Chris Kutarna

Author, Facilitator and Mapmaker asking the questions we need to navigate our current world

Chris is an author, speaker, facilitator and mapmaker, asking questions we need to navigate our rapidly changing world. Chris creates spaces for people and organizations to come together and ask the most important
questions they’re not asking.

He offers the concept of “Questing together” as an alternative to “Thought leadership”. He’s the best-selling co-author of
Age of Discovery, now published in 10 languages. Chris is a TED Speaker at TED Institute and the lead-off faculty for Oxford Saïd Business School’s Advanced Management and Leadership Program. He is the founder of Basecamp, helping senior leaders to identify and convene the most impactful conversations that aren’t happening.

Chris has spoken around the world delivering unique, visual and fun presentations that help the audience embrace and think differently about change. His presentations provide a powerful, positive, creative context that sets the tone for deep collaboration to follow. Chris is a thought-partner to Think Tanks, C-level executives, Educators, billionaires, board members, Nobel laureates, celebrity journalists, CEOs, senior bureaucrats and militaries, students, and Uber drivers. They help each other to think deeply and differently about the times we’re living in. 

Chris inspires and invites the audience to explore the questions and actions that will create tomorrow’s world. Chris is an experienced and dynamic presenter not only on stage or the boardroom, but also through online platforms and hybrid conference models. 

Sample Talks

You can’t connect the same way you used to. Physical distance is straining colleague and client
relationships. Shared culture is at risk. Spontaneity is disappearing. Opportunity is fading.

Right now is a once-in-a-century moment to make strategic shifts and deep discoveries that will
transform your whole industry and organization. But to seize this moment, your colleagues and
clients need to be talking more, and more deeply. They need to ask the most important
questions they’re not asking, and explore them vigorously.

Chris will help you to identify those most important questions. And he will ignite the most
important conversations that will inspire your physically distanced colleagues to discover a
brave new post-pandemic world.

The dominant leadership paradigm today is that leaders are people who know where to go and how to get there. Leaders show the way forward, and others follow.

How do leaders lead when they don’t know the way forward? How do leaders lead if they suspect that the maps they’ve got in their heads (of their industry, of the opportunity landscape) no longer describe the rapidly changing reality?

“Leading while lost” is not a paradox. It is a powerful new paradigm. Instead of pretending to know the way forward when we don’t, we can exercise the power to convene: to bring people together around the very problems and tensions that have got us stuck.

Chris helps you to connect with and strengthen your power to convene, and he shows you how to exercise the six core principles of the practice:
– “Don’t just do something; sit there!” (The six key questions that precede every successful act of convening)
– “The meeting is the midpoint”
– “Less debate, more dialogue”
– “Without context, there is no commitment”
– “Seek alignment, not agreement”
– “Mess with the permission structure”

Follow-the-leader is a bad leadership paradigm amidst rapid change. It serves up simple truths to people, when instead people need to learn to thrive amidst complexity and ambiguity.

The power to convene is an overlooked, poorly understood, but powerful aspect of your leadership practice. Practised well, it has the potential to transform the culture of an organization from one that looks to the leader to supply simple truths, to one that searches for new and better truths together.

  • I explode two myths that commonly cloud our foresight: that the future is linear, and that it will be a technological utopia. ‘What’s left is a simple, powerful truth: we never arrive to the future. Instead, whether through our action or inaction, we are creating the future ourselves—right now, and all the time.’
  • Pushing that insight beyond its trite motivational qualities, I apply it to set better expectations about our own future by studying what humanity created out of similar circumstances in the past.
  • With a depth that varies with the talk’s duration, I develop the comparison between the ‘First Renaissance’ and today and offer lessons from that past to help us navigate the present.

Chris’ latest offering is “AI: History, Hype, Hysteria—and Hope”.

A.I. is an emerging general-purpose technology. It will be widely adopted. It will present new opportunities for action inside your organization—and in your own role—every single day. The returns on A.I. literacy, and the costs of A.I. ignorance will likewise accrue daily.

Dr Chris Kutarna is a synthesizer and sense-maker. In this talk, he makes sense of “Artificial Intelligence” in a way that helps you and your team to lead the development, adoption and consequences of emerging algorithmic technologies in your organization and in society.

Chris’ keynote answers four big questions to help non-specialists lead through the AI storm:

  • History: How has AI suddenly become a dominant issue in our field of vision?
  • Hype: What is real within the present-day mix of fear, enthusiasm, and ignorance about AI—and what is just marketing aimed at profiting from those emotions?
  • Hysteria: What are the real possibilities and risks of an AI-rich future?
  • Hope: AI is going to take over many mundane tasks that humanity manufactured for itself over 200 years of industrialization. AI might unburden us from a lot of those. That presents society with some big choices. Will we recognize those choices? Will we make them? Which way will we choose?

Along the way, Chris will:

  • Translate A.I. gobbledygook into plain concepts you’re already familiar with, enabling you to bring more of your own intuitions and experience to bear when assessing A.I. opportunities, threats and investments
  • Help you understand what data scientists and their algorithms are actually doing, using a bag of everyday objects (plus some gummie bears)
  • Renew your appreciation for human intelligence, and make plain the vital role of executive leadership and foresight to correct AI’s inherent shortsightedness and avoid some big strategic errors. Chris will highlight the big mistakes that an artificial idea of intelligence has already led other executives to make.
  • I open by recognizing that to understand the human story, yes, we need the best available facts and analyses, but we also need a strong imagination to weave the threads together into a coherent whole.
  • I expertly canvass major demographic, economic, and technological trends shaping the world today. I argue two broad conclusions: that this is the best time in history to be alive, and simultaneously the most fragile.
  • Having empowered my audience with a solid fact-base for this perspective on the present, I then equip them to navigate these twin truths successfully by drawing upon wisdom gained the last time humanity faced these twin, conflicting conditions: the Age of Discovery
  • Translate AI gobbledygook into plain concepts you’re already familiar with, enabling you to bring all your intuitions and experience to bear when assessing AI opportunities, threats and investments
  • Actually teach you the key “algorithms” and “architectures” that power the most popular AI applications today, using nothing but a bag of everyday objects (no math required!)
  • Separate the self-serving hype of AI evangelists and VCs from the genuinely breakthrough applications and possibilities
  • Shatter our collective “AI delusion”—namely, that machine intelligence is superior because it doesn’t suffer from the same computational limits that humans do
  • Renew your appreciation for human intelligence and make plain the vital role of executive leadership and foresight to correct AI’s inherent shortsightedness. Chris will tear apart the most common AI assumptions and highlight the big mistakes that this artificial idea of intelligence has already led executives across many industries to make:
  • The assumption that math & statistics can fully capture human phenomena and social values. They cannot;
  • The assumption that the data we feed into algorithms, or the algorithm itself, is value-free and unbiased. They are not;
  • The assumption that rational calculation trumps emotional or intuitive judgment. It does not;
  • The assumption that the past is the best predictor of the future—especially in times of radical uncertainty. It is not;
  • The assumption that we should aim to optimize complex systems. We should not. Rather we should aim to keep the most number of options open, while still maintaining stability.

On this journey, Chris:

  • Pulls you out of your immediate context and helps you see the big picture of the moment we’re all in—a rare, renaissance moment
  • Clarifies the fundamental task that leaders face today—to make new maps that help your business, your industry or your society navigate to a new and different world
  • Illustrates, with historical examples drawn from his research and with live contemporary stories drawn from his ongoing Renaissance Expedition, the profound new possibilities that open up when leaders redraw the maps we all navigate by
  • Strengthens your own mapmaking powers, by exercising your capacity to shift perspectives and to forget the old maps that hold you (and your team/organization) back
  • Brings you back to your present context with different eyes—and different questions

You will take away:

  • A clear and powerful context that helps you to cope with an increasingly volatile, complex and ambiguous business- and social- environment
  • rich set of perspectives (ranging from cultural to cosmological) that stretches your awareness of what is going on in the world
  • customized list of questions that helps you to see the old maps that you, your organization and your industry are still navigating by
  • challenge to understanding “leadership” differently for a different Age, and an invitation to practice Renaissance leadership
  • The three keys to a revitalized trade agenda, for policy-makers and business, that can overcome the anti-globalization rhetoric that has stuck trade development in its tracks:
  • New lens: The big picture behind “why trade matters” that has been missing from public discourse
  • New language: Why ‘globalization’ is dead, and the rhetoric that must replace it
  • New maps: Why our conceptual maps of the world need to be redrawn

“[Age of Discovery is] an essential guide—and a superb ride—through our current stormy moment.”

Arianna Huffington

“Chris was a rock star. Our corporate audience responded enthusiastically to his unusual format of a ‘debate with himself’ which stimulated engaging conversations well after the event ended. Chris was the perfect combination of authentic, provocative, fun, deeply knowledgeable with personal warmth. A highlight of our corporate speaker series.” 

(State Library Victoria)

“People buy from who they trust. People trust who they converse with. Chris breathes new life into client conversations that are stuck in lockdown. He nailed it.”


“The most important Zoom call I’ve been on since this all started.”


(Middle Eastern government official)

Highly engaging, interesting and entertaining. Chris delivered insightful details on this complex topic in a way that was accessible to our audience of well-informed non-experts. A difficult needle to thread and Chris succeeded. We all left with a better grasp of how to lead through the implications of A.I. adoption.”

Department of Defence Economics (UK Ministry of Defence)

“One of our best ideas was to hire Chris as our keynote speaker for the 2019 Alex Trebek Distinguished Lecture. Your lecture was inspiring and provided us with a vision for the future and an overall feeling of security as we learned a bit of what will constitute tomorrow.” 

Lucie Gendron (University of Ottawa)