We are delighted to kick-off the first “radical Ally Interview” with Carol Reiley. Carol is an industry leader in robotics and AI and was the youngest member on the IEEE Robotics & Automation board. She co-founded and is a Board Member of drive.ai, an artificial intelligence self-driving vehicle startup, as well as co-founder of Tinkerbelle Labs, engaging people to build healthcare products on a global scale.
→ Carol, you have spent your career at the forefront of technological change. How do you describe your work to others, and how is your work currently affecting change?
I work at the intersection of tech and humanity on things that enrich the human experience and hopefully save lives. I choose to work on hard tech problems that have the largest potential to impact how we currently do things.
I imagine a world where humans and smart machines work together collaboratively. Humans and robots have different strengths and weaknesses - together we can do something better than either can do individually. I’ve had the fortune of spending the last 18 years working with great people to build products in underwater, space, health and self-driving cars.
→ What have you learned about yourself as a leader during your career?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about myself as a leader is how to work with those who have a different work style. I have a very high tolerance for “structured ambiguity” and thrive in uncertain environments, but not everyone can work like that.
My biggest pet peeve is the inability to make a decision or a slow-moving group ruled by too much consensus. It is better to at first make a wrong decision (and know the core assumptions you’re basing decisions on with the limited info you have), quickly learn then correct course than being paralyzed on decision-making. The paralysis of decision-making wastes valuable time and energy - two of your most important resources at a startup. In a perfect world, you’ll be able to gather all the information to comfortably make a decision (as they say, hindsight is 20/20). But most people need to make decisions with imperfect or a lack of information.
As a leader, you have a different perspective from many others on the team. It’s important to get feedback from others, but ultimately you are responsible for the ownership of the final call - right or wrong. While some people make very convincing and negative arguments, I learned to trust my instincts by going back to first principles, testing core assumptions, and standing firm on things I believe in. Sometimes the decision is not a popular one and it’s your job to convince them and create a process for decision making that is constructive.
→ What’s the single best piece of radical advice you received in your life (so far)?
I’ve received so much good advice through the years that I could not narrow it down to one.
The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want. (Writing it down increases the chances the goal will be achieved!) Optimize for learning. Don’t choose another path because right now you feel fear, laziness, or lack of money. You can plan ahead but your plan will definitely change when the time comes. Your greatest survival skill will be flexibility and adapting to rapidly changing circumstances. You have a lot of time to get it right. - Don’t worry if you haven’t ‘made it’ by 25. Remember where you started and be grateful for how far you’ve come.
Herd mentality won’t get you any further than the rest of the herd.Be kind and compassionate to others Especially to those whom you don’t think can help you get ahead.
→ If you had $10M (or $100M, or $1BN) of your wealth to bet/invest in one future technology, what would it be and why?
Artificial intelligence (AI) - I’m often asked what AI can do. AI is the new electricity! When you think about how electricity has changed how we live, it pervades almost every aspect of our lives in profound ways. AI is a technology that will change and drastically shape every industry. I don’t think we’ve begun to fully understand how we will “level up” and our lives will change with AI.
AI will also teach us more about ourselves as the human race. We need to think mindfully about our values and the impact of this technology as it will mirror and amplify our designers and societies.
→ What is the most enlightening book you have read?
Mindsets by Carol Dweck
Hard work & having a toolbox of strategies for dealing with failure beats raw talent. This book made me realize that the brain is like a muscle that needs training and to be constantly worked out. It’s helped me overcome obstacles, challenges life hands you, and take bold risks. It inspired me to found an education company, Squishybotz, and write a children’s book on the topic called “Making a Splash” because at the time there were none. I felt this was such an important concept, particularly for those that grew up in the trophy generation.