By Ellen McGirt
Updated: October 4, 2018 2:49 PM ET

Can the same principles that lead to breakthrough technology lead to breakthrough humans?

Yes, says Navrina Singh, an inventor, innovator, principal lead for AI Product at Microsoft, and now, breakout star at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit. But just not in the way you might think.

I made the mistake of watching her delightful 2016 TEDx talk after I had put on my mascara for the day, an indication of how unexpectedly poignant her philosophy on personal reinvention turned out to be.

She began by establishing her bona fides. At an earlier job at Qualcomm, she was part of a team who developed products that enabled data, not just voice, to be sent wirelessly. “That is the same technology that makes every app run on your smartphones,” she says. “A part of me lives in your life, each and every day, every time you send a text message, do FaceTime or post on Facebook. It is truly humbling to know that, in some way, my life’s work powers your life and your work.”

She describes that familiar moment when you realize you need to do something new with your life. Sometimes, like in her case, it’s born from grief. Other times, it comes from opportunity. The trick is to make those moments explicit, because they happen all the time.

“A mirror moment is a moment when you see clearly the choices in front of you to either stay the same or to change. It is a moment that can be positive and filled with joy or it is a moment extremely negative surrounded in sorrow,” she says. “Either way, it is a moment that makes you pause.”

What follows next, which I won’t spoil, is her compelling case that the same steps that inventors use to create new products can be used to re-engineer your own happiness. But unlike similar manufacturing ideas applied to decidedly non-agile beings, in Singh’s hands, the effect is deeply human.

“For me, transformation is when the gap between who you are and who you aspire to be closes,” she says. It will be different for everybody, so having a roadmap helps. But so does having a tribe.

It takes guts just to want to change. But, “[i]n self-transformation, it takes the same dose of courage to be able to share your aspirations and transformation goals with a network that has been set in place to ensure that you can see your path forward.”

Singh reminded me of two things. First, it matters who gets to make tech, particularly deep learning technologies. But also, that the work of personal transformation can only happen in community. At any given time, a person on your team, in your network, in your life is struggling to close the gap between who they are now and the next best version of themselves. Just showing up means so much, especially when the person is you.



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