Environmentalists in Residence

Environmentalists in Residence

I’m a very strong believer in the power and potential of big ideas — for transforming and shaping society in big ways. I’m also a big believer in the idea that combining strengths with people who share your passion, can be a mutually enriching experience that can give back in so many ways. Now, imagine having the opportunity to combine the two …

Nine years ago, almost to the day, The New York Times published in its Sunday business section, an article titled “6 Months, $90,000 and (Maybe) a Great Idea” — by Ashlee Vance and Claire Cain Miller. It concerns the entrepreneur-in-residence model, which “in Silicon Valley shorthand,” is referred to as an E.I.R. The article states that “Most E.I.R.’s receive a monthly stipend of up to $15,000 to sit and think for about six months. In return, the venture capital firm [sponsoring it] usually gets the first shot at financing the idea that emerges from this meditation.” “Hoping that lightning will strike twice,” these firms, according to the article, often will select someone who has already had success in launching and selling a start-up business in the past.

What I like most about this article is that it affords me the opportunity to quickly and effortlessly describe one of my longstanding ideas. I can merely point to this article and say “My idea is: ‘environmentalists in residence.’ It would be kind of like ‘entrepreneur in residence,’ except the goal and focus wouldn’t be aimed towards making profit, it would be aimed towards ‘saving the planet.’ ” Notice, too, how I can even use that very same E.I.R. abbreviation as shorthand for representing my specific idea as well.

Some other key differences between these two: My thoughts regarding this aim more towards creating something for the long term — don’t six months go by like the blink of an eye? I also envision this as something more resembling an orchestra, than a series of solo performances — something like an intentional community approach, but geared towards finding creative workaholics, dedicated to the idea of becoming catalysts for substantive paradigm shift. Indeed, I see paradigm shift as imperative; whereas, “entrepreneur in residence” models lopsidedly have a technology-focused emphasis. I don’t view the “monthly stipend” as being a necessary component. It may be a necessary component for an “entrepreneur in residence” model — to get “the elite business people whom investors are looking for” on board — but for an “environmentalists in residence” model, profit isn’t the incentive, ‘saving the planet’ is the motivator. Finally, while a key element of the “entrepreneur in residence” model involves the hope of finding that next big idea, I have oodles of big ideas just gathering dust — plenty of these are actionable now, right now — so while we should always be receptive to finding new ideas that have outsize potential, that’s not necessarily vital for the type of “environmentalists in residence” model I have in mind.

Think about it … if this sort of thing is being done for entrepreneurs, why not also for people who are very intelligent and imaginative and committed and motivated and inspired to focus on something as important as saving the planet?

It could be part think tank. Part think-and-do tank. Part idea factory. Part writers in residence. Part intentional community of enthusiastic, energetic, committed, like-minded, creative individuals, working both independently, but also collaboratively, towards the common goal of ‘saving the planet.’

Obviously, there is tremendous flexibility in terms of how something like this can be structured, based on personal preference, level of funding available, location, and so forth. A generous stipend could be included — or not. In fact, one way I envision something like this working, is by using “kill two birds with one stone” thinking. Everyone needs a place to live? Right? Well, the way I look at it, if I’m going to pay rent every month, anyway, why not do so in such a way that that money winds up in the pocket of someone willing to recycle that money back into growing this E.I.R. model? There eventually could be a whole network  of these set up all across the country. I have lots of ideas for ways of making such a model entirely economically sustainable — and this, in turn, could provide a means for offering stipends and/or reduced rent to those invited in. Those who could afford to pay more and who would like to be a part of the E.I.R., could pay a higher rent — which, in turn, could be used to help it grow and keep it solvent.

A shared housing model E.I.R., could, for instance, bring together those sharing a passion for writing. It could be open to journalists, investigative journalists, writers, and perhaps even include someone from an entirely different field, like a documentary filmmaker, as well. Students enrolled in nearby institutes of higher learning could become a part of it too. I always thought it would be a great idea to set up something like ProPublica, but devoted exclusively towards publishing pieces having to do with environmental journalism; and an E.I.R. would be one way to go about setting something like this up. Another idea would be to assemble a talented team of individuals, specifically for the purpose of providing environmentalism-themed podcasts, to spread ecological awareness and deepen society’s understanding regarding key issues and the grave consequences humankind will face if we don’t take immediate action.

Regarding the task of deciding who to invite into the E.I.R. — whether you are in a position to be able to afford to do this on a scale that would include a generous stipend or not — there are lots of ways of going about it. The internet and social media are of course viable options. Advertising is another possible approach. One particular idea I’ve come up with, concerns a very clever way to go about finding just the right, uniquely qualified and committed people to invite into this. A three-dimensional visual aid I drew up, shows how we can theoretically break everyone down into eight potential categories — with one category in particular, being most especially ideal for helping find E.I.R. candidates. But you can also devise your own individualized approach. Something I had written in the past, pertaining to the “mini-M” (see my previous post) — and recently stumbled upon, quite by accident — is advice that may prove helpful here as well:

Do your homework. But make it a fun, exciting, and exhilarating experience. Travel around, ask questions, google, do research, make calls, email, educate yourself on the issues involved, be determined to really make an outstanding selection. And who knows, maybe it’ll wind up being written about in the national media. Maybe it’ll really be the start of something big. Perhaps a bestseller. Or several. Or maybe the formation of a new political party. The sky’s the limit. …

As I stated above, I wrote that with the “mini-M” concept in mind. But take it to heart with regard to the E.I.R. Roll up your sleeves and by all means do the work, but also enjoy the journey.

Here is another way this E.I.R. concept can prove useful. Many talented writers, if given the choice,  prefer travelling down their own path, pursuing topics which interest them specifically — and that’s understandable — but there are also plenty of talented writers who don’t mind being pointed in a particular direction. This latter group can prove particularly beneficial for someone like myself, who has lots of great ideas for books, but not the time, skill or inclination for doing the actual writing. I would infinitely rather invest my time on idea implementation and idea generation, than on the arduous task of writing full-length manuscripts. I am very happy to leave that work to the people who are very skilled and accomplished at doing exactly that. I once heard an author say that “Writing a book is like digging a hole to China — with a spoon.” For me, writing a book might perhaps be more akin to digging a hole to China, using a toothpick.

On a college paper I submitted many moons ago, professor Edward A. Chalfant wrote: “You are the sort of person whose last drafts will be 535 times better than his third drafts. Getting your ideas into proper order takes work. It’s what happens when you have something fairly ambitious to say. You have to become a re-writer. It cannot be avoided.” He gave me an 88 on the paper, but I understood his point all too well. And I agree. But here’s my point: I would much rather spend my time coming up with big ambitious ideas and ideas worth sharing and getting into the hands of the general public, and let others, those who are far more adept at the craft of writing than I, spend their time, applying their skills, to make those ideas resonate and dance across the page as effectively as possible.

One such example of a book I would really like to see get written, concerns an idea I have for a phenomenally simple way to radically transform our existing government. It may not represent the best possible solution — regarding ‘saving the planet’ — but considering we’re living in a world that only considers non-solutions, as solutions, it could conceivably represent our best hope for saving the planet.

Another book idea I have involves a relatively simple way to help raise the overall level of eco-consciousness within society. It involves a unique concept I’ve never seen put into use before.

Another example of an idea, which I would like to see researched and perhaps published in book form, concerns a totally unique — unlike any other — alternative economic system. I’m not sure whether it could be made to work — it’s just a concept at this point — but it’s certainly well worth exploring. Who knows, it could even potentially lead to the awarding of a Nobel Prize for economics, if it’s demonstrated that such a model could actually work.

And those are just a few of the dozens of ideas I have for books that I would like to see eventually get published.

While the two concepts are indeed quite different, this E.I.R. model kind of reminds me of the “mini-M,” which I wrote about in my previous blog post. For example, just as a “mini-M” could be viewed as a miniaturized version of a MacArthur Fellowship, a mini-E.I.R. could be viewed as a miniaturized version of “environmentalists in residence.” While I envision the E.I.R. model as consisting of an unspecified number of individuals — living together and working towards a shared goal — there’s nothing stopping anyone from shrinking this concept down to what would effectively amount to something that could be referred to as: “environmentalist in residence.” Singular, rather than plural. Viewed in that context, something as simple as one single individual — of relatively modest means — offering a spare bedroom in their home, to someone devoting their life towards doing ‘saving the planet’ type work, could go a long way towards enabling that individual to accomplish so much more than they otherwise would have been able to achieve.

In my own case, for example, if I could save having to pay all that money that goes towards paying my monthly rent, and instead funnel those funds towards achieving some of my simpler, short-term goals — such as, for instance, getting that first book mentioned above published — that could, potentially, help lead to a radical transformation of our government. Which, in turn, might mean that that one single individual — of relatively modest means, no less — ironically, could wind up accomplishing more, in terms of helping bring about positive, dynamic change in the world, than both someone like a Warren Buffet and someone like a Bill Gates, combined.

That is why, when I hear someone, in effect, say “Gee whiz, I’m just one person, what can I do?” … I just softly sigh and bite my lip.



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