Love Depended On A Vacancy

By Paul Corson.

A scientific theory should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.
– Albert Einstein

One of the many paradoxes I’m forced to ruminate on each Sunday morning is which part of the Sunday New York Times to read first, Sunday Styles or the Sunday Review.  It usually comes down to how do I want to get my weekly dose of emotional wallowing – through Modern Love or Opinion?  Hmm.  The awkward relationship between stepson and stepfather?  Been there, done that.  No thank you.  Trump, Cruz, Obama, oh my!!  Been there, done that too.  Sometimes Sunday Business is the winner by default.

But one Sunday about a year ago, Modern Love author Laurel Fantauzzo wrote about her rebound from unrequited love.  One of her most poignant conclusions was that love depended on a vacancy.  If there was no room for love to grow, it wasn’t ever going to happen.  Then, over the past couple weeks, in conversation after conversation among the planning committee for this week’s Thin Air Technology Event in Park City, there it was again – the idea of space and gaps and vacancy.  As organizers, we wanted to create space for new thinking around the idea of innovations in human performance.

And that’s when it really hit home for me.  While coaching my daughter’s soccer teams, I was always talking about creating space.  When I’m talking to her about school writing projects or science fair competition ideas, I tell her to free her mind.  Why then should the realm of entrepreneurship be any different?

How many times have you been asked what the secret sauce is to entrepreneurship or innovation or technology based economic development?  How many of you are paid to generate, talk about, or achieve best practices for supporting, nurturing, or investing in startups?

No one wants to be thought the fool, so we read the latest regurgitation of secrets behind building the next Silicon Valley and obediently go all in on Lean.  Rather than have faith in Einstein’s wisdom, we take a Crabtree Bludgeon to Occam’s Razor.  The simplest solution is no longer the best when every complex situation can be made clear by adding another layer of complexity.

Maybe I’m the fool, but I like my best practices clean and quick rather than obtuse and complicated.

Love depended on a vacancy.  Knowledge fills vacuums.  Economic Development fills voids.  Entrepreneurs fill gaps.  Innovation fills holes.

Holy cow, we need more vacancies.

Think about every redeveloped warehouse district, co-working space, and university incubator you’ve ever visited.  They all capitalize on vacancies.  And why do all those vacancies generate innovative, entrepreneurial outcomes?  Because nature and experience both tell us that the key is self-organization, a spontaneous process where order or coordination arises out of random interactions.  There is no controlling agent telling people whom to talk to or what idea to turn into a company.  Often, the most important element within the chaos is a simple source of positive feedback.  Over time, that self-organization leads to emergence, whereby larger patterns and forms, relationships and startups coalesce through the interactions among smaller, simpler, somewhat different people, ideas, and dreams.

We can make it as complicated as we want, but it’s not that difficult.  Get out your razor, not your bludgeon.  Create some space, then see what fills the void.  And if you aren’t at Thin Air this week, remember to come see us next year, April 5-7, 2017.  In the meantime I’m going to look at Bill Cunningham’s On the Street pictures.

Desi Matel-Anderson on the Theory of Innovation

headshot-desiree-matelIn anticipation of the inaugural Thin Air Innovation Festival, we sat down with several of our panelists and speakers, all thought leaders in their field, to get their views on innovation.

Here we catch-up with Desi Matel-Anderson, the Chief Wrangler of the Field Innovation Team and CEO of the Global Disaster Innovation Group, LLC. She works with a team of individuals and organizations to provide creative solutions and emergency management during disasters like the Boston Marathon Bombings and other humanitarian crises. Currently, her team is working in Beirut, Lebanon while virtually supporting the aid of the Turkish and Syrian refugees. Desi is the first and former Chief Innovation Advisor at FEMA and Think Tank Strategic Vision Coordinator where she led a team in the response and recovery efforts for the survivors of Hurricane Sandy.

How do you define Innovation?

I define innovation as working beyond the borders, in austere conditions and without the commonly used tools to make an idea come to life.

How are you inspired by Innovation?

Inspired by going beyond what appears possible and realizing there are no limits.

How do you inspire Innovation in others?

Empower them to create cutting-edge disaster solutions through a three step design process.

What’s the most innovative project you’ve been involved in?

Luckily, I have so many I am not sure I can pinpoint just one innovative project that disaster survivors have developed…whether it was flying drones in a mudslide, 3D printing topography maps to expedite search and rescue operations or running a robo petting zoo in a border crisis….many more.

What is the future of Innovation?

The future is unlimited and follows the curvature of the earth…we think that we can see the horizon, but as we get closer we realize how expansive and un-ending it is.

Join Desi, and other leaders in innovation at the Thin Air Innovation Festival in Park City, Utah, April 6-8. For tickets and more information, please visit

Altitude is a funny thing.

By Paul Corson.

Altitude is a funny thing. We know that the higher the altitude, the lower the air pressure. Lower air pressure equates to thinner air. Thinner air results in hypoxia, a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching body tissue. Our kidneys respond by sending EPO to our bone marrow, which produces more red blood cells to carry more oxygen to our body tissue. Not a bad thing when training for an endurance event.

Living and training at altitude also affects brain chemistry. On the one hand, our brains release more dopamine, which the Urban Dictionary defines as, “the kick ass chemical in your brain that makes you feel and do happy things.” But our brains also release more serotonin and high serotonin levels have been linked to agitation, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, restlessness, and other symptoms.

On the aggregate, altitude induced physical and chemical changes appear to have a positive impact on human performance. According to a 2013 Runners World article, “95 percent of all medalists at the world championships and the Olympic Games since 1968 have either lived or trained at altitude.” At the individual level, however, we can’t always be certain that the benefits will exceed the costs.

Innovation is a similarly funny thing. Innovation can be defined as a change in the status quo. We know that life on our planet has evolved in response to changes imposed on it by nature and time. Elsewhere in the Thin Air blog, Andy Stumpf, Emily Cook, and Hoby Darling offered their thoughts on innovation. An overarching theme of their thoughts was the importance of inspiration and action, not just in response to change, but as a precursor to and generator of change.

And that is where this year’s Thin Air Innovation Festival is different. Alone among living organisms on earth, humans have the ability not just to evolve in response to change, but to act upon inspiration and proactively innovate to expand opportunity, potential, well-being, and performance. We have harnessed and combined the power of technology and commerce to launch entrepreneurial endeavors that solve unimaginable challenges. We have pushed beyond physical and metaphysical peaks in human performance to achieve the impossible. And having done so, we are inspired to continue innovating…because athletes and entrepreneurs share many traits and characteristics.


  • Are motivated by the passionate belief that they can succeed where others have failed;
  • See opportunity where others only see obstacles;
  • Assume risks that turn others away;
  • Seek out the tutelage of experienced coaches and mentors;
  • Constantly learn from others success and failure;
  • Find inspiration from members within their community.

Thankfully, there are places like Baltimore’s City Garage that are dedicated to the pursuit of peak human performance through entrepreneurial innovations. Founded and managed by Kevin Plank and other Under Armour employees and alumni, City Garage “is Baltimore’s space for the entrepreneurial community to gather, collaborate, and succeed.” It offers a place where entrepreneurs can explore ideas, expand networks, launch companies, and pursue dreams. It supports the individual, while building the community. And like the infamous Ricky Bobby, City Garage turns thinkers into doers.

We hope you find inspiration to maximize your performance in Park City’s Thin Air.

Paul Corson is a Thin Air contributor. Check out his blog,

Andy Stumpf on the Theory of Innovation

The Theory of Innovation

In anticipation of the inaugural Thin Air Innovation Festival, we sat down with several of our panelists and speakers, all thought leaders in their field, to get their thoughts on innovation.

Lt. (retired) Andy Stumpf is a veteran Navy SEAL with over a decade of combat service experience. He served 10 tours of duty and has a record of merit including five Bronze Star Medals (four with Valor), a Purple Heart, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corp Commendation Medal (with Valor), Army Commendation Medal, two Combat Action Ribbons, and a Presidential Unit Citation. While on deployment in Iraq, he was wounded in 2005. As a result of his injuries, the doctors told him he might never have the use of his leg again. After a yearlong rehab regiment including overcoming a reliance on painkillers, he recovered not only the ability to walk unassisted, but returned to full active duty and continued combat deployments.

Now retired from service, Andy continues to serve his country through raising funds and awareness for the Navy Seal Foundation, which plays a vital role in helping the families of SEALs who have made the ultimate sacrifice. He recently broke the world record for the longest wing suit jump under canopy flying nearly 19 miles in one jump from an elevation of approximately 36,000 feet in a goal to raise $1 million for Navy SEAL Foundation. Andy is the founder of Razor 01 LLC, a consulting firm dedicated to teaching the lessons learned from over a decade of sustained combat in Special Operations to the leaders and managers of corporate America.

How do you define Innovation?

Innovation to me is about forward progress. It is about looking at the current situation and then moving forward, maybe only one inch at a time. Before you know it, you have something new and unique. That principle applies to everything from physical training to product development. As long as the needle is moving, the innovation is continuing.

How are you inspired by innovation?

Every time I see someone do something new, or breathtaking, it inspires me to push harder. I truly believe that we are limited only by the self-imposed confines of our mind. When I see others innovating, pushing the needle, doing what was previously said to be undoable, it motivates and inspires me to do more.

How do you inspire innovation in others?

I think the best way to inspire others to be not only innovative, but creative, it to support them. It is the same theory I take with my kids. I don’t want to place boundaries on what they think is possible. I want them to explore, ask questions, make mistakes, and most importantly, learn from those mistakes. When people ask me how I have accomplished things in my life, I tell them the truth….I listen to my heart, and what I know I am capable of, not someone else telling me what they think I am capable of. If you can release the burden of being concerned with others opinions and their externally imposed limitations, the boundaries for personal innovation are limitless.

What is the most innovative project you’ve been involved with?

I can’t think of any one project that truly stands out. I spent many years working on small projects, where we focused on incremental improvement as opposed to drastic redesign. I have been involved with innovative projects with firearms, parachutes, diving equipment, navigational equipment, and everything in between.

What is the future of innovation?

Given the access to information and collaborative power now available, I think we will see innovation taking steps forward in leaps and bounds. It seems that improvements that would normally take 5-10 years are now occurring in 2-3. I think the timelines will continue to compress as systems and technology continually improve. People forget the IPhone only came out in 2007, look how far similar technology has progressed in that time.

Join Andy, and other leaders in innovation at the Thin Air Innovation Festival in Park City, Utah, April 6-8. For tickets and more information, please visit

Emily Cook on the Theory of Innovation

The Theory of Innovation

In anticipation of the inaugural Thin Air Innovation Festival, we sat down with several of our panelists and speakers, all thought leaders in their field, to get their views on innovation. Here we catch-up with Emily Cook, 3X Olympian, 6X National Champion and World Cup champion. She now leads Skullcandy’s Human Potential Labs division, bringing together science, technology and the power of music to make a difference in the world and help people reach their full potential. Emily also works with Skullcandy’s elite and local athletes to help accelerate their individual goals and dreams. Emily currently sits on the board of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) and the Park City Winter Sports School. She is an ambassador for Right to Play and Kids Play Int’l, which has taken her to Jordan, Tanzania and Rwanda to spread the lessons of sport to disadvantaged kids. In her free time, she helps manage programming for the non-profit, Classroom Champions and in the winter she spends as much time as possible on the hill skiing, and when the snow melts, she can be found on a bike, a trail, fly fishing with her dad or rock climbing in the Wasatch Mountains.

How do you define Innovation?

Innovation is doing something new and different, breaking from the mold and forging your own path. In our context this is an incredibly impactful word because it can separate us each from being good to being amazing. How are you inspired by Innovation? As an athlete, every tiny detail can be the difference between first place and 30th place in a big event, doing a new trick or taking a huge leap forward in our goals. I’m so inspired by doing something new and helping others reach beyond their goals and dreams in the process to a place they never dreamed was possible.

How do you inspire Innovation in others?

Inspiring innovation in others takes courage. It’s challenging and scary to do something new, and often is viewed with skepticism. However, when it works it can make all the difference in the world and once that happens others may start taking chances as well. Imagine what new and exciting conversations and leaps forward would exist if we all took that risk.

What’s the most innovative project you’ve been involved in?

I love the project we are working on here at Skullcandy, looking at how music impacts performance, because it is a world that not many people have explored in the past. To me that makes it the most innovative thing I have personally been a part of, and it’s a wild and exciting adventure. I love learning about each individual, their backgrounds and dreams and creating ways to help them reach and exceed their goals. It’s a pretty special way to go through life, and one I am really thankful to be a part of. As an athlete training for the Olympics, I had so much support and am thankful for the innovation of USSA. I love being a part of Skullcandy’s team and supporting that structure for other athletes.

What is the future of Innovation?

The projects people are working on in this world and right here in Park City are endless and mind blowing. I can’t imagine what this community will look like in 25 years, but I am really excited to be a part of it.

Join Emily, and other leaders in innovation at the Thin Air Innovation Festival in Park City, Utah, April 6-8. For tickets and more information, please visit

Hoby Darling on the Theory of Innovation

The Theory of Innovation

In anticipation of the inaugural Thin Air Innovation Festival, we sat down with several of our panelists and speakers, all thought leaders in their field, to get their views on innovation.
Below is our conversation with Hoby Darling, President and Chief Executive Officer of Skullcandy, Inc., which includes the Skullcandy and Astro Gaming Brands. Skullcandy is a leading audio innovation brand that reflects the collision of technology and creative culture. Astro Gaming is the leading premium gaming and lifestyle brand born from the pits of MLG. He was named to Sporting Goods Business’ 40 Under 40 in Sports and has been a contributor to media such as CNBC, Fast Company, Inc., Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal on topics around sports, business, workplace culture and innovation. Hoby received MBA degrees from the University of California at Berkeley Haas School of Business and Columbia University in New York, a Juris Doctorate from Northwestern University in Chicago, and a B.A. from Western Washington University.

How do you define Innovation?
Anytime we can improve on what has been done in the past—that is innovation. It is the constant pursuit of making lives and the world better.

How are you inspired by Innovation?

Innovation for me is all about people and making the world better. It is real—it is not about a testing lab or the work that goes into innovation. It is the outcome of creating something that brings someone a better life, even if just in a small way.

How do you inspire Innovation in others?

I think innovation has to be around passion and wanting to solve problems for real people. When the outcomes are real solutions and bettering lives I think from a pure human perspective is impossible to not get excited. We all want to help each other—that is part of being human.

What’s the most innovative project you’ve been involved in?

Wow, that is a tough question because innovation comes in so many shapes and sizes ranging from creating a headphone that costs $60 but sounds like it costs $300 at Skullcandy to trying to create a global ecosystem to help athletes and everyday people do more and feel better from when I was at Nike.

What is the future of Innovation?

It is only speeding up and the opportunities are endless. We get better and move faster every day.

Join Hoby, and other leaders in innovation at the Thin Air Innovation Festival in Park City, Utah, April 6-8. For tickets and more information, please visit