’ll also remember that you came and
asked me that, so when somebody comes
and asks me if Jie is a good person to
invest in, I’ll say, “ Yeah, she had this thing,
but she learned her lesson, and we talked
about it, and she was very open and did
the right thing.” Even though it failed, it
wasn’t her fault because these were the
conditions, and so on.
That’s important because it will not
only build character but also reputation.
And make it clear you’re learning to your
investors and other people, so by asking
questions and interacting and saying,
XRDS: Last question... in your book,
Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster
Future, you explored the idea of
“compass over maps.” That is, as long as
you know your goals, it’s okay to proceed
without creating a full plan of “how”
first. But how do we know when our
compass is good?
ITO: Kids are born with lots of ideas
and are excited about things, like
the group you [Jie Qi] are in, Lifelong
Kindergarten; it’s about people and
kids chasing their passions and
It gets rubbed out of you as you
go through school where everybody’s
telling you what you need to do to be
successful, and you sort of lose the
ability to make up your own idea of
what success is. A lot of how to find
a compass is by de-programming
the educational system, which often
creates so much structure that you
don’t have to have your own compass.
It’s like you’re inside a building where
you have just escalators and hallways.
So I think it’s more about reaching back
into being more like a child rather than
logically thinking through stuff.
Jie Qi is an artist, engineer, and designer who blends paper
craft and storytelling with electronics and programming.
She holds a Ph. D. in media arts and sciences from the MI T
Media Lab and a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from
Columbia University. She is the co-founder and creative
director of Chibitronics, which produces hardware toolkits
for learning and making electronics using paper craft.
© 2017 Copyright held by Owner(s)/Author(s).
I’ll meet them. So it’s usually through
referrals of people. If it’s a really smart
person, I often ask, “Who is the smartest
person you know?” If it’s a really
good investor, I say, “What’s the most
interesting investment you know?” If it’s
a creative person, I say, “Who is the most
creative person you know?” That’s kind of
how I “hunt.” Even at MIT, I ask students,
“Do you know any other cool students?”
XRDS: What tips do you have for how to
mentor such people?
ITO: Well, first meet them. I mean
dating is not the right metaphor, but it’s
similar. Then there’s timing. Sometimes
people are in need of mentorship, often
before they go look for a job or when
they’re trying to come up with life
decisions, so a lot of it is just random
timing. For students, you can sort of
figure out when the timing is going to be.
More recently, this is a newer
realization, it actually was Ethan
Zuckerman [associate professor and
director of the MIT Center for Civic Media]
who advised me about advising, saying,
you really need to be able to dedicate
real chunks of time and not be in partial-attention mode. I think the people you
mentor need to feel like they can count
on you to be there. And that limits the
number of people you can mentor. The
tendency is to have a lot of them. As an
investor, you sometimes tend to have a
lot of investments. But I think it’s good
to have a small number—half a dozen or
so—on whom you can really focus.
XRDS: Entrepreneurship comes with
a lot of risk. What can people do when
something doesn’t, catastrophically,
work or make money?
ITO: It depends where you are in terms
of your life. Because if you’re by yourself
and don’t own a house and don’t have a
mortgage and/or student loans, then you
can just start over, and I wouldn’t really
worry about it. And in a way, if you have
parents you can go live with—basically a
backup plan—I would try to take as many
risks as I could and go, go, go.
And if you fail, own it. Don’t run away
Because one of the worst things I did
was, sometimes, when I saw something
about to fail, I would run away and hope
it wouldn’t catch me. Like I’d stop calling
or I’d run away from a few problems. For
example, if you miss a deadline or you’re
about to miss a deadline or you know you’re
going to miss a deadline, instead of calling
the person to say, “Look I’m gonna miss
this deadline, what should we do?”, you run
away. But it will catch you and it will cost you
twice as much energy to deal with it later.
So related to that, and this is not
exactly what you’re asking, but I used to
take all the calls I didn’t want to make
and put them at the bottom of my to-do
list—and would never get around to them.
And then my to-do list got uglier and
uglier and uglier. And one day I remember
saying, “What I’m going to do are the
suckiest calls first.” And every day I’d get
up and do the stuff I didn’t want to do first
and I’d end the day with stuff I liked doing.
That was kind of cool until I realized
that every day started with sucky stuff. I
realized I had to start saying “No” to stuff.
That was another thing I learned.
One last thing is that the anticipation
of failure and the anticipation of pain is
always more painful than the pain itself.
Usually, the next day after a catastrophe,
it doesn’t feel as bad as the day before.
But you want to make sure you learn
the lesson. This is all another reason for
not running away. If you want to not have
that mistake again, you want to have a
full-body experience of how crappy it is.
What was it that went wrong? It’s a very
expensive lesson you’re going to pay
for any way, so you might as well learn
as much as you can from it. And I would
always be looking around, like “So what is
my lawyer thinking now? What does this
person think we should have done?” And
get all of that because at the moment you
have a lot of free-lesson stuff. And if you
aren’t paying attention, it will happen, but
you won’t know exactly why it happened.
The other thing is getting really honest
feedback from everybody. Like if I see your
company is about to fail and you don’t
You also have to
as a curious
person who might
interesting to share.