Diversity and tension of perspectives are crucial to innovation. Our Innovator Interview series features a luminary who is changing the world on the ground through innovation. In each interview, we dig into the perspectives, approaches, missions, and drivers of these entrepreneurs, and share practical tips.
This week, we interview Amy Blackman, MBA & VP of Contend Immersive. Read on for a glimpse into her interesting and inspirational path to Contend, and her big plans to change how we create new products, services, and experiences by flipping how we look at data through artificial intelligence.
Who are you and what do you do?
I am: Amy Blackman, third generation transplanted Brooklyn native, raised there long before it was chic, Los Angeleno for the past 23 years, channel swimmer, academia addict, twice daily meditator, music business refugee, solo traveler.
I do: VP of Contend Immersive—I run a digital art and design collective of radical creatives and technologists based in Los Angeles and Moscow. We make Inverted Reality—these are multimedia experiences beyond AR, VR and MR.
Why do you do what you do?
I love the challenge of figuring out how to transform static objects into canvases of moving light. And to make this transformation a reality, I am privileged to work with a team of engineers, creatives and problem sleuthers in Moscow. These risk-attracted makers are the first generation of post-Soviet entrepreneurs to come of age. They produce, invent, solve and deliver with resourcefulness, dedication, and profuse creativity, simply because, for the first time in their country’s history... they can. They ignite me.
What are the life moments that most influenced who/where you are today?
NYC summers in the 1970’s were basically the apocalypse. From age 8-13, my parents sent me to sleep away camp for six weeks in Vermont. The camp was a working farm. We slept in lean-to’s in a forest, on a bed of pine needles. We gardened and did barn chores. We went on hiking overnights and ate GORP. We swam and bathed with Dr. Bronners soap in the freezing pond. We danced and laughed and got dirty and got in trouble and made mischief and grew. I ran wild, shoeless and shower-less, returning home with head lice, covered in mosquito bites, dirt, macramé friendship bracelets and delirious joy. Enough said, I became me.
What is the first thing you do every morning? The last thing at the end of every day?
First thing: I am a twice daily Vedic meditator. The Vedic practice is to meditate first thing in the morning for 20 minutes, so before coffee, before iPhone, I med.
Last thing: nothing super interesting—a big handful of supplements, a huge swig of water and knock out within 90 seconds. I am blessed with being a sleep ninja. I cherish this part of my physiology, so elusive to so many.
What do you never leave the house without and why?
My waterproof pocket notebook from Apolis Global Citizen—I still like pen and paper to capture ideas. I am a lip balm junkie. I have at least 5 varieties on my person at all times. If I get caught out there without any, I buy one—the addiction is that bad. Justin’s Peanut Butter squirt packs—emergency protein. A string of komboloi—Greek worry beads. If not, I come home with no fingernails or cuticles. When my brain is working so are my fingers, apparently picking apart other fingers. And sunglasses—LA sun no joke.
What is the last book you read and why?
How to Kill a Unicorn by Mark Payne. Not kidding! It’s been great getting the culture reconnaissance in advance of my visit to Fahrenheit 212!
What is your favorite app?
My first answer was the apps I use most often—Whatsapp, Waze, Core Power Yoga, Insight Timer, my local gym’s app Breakthru Fitness. I looked at the list and felt like a Los Angeles cliche—driving, messaging, yoga, meditation, working out. I thought about changing my answer. But alas, I am what I am.
What is your favorite place to gather inspiration?
The North Shore of Oahu, in a tiny town called Mokule’ia. It is medicine. I do solo weeks there. I write, I reflect, I manifest, I rest. I walk the beach, I swim the reefs, I slow-ride a rusty cruiser bike with half flat tires, I watch the night sky, and many times a day, laugh out loud to, and with, myself. I come back with a clean mental canvas, energized and inspired.
For my inspo-adventure activity of choice, I am an open water endurance swimmer. I used to do a lot of triathlons until I blew out my left ankle. I can’t run anymore, but I can still swim, so I have shifted to international channel swimming expeditions. These trips have become my favorite way to push my perceived physical/mental limits. Stretching my capacity is a surefire way to access the inspiration station on my brain’s radio dial. So far I have done expeditions in the Greek Cyclades, the Turkish Lycian Way which included a Turkey-Greece crossing, the Sicilian Aeolian Islands and the Montenegro Fjords. And now planning my next!
What product, service, or industry do you think is most ripe for innovation?
Our broken, behemoth Healthcare system—the U.S. spends the most out of any advanced economy on health care while having the highest level of preventable disease.
What do you think the biggest disruption of the next year will be? What should we have our eye on?
AI, AI and AI—not to be confused with machine learning, I am referring to true exponential artificial intelligence. AI will disrupt the traditional delivery mechanisms of healthcare, financial institutions, marketing and media, transportation, IoT, information dissemination and so on, exponentially. But I don’t think for one second this is a disruption to be feared. My experience has been that AI is not replacing human input, talent or ability, it is augmenting it. Therefore, we need to augment and reskill labor to meet the new paradigms of how to interact with AI. Of course, I call out marketing specifically because that is my passion play—my company is currently developing an AI platform to pinpoint what creative outputs will most impactfully and meaningfully resonate.
What makes a great innovation?
How I define a ‘great innovation’ is does it serve a ‘great purpose’, as in large, i.e., does an innovation impact a global grand challenge? I am a huge fan of how Singularity University defines and works in GG’s in the following 12 areas—
Resource needs: food, water, shelter, environment, energy, space.
Societal needs: prosperity, governance, health, security, disaster resiliency and learning.
How they define an innovation solution corresponds with the 12 GGC’s—does the idea, product, platform or service contribute to
Ensuring basic needs are met for all people?
Sustaining and improving quality of life?
Mitigating future risks?
We have enough innovations currently making our lives a little easier, giving us more information faster, and selling us more stuff with less effort. We have the capacity to fix every existential threat we face, if we apply the talent, resources and capabilities that go into making faster smarter phones and package drones to solving the core problems of our current existence.
What is some of your favorite advice you’ve ever received?
There are three.
In life: “As I cultivate my own nature all else follows”. I love this sentence so much I would tattoo it on my face. It’s all about personal mastery, accountability, and trust. As I evolve, life rises up to meet me.
In work: “Separate the person from the problem”. The practice of depersonalizing during an interpersonal conflict has saved me boat loads of needless suffering, while enabling me to make clearer, cleaner, more empathetic, and more effective choices.
In relationships: “Respond rather than react”. This one ties both together—it requires the art of restraint (a component of personal mastery) and the ability to depersonalize conflict, so that I can make proactive and authentic choices rather than triggered, knee-jerk habit vomit.