14. Todd Khozein: Solitary Genius Has Blinders

"A lot of these social systems were built on the assumptions of really, really smart people who have blinders, because solitary genius has blinders." Todd Khozein

The world is plagued with complex problems. You don't need to look further than our environment, struggles with over- and under-nutrition, our ocean's health, inequitable access to education and more to see that. At times, these challenges can seem overwhelming and our attempts to tackle them, futile. Our world's problems are significant and each of us can only accomplish so much.

If you ask Todd Khozein, my colleague at SecondMuse about this, he will tell you that not all hope it lost. Complex problems aren't insurmountable challenges. Complex problems simply need complex networks to address them.

At the Business Innovation Factory in 2016, Todd addressed a crowd of some of the world's foremost innovators. In a way that only he could do, he fully brought himself and his experience with discordant systems, both personally and professionally, to life.

"We've been designed to have blinders... the only way we can understand this set of complex problems is actually by working together and thinking together, and finding a way to weave together our beliefs and understandings about these systems."

See, after 15 years of pushing himself to unhealthy lengths, Todd was nearly stopped in his tracks by a cancer diagnosis. As he describes it, he was caught up in an extravagant, taxing lifestyle. His physical system was imbalanced. There was an irony to it: Todd could talk endlessly about how systems are characterized by harmony, about complexity theory, and yet his system was literally, by definition, characterized by competition. As Todd learned, sometimes knowledge is useless unless we embody it.


Core to complex networks and complex problem solving, Todd says, is diversity and inclusion. Networks can be a variation on the theme of solitary genius, unless they reflect diversity. For Todd, this ties in with the notion of living the words we claim define our existences.

"We can't talk about the idea of inclusion because it's just the right thing to do... the idea of inclusion, because it's important to be fair and not leave people behind," Todd exclaims in his talk. "Our networks and communities, that are actively working to address some of the biggest problems of our time, have to be inclusive, because it is quite literally the only chance we have to evolve. Anything else is going to be a variation on the theme of the system we currently have."

In the humorous, humble way that only he could, Todd has helped me to understand what SecondMuse is: an organization harnessing the collective genius of distributed networks to create solutions in response to those challenges. At the heart of it all is a quality Todd, today, has in spades: empathy. Todd has helped me understand that we can't truly embody empathy unless we authentically incorporate the voices of diverse stakeholders.

Matthew Scott