‰ÛÏDo you really think good intentions should excuse stupidity?‰Û�

On Jan. 27, Larry Smith, an economics professor and TED talk speaker from UW, delivered a speech titled “Changing the World” to over 100 faculty and students gathered at a St Paul’s lecture hall.

Smith debunked many of the assumptions we have about social problems and reminding his audience to take a critical look at just what sort of change is needed.  

Before Smith began his talk, he asked the room who wanted to change the world. Everyone raised their hands; everyone in the room shared the same thought: they all wanted to change the world. 

“Want to change the world?” he asked upon entering the room. “Then change the world. And [soon].”

Smith then asked his audience to consider the definition of an entrepreneur. While they are commonly regarded as “motivated, passionate, committed, obsessive, and change driven,” he emphasized the primary qualities that successful entrepreneurs must have: “Smart. Crafty. Intellectual. Rigorous.” 

To be an entrepreneur, said Smith, “You are going to do the most intellectual thing you could possibly do: you are going to challenge your assumptions.”

Some of these assumptions, which Smith criticized in his condensed, one hour talk, included human nature, gender, and technology.

Human nature, Smith commented, is often seen in one of two ways. The first: human beliefs and behavior cannot be changed; humans are perfectly non-malleable. The other: humans can be molded to do any person’s bidding. Smith demanded the audience to take these two views into account and pick. That is, pick one or the other and not stand in between.

Smith moved onto technology. “Is technology going to save us or destroy us?” He asked why technologists forget carbon capture — which can slow down global warming — in favour of phone apps.  “The entire Silicon Valley is devoted to finding ways to get people to buy more useless things.” 

“These are awkward problems,” Smith admitted. But one must “challenge every assumption in your head” to change the world.

During a brief Q&A, Smith broke one final assumption: “[This is] a society where no one is in charge.”

The talk by Dr. Smith will be available on the St. Paul’s GreenHouse website in the coming weeks.