One of the things that I like about being a magazine editor is that it gives me the opportunity to have an outsized impact on the world. That's what happened this past year. In the spring 2008 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review we published an op-ed by Michele Jolin (then of the Center for American Progress) that argued that the next president of the United States should create a new White House Office of Social Innovation and Impact. The purpose of the new office would be to stimulate and scale social innovations.
I've lived in ridiculously tiny apartments all over the world, and one way that my overseas shoeboxes outstrip my stateside studios is their smartly sized refrigerators. In Kyoto, the closet that was also known as my kitchen comprised a dorm fridge nestled beneath a single burner and sink, with the pantry/dish rack/DJ console hanging overhead. In Moscow, my three roommates and I shared a hip-high Soviet icebox that also served as our dining room table.
One of the cool things about working at Stanford University is being surrounded by so many smart people working on a myriad of interesting projects. One of those people is professor Hau Lee, an authority on how business manages its suppliers. In the global economy supply chains are everything. Take Nike, for example, the world's largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel. The company is based in Portland, Oregon, but its network of suppliers reaches out to more than 600 factories in nearly 50 countries.
I just returned from a fantastic bike trip through the mountains of northeastern Tanzania, where the villages I visited rarely had water and electricity at the same time. But because the people were among the most resourceful and hospitable I've ever met, I never wanted for much.
One of my most memorable trips was a visit to the Greek town of Delphi 20 years ago. Perched precariously on the side of Mount Parnassus, Delphi is the site of the omphalos stone, believed by ancient Greeks to be the center of the universe, and the home of Pythia, better known as the Oracle of Delphi. For nearly a thousand years, Greeks came to Delphi to consult the oracle and listen to her cryptic prophesies about the outcome of a forthcoming battle or the prospects of a daughter's marriage. (A succession of local women were selected to be the Delphic Oracle, channeling the words and wisdom of the god Apollo.)
One of the most striking and disturbing scenes of the last decade was the thousands of bedraggled people stranded inside the Louisiana Superdome waiting days for government relief agencies to come to their rescue. The inability of federal, state, and local governments to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina was a shock to the nation and the world.
My old pal Trina works at a well-known Minneapolis organic food co-op that hires low-income folks from the surrounding area. During many a lunch break, Trina has watched as her fellow workers from the 'hood eschew the co-op's uber-nutritious yet pricier offerings for the craptastic-yet-cheap microwaveables at the convenience store across the street.
My first job as a journalist was at Supermarket News, the leading publication for grocery executives. I worked out of a bureau in San Francisco that included several other journalists who reported on the fledgling computer industry. While I was attending the opening of Safeway's first gourmet supermarket, my colleagues were watching Steve Jobs unveil the first Macintosh. It didn't take me long to figure out which was the more exciting and important industry to report on.
Some of the world's most successful businesses make their billions by gussying up drugs. The Coca-Cola company, for example, first delivered cocaine (and now caffeine) with carbonated sugar water and catchy ads. Starbucks likewise peddles caffeine, albeit with less sugar and higher octane. Philip Morris wraps nicotine in sexy paper straws and manufactured chic. And myriad booze-mongers mix alcohol with flavor and cache.
Humans are built for empathy. Rush-hour commuters, insurance companies, and warmongers do their best to obscure this fact. But look deep within the human brain, hang a left at the frontal lobe, and there you'll find the nuts and bolts of our shared joy and suffering: mirror neurons. These brain areas not only fire when you get a feeling but also when another person gets the same feeling. I see you burn your tongue on your coffee, and then my brain reacts as though I've burned my tongue on my coffee. Deep within my cerebral recesses, I feel your pain.