An Existential Ambition
Flores may be tired of the drama of politics, but he clearly enjoys the prominent stage granted by his position. He recently convened a meeting with a dozen chief executives of Chilean companies, gathered in a boardroom atop Telefónica SA’s Chilean headquarters — a cell phone–shaped building that towers over Santiago’s smoggy central district. He opened the meeting by passing around his Kindle; none of the executives had handled one before. Then he demonstrated World of Warcraft, the immensely popular online role-playing game produced by Blizzard Entertainment. The meeting was held on behalf of País Digital, a foundation Flores created to spread the use of technology in Chile’s K–12 schools, and he told the executives that the group had sponsored 40 students in the game, playing it in English to see if it could help with language acquisition.
“To pull this group together, Fernando needs a remarkable mixture of trust and seduction,” says Mario Valdivia, the economist, who was observing the meeting. “These are distrustful guys; they have no time. And look at them, they look like kids,” he says, noting the quiet laughter, mild teasing, and surprised smiles around the table.
Flores also continues to hold workshops whenever time allows, in Santiago and in San Francisco. At a recent seminar in San Francisco, Flores worked without notes or PowerPoint slides, not so much lecturing as holding forth on the topics of the day, his own story, or the sociological consequences of one new technology or another. Alternately pontifical and profane, combative and comical, he rarely took questions, but when he asked one he clearly expected candor in response.
“You are not giving me an answer,” Flores declared to one student, who had given a vague, wandering reply to Flores’s request that he assess the value of the course so far. “If you don’t want to answer, it’s fine with me, but say so. Don’t give me this caca.”
During the three-day event, for which attendees paid $2,500, he took each student aside for a one-to-one conversation — asking each to make a personal offer to the rest of the class, to an employer, and to the world. Flores then offered his own typically blunt assessment. To one participant, for instance, he opened by saying, “I can see that you are not adept at social situations.”
This type of comment is not meant as a putdown, says Chauncey Bell, a Seattle-based consultant who was Flores’s second in command at Action Technologies and BDA. In every conversation, Flores is focused on “inventing the future that is possible for him and the human being he is talking to. He’s always had ambitions for other people that are bigger than their own.”
Flores’s next planned move will combine his three long-standing interests: social media, politics, and human potential. Like Japanese venture capitalist Joichi Ito, Flores is fascinated by the popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft as a laboratory for training and experimentation. “I am not saying playing the game will improve your leadership skills,” he says. “I know people who have played thousands of hours. They were idiots before and they are bigger idiots after. But it is a grand laboratory if you have a plan.”
He is starting a new company, as yet unnamed, which will prepare people to participate and flourish in what he calls “pluralistic networks.” This is his term for enterprises built upon a shared online world in which geographically dispersed, multicultural, and multidisciplinary teams will work on projects as diverse as creating new banking services for emerging markets and designing software-laden hybrid cars, always using (of course) explicit speech acts to communicate and coordinate.