Background on our founder


Mickey McManus is a serial entrepreneur, Senior Advisor/executive coach at BCG and a research fellow emeritus at Autodesk’s Office of the CTO.  He is a pioneer in design futures, complex system thinking, augmented collective intelligence (ACI), nurturing antidisciplinary teams/cultures/ecosystems, design science, and ARPA-style “department of strategic surprise” development. Mickey holds 12 patents in the area of connected products, environments, vehicles and services and co-authored the Carnegie Science Award winning book, Trillions – Thriving in the Information Ecology. In Trillions he and his co-authors posit that in a deeply interconnected world unbounded malignant complexity will be one of the most significant challenges. Taming complexity will be a super power for individuals and organizations.

He has spent over 20 years learning how to nurture teams of interdisciplinary artists, PhD scientists, designers, anthropologists, business leaders, and engineers in building tangible “Version 1.0” proof of concept demonstrations/prototypes of novel and provocative new capabilities “from the future.” He has also spent significant time transitioning early tech and R&D research across the “valley of death” and into the world by focusing on taking ideas all the way to the value chain, ecosystem, and business model required to ship consumer products, services, and architected physical experiences.

Basically he’s a lifelong designer and community builder who got a chance to stumble into the most wonderful interdisciplinary complexity design lab back in 2001, learn from some of the most generous thinkers and doers in the world, and never looked back. Along the way he learned that focusing on the places between disciplines was where the real leverage and power emerged and helping team members celebrate their deep knowledge but also humbly listen to others outside of their domain was harder work than he thought, but far more fruitful for the creation of an innovative, creative, and successful culture. He also learned (sometimes the hard way) that when he stumbled and fell there was always someone there that could pick him up, and that people are fundamentally profoundly life-long learners who have nearly infinite capacity if we give them a chance. Most importantly he worries that if we have low expectations for someone they may just meet them. On the other hand if we have high expectations for someone they’ll grow right past them and surprise us all if we give them a safe place to learn by doing.

His current research and educational initiatives are focused on two significant threats to society that are outcomes of the rise of unbounded malignant complexity and extractive industrial/technological revolution era business models that both strip mine human cognition and the Earth’s biosphere. Much of his work is looking at generative bio economic approaches somewhere at the intersection of augmented collective intelligence, generative AI, cognitive capacity, biases, ethics, biology, and life-long learning. He’s interested in how we enable more people to think, dream and act at multi-scales and across multiple time horizons to power their own agency and emergence and support the critical work of bringing a more just world into being in times of existential threat. He believes in the power of making to learn and learning to make and figuring out when, just because we can do something, we have to have the courage to decide, we won’t.

His design innovation & digital transformation lab/agency, MAYA, was sold to BCG six+ years ago and became a foundational part of their global design and build offering called BCG X. The educational institute he funded and co-founded, LUMA Institute was acquired by Mural to become their operating system for co-creating with people and putting people first with the power of design. The generative AI-based learning engine work he helped build at Autodesk is now being rolled out into some of their core products to team humans and algorithms and create personal dynamically assessed life-long journey pathways towards better careers in design, engineering, architecture/construction, and media/entertainment. He and his team at MAYA have won multiple Consumer Electronics Association Award, shipped the first “Matter” based consumer IoT offering and helped shape the development and early learnings for that standard that is now used by Apple, Amazon, IKEA, and many other IoT partners.

Deeper Dive Background

Mickey’s mentors and teachers in design school where part of the first graduating class from the “New BauHaus” school established by László Moholy-Nagy in Chicago after World War II. Their focus was on integrating the arts with the new emerging technologies of the day. Mickey has worked to carry on that tradition.

Mickey co-founded and built an integrated digital/physical media agency in the 90s focused on creating magical experiences where digital elements lived interactively in the physical space. He helped build that initiative into a +$50 million dollar agency in 4 years culminating in leading the team that built the second largest structure and experience on the Olympic boulevard at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, called The Olympic Rendezvous. It had 2 radio studios, a television studio, a night club, performance space a lounge and an interaction space for athletes, their family, and over 1 million visitors during the 15 days of the event. It hosted dramatic theatrical experiences with a 30 meter x 4 story high wrap-around projection system/stage, Cirque du Soleil performers flying over the crowds, and interactive spaces filled with 10,000 silver floating information bubbles that could be grabbed out of the air unlocking experiences of wonder for kids and adults of all ages. It was featured as one of the most visited sites on major news media and on the cover of Space magazine. It was co-created and sponsored by Samsung for their first global Olympic sponsorship for telecommunication and media. 

Mickey holds twelve patents in the area of connected products, vehicles, and services. He spent 13 years leading MAYA (now a foundational part of, an interdisciplinary research lab and technology design consultancy that was spun out of Carnegie Mellon in 1989 by Dr. Peter Lucas, Joe Ballay, and Jim Morris, dedicated to taming complexity and putting people first. While Mickey was president and CEO of MAYA he oversaw MAYA’s internal investment fund and managed investments into multiple startups that came out of research fostered by DARPA, NIST, and the MAYA community. Those investments included a joint venture with Peter Guber and Tony Robbins, an IoT authoring tool company blending fungible digital and physical modules that could scale to planetary size offerings, an educational institute focused on human-centered innovation called the LUMA Institute ( that has taught over 100,000 people to co-create using design methods, now the innovation operating system for Mural), Rhiza, a large scale data fusion and data story telling platform (now a part of Nielsen), & MAYA Viz, an information-centric collaborative visualization business intelligence decision making tool (now a part of General Dynamics Mission Systems).

In 2014 Mickey shifted to chairman of MAYA and became a design strategy fellow at Autodesk’s office of the CTO within their corporate strategy team focused on bootstrapping a new paradigm for augmented collective intelligence and creative authoring tools called “generative design” that employs machine learners and human learners in collaborative exploration, design, and manufacturing. He then spent two years bridging deep research from Autodesk Research to Autodesk’s Education Futures group and co-founded their learning engine research which combined embedded sensing, dynamic formative assessment, machine learners, and human learners to foster accelerated and deeper mastery of skills, tools, and mindsets. That work is now being productized and rolled into Autodesk’s design, architecture and creativity tools. He then rejoined the corporate strategy team and helped reshape it into a strategic foresight team and co-created their C-level fellows program to bring leaders from other organizations into Autodesk for “tours of duty” to challenge and expand the C-suite’s perspectives on critical topics that determine the future of the organization. 

After selling MAYA to BCG he shifted to independently funding and researching embodied collective intelligence, cognitive noise canceling/regenerative cognitive capacity building, and the rise of synthetic biology as a new paradigm for co-creating the built world with Nature. He is a senior advisor, certified executive coach to BCG, and faculty member at BCG U teaching massively scalable leadership courses co-created with Harvard Business School around AI acceleration, agility, and generative leadership.

Mickey advised and helped in some small way to shape BCG’s “Deep Tech for Good” practice which looks to build a “department of strategic surprise” shaped, not by national security interests, but by existential societal challenges. Deep tech largely focuses on the intersection of atoms, bits, minds, and joules and the rise of new paradigm challenging science in the fields of quantum computing/material science, augmentation, synthetic biology, embodied learning, universal printing/disassembly, and complexity science. Reports and papers on that ongoing initiative can be found here.


Mickey went to public school on Chicago’s Northside, having been raised by his biologist/science teacher, mother, and auto mechanic/shop teacher, father. He learned to love science, the arts, and learning by making at an early age (mostly harvesting junk from the back alleys of Rogers Park and building weird and sometimes epic inventions and art projects with his friends and family.) Mickey held his first class at the age of 10 when he taught all the neighbor’s children how to ride unicycles and build hovercraft and in 7th grade learned programming at Northwestern University on IBM 360 punch card systems, while learning to hack Atari computer systems at home with his quantum physicist older brother (the smart one in the family).

Mickey studied architecture and furniture design in Milan and product design under the tutelage of early graduates of The New Bauhaus. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Illinois, Chicago campus with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial Design in 1989.


Board of directors (and later honor board) of the US’s longest running public broadcaster—WQED—home of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

Board of advisors, Center for Health Design.

Board of advisors, Kinoo (an ed-tech startup focused on intergenerational learning between grandchildren and grandparents).

Faculty member, BCG U


In 2012, Mickey coauthored the book Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology (Wiley) — a field guide to the future, when computing will be freely accessible in the ambient environment. Trillions was awarded the Axiom Gold Award in 2013 for best business book about technology and the 2013 Carnegie Science Award in the Science Communicator category.

He is authoring a forthcoming sequel of sorts to Trillions, called Primordial – When places and things wake up,” that is focused on how humans will survive and thrive through lifelong learning, collective action, and play in an age of living systems, pervasive computing and automation. Excerpts from Primordial can be found here at


He has lectured and taught collaborative sessions at Carnegie Mellon University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Buckminster Fuller Institute, MIT, Princeton, University of Illinois, UC Berkeley, Boston College, SVA, and UCLA. His work has been published in Bloomberg Businessweek, Fortune, Fast Company, Wall Street Journal, and the Harvard Business Review.

Additional resources/links

A profile on Mickey in Tech Republic

A debate/improv Google tech talk with Don Norman about the role of creativity and design in the age of AI…

A TEDx talk at Carnegie Mellon about studying nature’s wonders to cope with the rise of unbounded complexity (and why the web is a sunset, not a sunrise.)

A TEDx talk about the nature of things and the future of manufacturing…

A TEDx talk about the future of education and the intersection of STEM and SEL using design methods…

A talk and panel with former co-chair of GE Beth Comstock at Columbia University about the future of life-long learning.

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