Learn More About Spiros Michalakis
When looking for ways to solve problems in business, there’s a lot of talk about frameworks, blueprints and playbooks. But Caltech mathematical physicist Spyridon “Spiros” Michalakis, PhD. (SPEE-ros mee-ha-LAH-kiss), isn’t interested in slides and graphs; his goal is to connect and inspire.
With what he playfully calls “the quantum way of thinking,” Spiros explains that the secret to enabling innovation and creative problem solving in business is the same as when working out the mysteries of the universe: perspective and pace.
To start, Spiros points out that it is first necessary to pump the brakes — “don’t run breathlessly toward the solution – the key is to slow down.” Next, he says, the innovation process is less about checking boxes on a list and more about being open to a paradigm shift toward creative thinking and some mental plasticity.
“Much like holding a physical object, you can take a complex problem, move it around, and look at it from different angles before you truly begin to understand it,” he explains. “Innovative and creative thinking is deep and deliberate that way.”
Taking Innovation From the Lab to Hollywood
Creative thinking has served Spiros well. As outreach manager at Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, his close proximity to Hollywood enabled him to connect with some of today’s top filmmakers. As a science advisor on blockbuster movies such as “Ant-Man” and “Ant-Man and The Wasp,” Spiros takes the theoretical and helps writers and directors present it realistically. He’s been a part of bringing Marvel’s “quantum realm” to the screen, ensured “Bill & Ted Face the Music” gets the science right, and in 2016, he co-wrote and co-produced the widely acclaimed short film “Anyone Can Quantum,” which featured actors Paul Rudd and Keanu Reeves and renowned scientist Stephen Hawking.
Come With Challenges and Problems, Leave with A New Perspective
Presentations led by Spiros are creative, freewheeling conversations where complex challenges can be broken down by empowering participants to welcome new perspectives. Sometimes, the answer to a problem is simple. Leaders just need to give their teams permission to get to the answer.
Describing his problem-solving process, Spiros explains, “when I am really stuck, I try to slow down and identify which assumption I made that led me astray. The deeper the challenge, the more likely it is that the issue is conceptual, not technical. The best way to tackle conceptual challenges is to be creative together, MBAs in a room with engineers. There is immense power in simply explaining what you know to someone with no background expertise. Those who do it well understand the why of things.” This is the process Spiros employed on the way to solving the quantum Hall effect, one of the most significant unsolved problems in physics, in 2009.
One of the potential problems Spiros sees ahead is the cybersecurity implications of quantum computing. He says the widespread adoption of quantum is no longer an “if” but a “when,” and organizations need to prepare their systems security before that “when” arrives. With a 6-step blueprint for what can be done now to be ready for the upcoming quantum revolution, Spiros provides leaders with a clear-eyed view of what it takes to shore up their systems before it’s too late.
With expert insights into quantum technology, how it works and where it’s going, what Spiros truly brings to each engagement is less about going through the motions of presenting complicated scientific data, and more about galvanizing human connections. Audiences gain new knowledge that will increase their “quantum IQ”, as well as a powerful new perspective on innovation through having open, curious minds.
“When you have trust and faith that the other person is intelligent and curious, it creates more opportunities for people to grow in the process,” he explains. “Don’t strive to be at the top of the pyramid. Be at the bottom of the pyramid lifting everyone else up.”
Spiros Michalakis is a mathematical physicist and manager of outreach at Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, the faculty advisor for Caltech’s Science Olympiad Chapter and professor-in-residence at Relay Ventures. In 2009, Michalakis and Microsoft researcher Matthew Hastings were the first to solve the quantum Hall effect, one of physics’ “millennium problems,” the most challenging unsolved problems in the field. In 2015, Michalakis helped introduce the Quantum Realm in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, sparking a global fascination with quantum physics.
Michalakis grew up in Greece, solving math puzzles and playing volleyball with his brothers. After high school, he moved to the U.S. to study math and computer science at MIT, going on to earn his PhD. in Applied Mathematics from UC Davis.
Spiros Michalakis 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®.