An Exclusive Ideagen Live ‘Inside the Boardroom’ Presentation with Desney Tan

Ideagen’s Inside the Boardroom highlights the world’s leading speakers from Fortune 500 Companies, the Public Sector, and NGOs share their journey of success, life lessons, career advice, and answer your questions about how to become a successful leader. 

Desney Tan: Students and young professionals often ask: “What do I have to do to be successful?” “What do I have to do to have a good life?” It’s an amazingly important question. It’s a profound question and one that is presumably top of mind for you guys, hence your presence here. Thank you for being here. Unfortunately, my answer is often, “I don’t know”. I don’t have any answers. We don’t have any answers. No one has any answers. But, I think what we have today is even more valuable than *the* answer. What we’re going to do is share a bunch of stories, not because the stories are particularly interesting, but because the lessons we’ve learned through the course of our lives and our careers may come in handy to you guys as you embark upon your journeys. We’ve got very different stories, but you’ll see some fairly common threads in here.

Before I start I have to say two things. First of all, it’s always tempting to look at someone else’s life and say “how do I get that job?” or “how do I have that life?” My simple answer is “you can’t.” These are our jobs, these are our lives - you can’t have them. The truth of the matter is you should not want them. This is not about having our lives or our jobs. This is about creating *your* lives and *your* jobs.

The second thing I’ll say, as you look at most of our lives, is that it’s very tempting to imagine the journey as a straight line. You plot your goal, and you spend your life going after it. Life is actually a set of winding detours and off-road adventures. And, as buttoned up as many people may seem to have it, look more closely and you’ll find that we’re all winging it as we go. We’re flying by the seats of our pants, and, if you do it right, you probably will be, too.

So, with those two things... The quick background on my life. I grew up in Singapore, the elder of two kids. Dad was an architect, mom was a homemaker. We never had a lot of stuff, but they worked awfully hard to make sure we were never wanting.

I was a pretty precocious kid. Mom and dad spoke English at home and decided I had to learn Chinese. And so they stuck me in Chinese school where everything was taught in Chinese. This was fine, I did plenty well, but it wasn’t really my idea of fun. And so very early in life I became a fairly truant kid. I would sneak out of classes. I would not attend school. And so my parents, getting worried, did what any parent would do, they handed me a tennis racket and stuck me on a tennis court.

In retrospect, this was brilliant. The tennis court is the largest most legal cage you can put a kid in. And so I spent half my life growing up on the tennis court and eventually got quite good at it. By the time I was a tween I was traveling Asia, traveling the region, playing semi-pro tennis beating up on 17 and 18-year-olds. Looking back, this was a pretty key moment in my life because it is the first thing I can remember doing in which I achieved mastery. Mastery turns out to be an amazing concept and an amazing thing to strive for. As Abe Lincoln put it, “Whatever you do, whoever you are, be a good one.” As much as I hate to disagree with Abe, I often augment that with being “the best.” And don’t stop striving until you are the best, and then keep going some more.

Now, there’s a bazillion things you could choose to be a master at. I’ve had a fairly simple formula for myself. Purpose - find value either for yourself or the world around you, dream the dream (nothing is impossible). Muhammad Ali put it really nicely. He said, “Impossible is not a fact, it’s merely an opinion.” Don’t let others ideas of impossible get in the way of your dreams. You’ve got to be courageous, and foolish enough, to go after those and make them reality.”

So, moving along. The not going to school thing ended up catching up with me. By the time I was 13, my parents decided this wasn’t going so well, and they decided to send me to the U.S. to continue my education. I had an aunt and an uncle in Louisiana, and so this is where I ended up.

Stay tuned for Part II of the Exclusive Ideagen Live “Inside the Boardroom” Presentation by Desney Tan...

For more information on Ideagen and Desney Tan, visit:

Twitter: @desneytan

10/28/2016 12:31 pm ET

Exclusive Ideagen Interview Series (Part I) With Microsoft’s Dr. Sidhant Gupta

An Exclusive interview with Ideagen’s George Sifakis and Dr. Sidhant Gupta, Microsoft Research.

George: Welcome to Ideagen Ideas Leader Radio. Today we have with us Dr. Sidhant Gupta from Microsoft. Sidhant, welcome. 

Sidhant: Thank you, George. 

George: Sidhant is a researcher in the medical devices group at Microsoft. He broadly investigates mobile sensing techniques and builds hardware for better understanding the human body and progressing frontiers of medical science. He graduated with a doctorate in computer science from the University of Washington in 2014. His graduate research was built on his philosophy of sensing everywhere without putting sensors everywhere. That is to find ways to send signals with minimal hardware that is easy to install and low cost. During his PhD work he invented a device that plugs into a home’s electrical outlet that lets homeowners see and matches not only how much energy their home consumes but also how it is used. 

For example it shows power usage of each and every appliance using only a single plug-in sensor. His published work has received various best paper awards and has been the basis of various commercialization efforts. Sidhant has been named one of the top 30 technology disrupters under the age of 30 by Forbes and so many other accolades including serving as Board Chairman at Sidhant, you really are changing the world. Welcome to the show today. We’re so honored to have you with us. 

Sidhant: Thank you for such a kind introduction, George. 

George: Of course. We’re going right into the interview with Ideagen. We always like to start with asking, please highlight the incredible work that you’re doing as a change agent across the planet. Sidhant, could you please describe Microsoft’s unique mission and especially your work with Microsoft Research. 

Sidhant: Indeed. Just like our CEO Satya Nadella puts it: it is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more. At Microsoft research we are empowering people whenever and wherever it’s possible. Whether that’s creating new software that makes you more productive while you go about your business or making technology that is designed for underprivileged kids.

Microsoft Research spans all of the various technologies from Cloud Technology, mobile software, hardware to medical devices. The way our group, the Medical Devices group, is going to empower people is by supporting patients with a potentially fatal disease that prevents them from living their life the way they want to. We’re going to give them a device that’s going to alleviate the tension and anxiety that comes with the disease management. We’ll enable them to do more with their life.

George: Incredibly inspiring, Sidhant. This is just profound perspective. What inspired you to join Microsoft?

Sidhant: That’s a long list but it started when I first spent a few weeks here as an intern many years ago. At that time, I had worked at many large corporations, many research labs across the world and I thought I was doing well professionally and that I was above average. But when I came here I felt I was the least knowledgeable person in the room, which was both an awful feeling and an inspiring one at the same time. I realized how amazing this place is and how incredibly smart everyone around me was. That day I decided that, “You know what, one day I want to work shoulder to shoulder next to these people, that’s how I will grow intellectually.” That’s one.

It’s just the incredibly smart people all around me and folks who have made fundamental breakthroughs in the field of computer science and other engineering disciplines and they have no ego. You can ask them the most fundamental question and they leave everything and come help a junior person. Second, what really inspired me about Microsoft and Microsoft Research in particular is Microsoft Research understands how the process of discovery works. There’s a lot of failure in this line of work. It’s a slow process. It’s a step by step process and Microsoft Research is just one of the few places in the world that understands how scientific discoveries work and it empowers its employees just like we’re empowering our customer to be able to do more.

George: That is simply inspiring, Sidhant, to hear the process of discovery in a profound sort of leadership from a thought leadership perspective that Microsoft and Microsoft Research are infusing into the research that’s taking place. That leads us to another question, which is how does your role at Microsoft inspire you as you address many of the world’s most pressing issues via the technology solutions that you’re driving towards?

Sidhant: That’s a great question, George. There’s a couple of answers to it. The one that really comes to my mind is you mentioned the world’s most pressing issues and how we’re attacking those. The thing with pressing issues is the reason they still exist is because they’re hard to solve. If they were not, it wouldn’t be a pressing issue.

Solving hard problems often involves scientific breakthroughs and sometimes even fundamental discoveries. At Microsoft Research we get to work on these hard problems whether that’s tackling diseases, increasing workplace productivity or even working on how humanity can one day go to Mars.

What Microsoft Research has set up is it gives researchers, which is essentially my role, intellectual freedom and any logistical support needed to make scientific discoveries and to have an impact. That’s just inspiring everyday. Every day when I come to work I realize how fortunate I am that I can not only work on these hard problems, but truly have the time and the freedom from the management that working on these problems require. Failure is part of an everyday life here. Failure is celebrated because if you’re failing it means you’re trying hard enough and yes, you read these in self-help books that failing is part of success but it’s actually implemented here and you can see it every day.

People would fail, something would not work despite years of hard work and yes, it demotivates, but only for a couple of minutes and then you’re back up again back solving the hard problems.

06/08/2016 04:35 pm ET