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The Thirst for Knowing

“Probably one of the main things that characterized me as a teenager growing up in France, in the Paris suburbs, was that I was thirsty for knowledge, thirsty for science for culture. And it was both a fabulous driving force, but also a cause of profound anxiety. Driving force because I just want to ingest all the knowledge in the world at a time where there was no Google yet to reference it all. I would set goals and expectations to myself, such as reading a book per day, or listening to radio show every morning. I would go through the encyclopedia one by one, or watch investigative shows on on TV. I also wrote a lot in my journal to reflect on it. I contributed to the high school newspaper. And finally I started writing on the internet even before blogs existed, because that was a way  to digest and share with others what I had learned. It was also a cause of anxiety, because these mountains of knowledge and the rows of encyclopedias at the library were intimidating. I was wishing I could have a long life to be able to catch up with everything that happened in the world. I realized that discoveries and knowledge with were produced faster than I could really keep up with learning about them. It’s actually how I started dreaming about life extension and having parallel lives. I was desperate to follow what would become with humanity in the future, with our Earth and with the universe.  And the second anecdote that comes to mind is around 14 or 15. I discovered philosophy. It was a true revelation. I had a phase where I wanted to build a political party based on philosophy and wisdom. France, where I grew up, was and probably still is a very political country. People talk a lot about politics, at family dinners, with friends, at work with colleagues. I felt that philosophy could be the answer to building such a better society. But I was quickly discouraged by people around me. The message I got was that intellectuals think in their own ivory towers, while politicians do actual stuff. In the European culture, we are still collectively wounded by idealists willing to build better, more equitable, societies, and how that led to some of the worst tragedies in history with communism and socialism. We are very careful with utopian ideas that would be too close to forms of totalitarian systems. In addition, I grew up in a family of engineers, so with more Cartesian minds, where we would observe phenomena and discuss the physics of everyday things on Saturday evenings. My father would make lecture about liquid physics. So I was pushed towards scientific studies. And I have to admit that I developed a taste for maths and logics and physics and dreamed of becoming an astronaut. My father was a computer scientist, we had internet at home very early on, probably 1994-1995. I would spend hours on it, watching pictures of the universe or reading about science.  To sum it up, I had myriads of interest and potential careers, but also a sort of paralysis to choose one single path. Because choosing one would mean renouncing all the other options. I lived that impossibility to choose one vocation over the other as a frustration. Then I found a solution, or at least a way to channel this multidisciplinary thinking or to silence it for a while. I was probably 17, or 18 as I came up with an idea of a series of books. I had 10 books in mind. In each of the books, I would explore one career – I would be a astronaut in one, an artist, a journalist, an engineer, an entrepreneur in another one, and so on. However the rest of the world in the book would not change. My perspective on the world would change, the story would change, but the other characters and the word itself, in which the stories would happen would be fixed or slowly evolving, if my narrator had an action on it. It meant a lot of worldbuilding to be consistent from one book to the other. My idea was that the last book of it all, would be the key to the rest of the series. Because by spending my own life writing this 10 interconnected books on researching these careers, I would be older and have become a writer, which was kind of the encompassing vocation for all others. I had this Proustian project, if I may say so. I started writing it. And then life happens, which means I needed a degree, I needed a real paying job, I needed a more stable career path. And this project ended up in a drawer for a while.  Flash forward… I finally opted for diverse studies, a mixed maths, literature, and social science program in Paris, which led me to graduate from business school HEC Paris, with a specialization in management of arts and culture. For a while, I worked for radio shows and TV networks as a production assistant. Finally, I landed a stable consulting job at Accenture in strategy and product launch for telecommunication, media, and entertainment companies. Another twist in the story happened in 2005. I had the opportunity to leave that stable job to go live in San Francisco to work for the French Embassy as a trade attache. specialized in audiovisual. Since then, I have been supporting technology companies in their international development as part of different government agencies, Business France, French tech Hub, and a couple of years ago I created startup accelerator with two co-founders called big bang factory. During that time, I advised more than 500 tech companies in their strategy for the US market and fundraising, covering solutions from educational platforms, employee engagement interfaces, medical devices, sleep tech, or fall detection tools for the elderly, to name a few. About four or five years ago, I started to notice that our business strategy approach was too narrow sighted. We were focusing so much on finding customers finding funding, on short term profitability (around 2-3 years) that we ended up missing true signals of change, and losing long term vision.  I investigated foresight techniques to improve my strategy consulting practice and finally got certified as an expert Foresight Practitioner with the Institute for the Future. And it all made sense, I could finally reconcile my taste for science and technology, my interest in social science and philosophy, my attraction to futures thinking, my creativity, and my scenario-building abilities. There was a profession that truly valued multidisciplinarity!”

Listen to Sylvia Gallusser’s full interview on FuturePod. Thank you Peter Hayward for the opportunity to be featured on the podcast!

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Published by Sylvia

Futurist - Futures Thinking & Strategic Foresight

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