Riding the Rogue Waves of Disruption with Eric Pilon Bignell – Episode 16


By Donna Loughlin

Just two decades into the 21st Century, we’ve already experienced more change than we can comprehend. Eric Pilon-Bignell has a warning for all of us: Get used to it.A self-described “pragmatic futurist,” Eric is an expert on change and how we respond to it. His book, Surfing Rogue Waves, went from doctoral thesis to bestseller by giving us a roadmap for how we can navigate the unprecedented amount of disruption he predicts will happen in the next few years. Eric says between areas like artificial intelligence, robotics and automation — not to mention issues like climate change and globalization — we will experience more disruption in the next few years than humanity saw over the previous century.Eric was born and raised outside of Toronto. His parents were both academics — his father was an engineering professor while his mother taught human anatomy — and he and his brothers were very athletic. He grew up playing hockey and eventually played American football in college.

Early in his life, he was an indifferent student. But he studied engineering in college and worked as a product engineer after receiving his Bachelor’s degree. Later, he and a partner launched a startup they hoped to sell, but shut it down after five years. During that time, he decided to go back to school to earn his MBA. But it was while studying for his Doctorate in philosophy at the Indiana Institute of Technology that his career took a new turn.The motivation behind his book — and his thesis for that matter — was to answer a single, central question that has always puzzled him: why can’t we see change happening in real-time?

“We never seem to notice change until after it happens,” he told me. “It’s very strange, right? And the part that keeps me up is that since we don’t notice the change now, how do we know we’re okay with what will end up happening?” It’s a question that drove Eric to land on his unique perspective on how to best negotiate both the now and the future world.

The answer came to him while learning to surf in Australia. Sitting on a beach, he watched an expert wave rider putting on a masterclass while the ocean tried its best to knock her down. She deftly handled everything the waves tried to throw at her and Eric marveled at her grace on the board. Watching her, he realized that improvisation — our ability to adapt to our surroundings — was the key to what he was trying to say.“That’s really what put it all together for me,” he said. “The one thing we can control is us, right? Our ability to improvise. We’re the surfer. We’re like that woman on the surfboard as these waves of change come and the change is large technological change. But it’s also driving all kinds of other change — systematic change or ecological crises. So we need to improvise and learn to adapt. That’s where innovation occurs.”

To listen and subscribe to the Before IT Happened podcast, visit