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    Bina Venkataraman: The power to think ahead in a reckless age
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    Bina Venkataraman (author of The Optimist's Telescope) at the FYE® Conference 2020
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    Becoming Ancestors: A Roadmap for a Sustainable Future

Learn More About Bina Venkataraman

With so many rapid-fire developments in the world today, there’s a strong temptation to hastily change and keep up with the pace. But does that really help an organization ensure positive outcomes? The first step to achieving a better future is to think long term – individually and collectively. According to renowned journalist, author, and science policy expert Bina Venkataraman (BEE-na Ven-kah-TRA-men), doing so empowers leaders to imagine a future that’s different from today and make smart investments toward achieving it.

“Humans have a capacity to both imagine the future and plan for it that far exceeds other species,” Venkataraman explains. “By adapting our environment, culture, and institutional rules to support thinking ahead, we can become better ancestors.”

Driven by curiosity, creativity, and a love of observation, Venkataraman is a leading thinker on emerging technologies, public health, and climate change. The Washington Post’s first “columnist of the future,” she formerly served as Editorial Page Editor for The Boston Globe and was Senior Advisor for Climate Change Innovation during the Obama Administration. This multidisciplinary background allows Venkataraman to provide leaders with practical solutions for achieving holistic positive change to people’s practices, attitudes, and how they make decisions.

Author of “The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age” (Riverhead Books, 2019), which was recognized by both The Financial Times and NPR as one of the year’s best books, Venkataraman points to pragmatic optimism and long-term thinking as a way to get ahead of problems like pandemics and climate change. As seen in her powerful TED Talk, which has garnered more than 2.5 million views, her accessible strategies advance thinking not only on policy and science, but also in the decisions business leaders make. Her frameworks reveal the ingredients for looking ahead without despair and for leaders to better plan for the uncertain future.

“Optimism shouldn’t be confused with naïveté,” explains Venkataraman, former Director of Global Policy Initiatives at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. “It’s a necessary and practical approach to changing the world for the better by imagining a different future and acting on it.”

Venkataraman’s ability to envision a wide range of outcomes from technological trends allows her to steer organizations to get the best out of tools such as artificial intelligence, instead of taking a haphazard path that could leave them vulnerable to future threats.

While many leaders may be tempted by business strategies based on the immediate cost-cutting applications of AI, Venkataraman shows that by applying long-term and human-centered thinking to its development and use, leaders can make wiser decisions.

“By putting people and human values at the center of how we view AI, we can be discerning about how we use it and try to get the best out of the technology,” explains Venkataraman, an MIT Program in Science, Technology, and Society research affiliate. “It’s important to think about how and when we use AI so it can complement, rather than impair, human judgment.”

It’s also important, she says, to be both pragmatic and imaginative when thinking about how to act on climate change. With a deep appreciation of the interplay between nature and humanity, Venkataraman urges us to undertake scalable solutions for protecting the environment and communities.

“Human health and our capacity to thrive are inextricably linked with the health of the planet,” she explains. “Our individual conservation efforts become of greater impact when we expand our efforts to the community level and the organizational level. Protecting the natural systems we rely on, like rivers and forests, is essential to public health now and in the future.”

By showing leaders how to think long-term in a constructive way in business settings, Venkataraman empowers managers to build more imaginative organizations and to take practical steps now to create better outcomes, both financially and socially, down the road.

“We can game a system that’s built against long-term thinking,” she assures us. “And we need long-term thinking to succeed at all kinds of things and to avert disaster.”


Bina Venkataraman is an American journalist, author, and science policy expert and a columnist for The Washington Post. From 2019 to 2022, she served as Editorial Page Editor of The Boston Globe, the youngest in its 150-year history, overseeing the organization’s opinion coverage and editorial board during two presidential impeachment trials, the 2020 election, the Covid-19 pandemic, the death of George Floyd, the Capitol insurrection, and Boston’s historic 2021 mayoral election. During her tenure, the Globe had two Pulitzer finalists for editorial writing. She is the author of “The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age.”

Venkataraman formerly served in the Obama White House as Senior Advisor for Climate Change Innovation and shaped U.S. science and technology policy, including disease outbreak response, as the former Director of Global Policy Initiatives at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and as a policy advisor to PCAST under President Obama. Since 2011, she has taught in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT. She has served on numerous boards including the President’s Leadership Council at Brown University, and she currently serves on the Advisory Board of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Media, Politics, and Public Policy and on the MIT Corporation’s Visiting Committee on the Humanities.

Venkataraman is a frequent public speaker whose appearances have included the TED mainstage, NPR, Aspen Ideas, CNN, MSNBC, and university campuses around the world, including delivering the 2021 Commencement address at the University of Southern California.

She is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard’s Kennedy School. She received an honorary doctorate from USC in 2022, a New America National Fellowship, a Fulbright scholarship, a Princeton in Asia fellowship, a Metcalf fellowship, and a James Reston fellowship at The New York Times. She was named a Global Young Leader by the French-American Foundation in 2015 and a US-Japan Leadership Program delegate in 2023.

Bina Venkataraman is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Bina Venkataraman was last modified: March 15th, 2024 by Justin Louis

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A Guide to Thinking Ahead Like an Optimist

How can we change our thinking now to achieve a better future? According to journalist, author and former science policy advisor Bina Venkataraman, positive future outcomes start with thinking like a pragmatic optimist. In this eye-opening presentation, she draws on her acclaimed book, “The Optimist’s Telescope,” to reveal how best to imagine a future that’s different from the present and to make smart investments toward achieving that future. She provides a practical framework for thinking long-term, including the nuances of how to look ahead with optimism in today’s fraught and uncertain world. Attendees will be able to constructively apply optimistic long-term thinking in their business settings, building more imaginative organizations that can take practical steps now to create better outcomes, both financially and socially, down the road.

How to Avoid the Trap of Short-Term Thinking on AI

Why should business leaders avoid the temptation of adopting strategies based on the immediate cost-cutting applications of AI? According to journalist and MIT Program in Science, Technology, and Society lecturer Bina Venkataraman, by applying long-term thinking to the development and use of AI, leaders can make wiser decisions in pivotal moments of technological change. She explains that reactive and impulsive adoption of AI tools can lead to unwelcome outcomes. In this engaging talk, Venkataraman illustrates the importance of taking a long-term approach and of putting human values and talents at the center of AI development. Audiences will gain new insight into how responsible, strategic use and discernment about AI can lead to powerful organizations where technology complements human judgment.

Protect the Environment Now to Ensure Public Health in the Future

Is there a way we can make action on climate change less daunting? Journalist and former science and technology policy advisor to the Obama White House Bina Venkataraman says taking a practical but optimistic approach to protecting the environment can help nurture real change. In this enlightening presentation, she explains how human health and thriving are inextricably linked with the prosperity of the planet. Venkataraman unveils everyday strategies for boosting our individual conservation efforts and expanding them to the community level. Audiences will learn how to amplify their own impact to find scalable solutions for fighting climate change, safeguarding our natural systems, and protecting public health over time.

An Optimist's Eye (Audio)

September 23, 2021

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We Are the Future

September 14, 2017

Learn How to Implement Long-Term Thinking in Your Organization

Imparting a long-term thinking ethos in your business can lead to better outcomes, both financially and socially, in the future. In this highly interactive workshop, Bina Venkataraman, journalist and acclaimed author of “The Optimist’s Telescope,” empowers leaders to create imaginative, forward-thinking strategies within their organizations. Exploring case-studies of successful, creative leaders and applying future-planning exercises, she unveils the ingredients for being optimistic in today’s fraught business world. Participants will gain tools for imagining and creating a better future. With the option of a half-day, full-day or two-day format, leaders can be empowered to make long-term thinking part of their organization’s modus operandi to drive positive change.

"We chose Bina as the closing speaker for TED’s mainstage conference with good reason—and Bina exceeded our high expectations, inspiring the TED audience with her call to become better ancestors with a talk that has since reverberated around the world."

TED Conference

Praise for "The Optimist's Telescope"

"How might we mitigate losses caused by shortsightedness? Bina Venkataraman, a former climate adviser to the Obama administration, brings a storyteller’s eye to this question. . . . She is also deeply informed . . . heed Venkataraman’s impassioned call for making a commitment to future change."

The New York Times Book Review

“Bina Venkataraman zeroes in on the heart of [the] problem… with vivid anecdotes, Venkataraman musters all the optimism she can manage to suggest how we might be able to overcome something that feels like plain old human nature.”

NPR, Best Books of 2019

“Venkataraman vividly depicts what happens when we don’t plan ahead and what we can do about it, on our own and together.”

The Washington Post

“In pacy prose that’s easy to digest but offers concrete examples of change . . . this book offers hope that we can take back some control of our own destinies and aim for a better future.”

The Financial Times

“Most of us only see the future after it becomes the past. 'The Optimist's Telescope' is here to change that. It's a rare read that's as fascinating as it is important. In it, Bina Venkataraman brings together powerful narrative, cutting-edge behavioral science, and the rich experience of a high-impact career.”

Adam Grant, Author, "Originals"

“The unknown can always be scary. But in this wise, eye-opening, and hopeful book, Bina Venkataraman shows us the ways we can think more clearly and strategically about the future - in our communities, our families, and in our own lives.”

Arianna Huffington

“Bina Venkataraman illuminates how we can make better decisions for ourselves, our communities, and Earth itself. She introduces us to an array of colorful and unexpected characters, from ancient philosophers to tech entrepreneurs, all while distilling the science of foresight into practical advice we can all use. A timely and valuable book.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter, Author, "Unfinished Business"

"'The Optimist's Telescope' is a noble and important book. Through stories of people who have made a difference and an acute awareness of how things can be made better, Bina Venkataraman shows how we can effect change and make the world a better place. She is the good parent this planet so desperately needs.”

Errol Morris, Oscar-Winning Filmmaker and Author, "Believing Is Seeing"

“[Venkataraman] explores all sorts of ways that businesses, governments, and communities have learned to be better planners-ahead. . . . She also writes beautifully about how we can all ‘be better ancestors.’”

The Grist

“A timely reminder that time is not on our side without long-term thinking.”

Kirkus Reviews

“A thought-provoking and eminently readable debut…Venkataraman’s thoughtful and clear-eyed assessment of how to teach oneself to make more carefully considered decisions should prove a valuable tool for anyone wishing to think less in the short term and more toward the future.”

Publishers Weekly

“An intriguing look at strategies for the long-term with citations from business executives, sociologists, and philosophers; highly recommended.”

Library Journal

“Chinese peasants once got paid by the piece to find dinosaur bones; soon they took to smashing the bones into tiny pieces to boost their income. This book is a sobering compendium of the many ways in which ill-conceived short-term incentives undermine valuable long-term goals. The stakes go way beyond busted fossils: think rising sea waters, treatment-resistant pathogens, collapsing infrastructure, disappearing topsoil . . . A grim list and grounds for pessimism unless, that is, it gets read in the context of this book, for Bina Venkataraman has assembled a remarkable repair kit, full of tested tools for harmonizing the lure of present reward with the foresight we need if we are to build a durable future.”

Lewis Hyde

“'The Optimist’s Telescope' will help you think about the biggest decisions you face in your life and that humanity faces in this historical moment. Everyone should read this book.”

Gary Knell, Chairman, National Geographic Partners