Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.
S3. EPISODE 5
Space News, Hearing Aids, and a Changing Tomorrow
Featuring Jason Feifer
How is NASA propelling us into the future? Who is next to legalize same-sex marriage? Plus, we hear from the editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur magazine, Jason Feifer, about how to embrace change without waiting for a crisis to push us forward.
Prefer to read? Check out the Audio Transcript
Zachary Karabell (ZK): What could go right? I’m Zachary Karabell, the founder of The Progress Network, and I am joined as always by Emma Varvaloucas, the executive director of The Progress Network. And we are on season three of What Could Go Right?, having yet another series of conversations with people whose take on the world is not animated by outrage and despair and anxiety, and is not fundamentally about Armageddon and how far we are between now and it, and some of that’s looking at the news of the day from a different angle, but some of that’s also talking to people who may be very robust in their own networks, social networks and otherwise, but are not in the daily drum and cacophony of chaotic news as prominent as they otherwise would be. And today we’re gonna be talking to someone who’s been a member of the network and has his own robust, interesting life and a whole series of podcasts and magazines, who has a kind of ebullient let’s look at the world, let’s do really good things. And I find that incredibly heartening. I find that incredibly important. So as we’re doing this season, we’re gonna talk a bit with our guests, and Emma and I will then discuss a bit of the news of the week that has gotten less focus and less attention.
Emma Varvaloucas (EV): So today we’re gonna talk to Jason Feifer, who, as you mentioned, is a member of The Progress Network. He’s also the editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur Magazine and the host of the podcast Problem Solvers, which is about entrepreneurs solving unexpected problems in their business. It’s a really fun podcast. Outside of his Entrepreneur stuff, he’s the author of the new book Build for Tomorrow, which is an action plan for embracing change and adapting fast. I think we’re gonna talk to him a little bit about that today. He’s also the host of the podcast Build for Tomorrow, yes, same name as the book, which is about smart solutions to our most misunderstood problems.
ZK: Jason, I was saying in our intro, your ears-burning intro that your site and your podcast and a lot of what you talk about has a kind of enthusiasm, an infectious enthusiasm about how you sort of approach the world tonally, the sensibility. A lot of what we have talked about in these podcasts with people and in the work we’re trying to do at The Progress Network is engendering a sensibility, like if you don’t start from a certain place, it’s hard to get to a certain place. You know, you start from a place of fear and intense fraughtness, it’s very hard to find your way to balance. It may equally be true that if you start with too much of a good mood, it’s hard to acknowledge when things are really going wrong. But that’s a—
Jason Feifer (JF): That’s fair.
ZK: You know, that’s another issue.
ZK: So in a really softball way, I guess you edit this magazine, you do a podcast, you try to help people I guess express their messages and their views. But tell us a little bit about like how did Jason become Jason?
JF: [laughs] Well, I appreciate that. How did Jason become Jason? I mean, Jason was not always like this. Also, Jason doesn’t do well speaking in the third person, so I’ll shift.
JF: I wasn’t always like this. I was a pretty change-resistant kid and also a pretty closed off kid. I mean, I had friends, but I was very uncomfortable sharing anything vulnerable, you know? And one of the big things that changed for me, it’s just very small, but in college, I was reading this essay by Dave Eggers. It wasn’t actually an essay, it was more of a rant. A student reporter– do you know who Dave Eggers is? He wrote A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and then founded McSweeney’s, a literary journal, and all these things. He’s a great writer, although I did not like The Circle. Sorry, Dave. But I was reading this thing, a student reporter had– like The Harvard Crimson or something, had accused him of selling out in an interview. And he responded with this unbelievably wonderful, very long, kind of ranty email that got published and made its way around and there’s a section in it where he talks about that he is a person who likes to say yes, and that he doesn’t do well with people who say no. And that when you are on your death bed, which could happen at any time, you will not be happy about all the things that you said no about. You will be regretful of all the things that you did not say yes to. And he wants to say yes. And he’s so eloquent and beautiful about it. I wish I could just recite it by hip. But I’ll tell you that that had a real impact on me because it made me realize that I was saying no to like way too many things, and that I was, as a result, making my life kind of smaller. And it took a long time to shift my mindset and kind of become a yes person. But once I did– a yes person in the best way possible, ’cause there are a lot of bad yes people. But I’ll tell you that as I became a professional and started to meet people who were doing like tremendous things, I found that they all really had yes at the core of what they did too, that they were willing to engage with big ideas, with challenging things, with saying, you know, just because this isn’t working doesn’t mean that something else can’t work. And I really gravitated towards those people. And then as I started to engage with like really big ideas, which my work does on a regular occasion, what I came to realize was that, you know, I think that oftentimes what we do is we simplify narratives so that they fit something that feels more comfortable to us. So how can we take this big complicated thing and find the smallest version of it possible that we can then all obsess over? And to me, that’s basically saying no, right? Like, that’s basically saying, you know, the world is complicated, but I’m not really interested in that. What I’m interested in is this one tiny little thing and that makes me feel comfortable and I get to be upset about it, but also that I’m not really now in charge of fixing anything because I’ve made it impossible to really address any big substantive issue. And so I just get to be sitting here comfortably in my little corner and complaining and maybe going on TV and doing it, or frankly, maybe getting a publicly elected office and doing it. But I just don’t find that to be compelling. I find that complicated, big issues require complicated, big thinking, and that you can only engage with that if you are a yes person, if you’re willing to engage with big ideas, with big solutions, with big challenges, with longtime horizons, with holding multiple things in your head at the same time. I find these to be just far more interesting and compelling, that oftentimes if you take a look at difficult issues and you give it enough of a time horizon, and you are open to enough of the different challenges of the world, that you will see that there are ultimately resolutions to them. And that’s, I guess, how Jason got made [laughs].
EV: This is like the improv comedy motto to life, like yes, and. [laughs]
JF: Yes. Yes, and.
EV: [laughs] And.
JF: No, that really is true because, I don’t know, I mean, you know, I spend most of my days talking with entrepreneurs and it is absolutely fascinating to see how they– I mean, look, they have it all on the line, right? They’ve built something, they’ve put a lot– they’ve put their own finances into it. They have other people’s livelihoods and families who depend on them. They have so much pressure. And yet when big changes come, they have it within themselves to say, you know what? I think that we need to take risks and be open to the possibility that there’s a better way to do the thing that we’re already doing. And the result of that is going to be that we’re serving people in new ways that we maybe didn’t even set out to do. That’s bold and very hard and emotionally draining, but the rewards are tremendous. And you spend enough time with those people and you realize that a lot more is possible than what we might think, but it requires thinking beyond whatever we see in front of us.
ZK: So tell me, when you are engaged by somebody professionally,-
ZK: -not just when you’re into them, what are they asking you for help with? Like, an entrepreneur comes and says, I started this company and I need help doing X. What’s the X that you’re gonna help them do?
JF: Oh, well, I mean, me personally, if people come to me, they’re often asking me a couple things. So I’m in a very interesting position where I’m seen as a pattern matcher, and for good reason, ’cause I get to talk to everybody and I spend time telling their stories and understanding what people have in common. And so if somebody asks me, have I heard of somebody trying this or that thing before, I often have an answer, right? Like, there’s often, oh yes, well that reminds me of that time where I was talking to the founder of this thing. And right. So I become this kind of Rolodex of experience, which I think is useful to people. And then also because my background is in media, people wanna know how to get press [laughs]. I spend a lot of time talking about that. But you know, what’s really interesting about that, about the press thing is that they often haven’t thought through why they want it. Just the other day, a guy booked me for a consulting session and he starts and he’s like, you know, we’ve built this company and it’s just like B2B AI something-or-other company. And they’ve scaled up and they’re doing like tens of million dollars of revenue and he’s like, nobody’s ever written about us and I just, you know, I just feel like we deserve some attention and I want, you know, my staff to feel good about that attention. And I said to him, look, that’s fine. It’s a nice thing to think about, but like, press is a tool, and you don’t go out and raise money just because it feels good. You don’t go and do like anything substantive just because it feels good. You should do it because it has a purpose. And like if press doesn’t have a purpose in your business, then why are you doing it? And the reason I’m telling you guys this now is because I actually think that oftentimes we chase things simply because they seem like they’re part of the path that we’re supposed to follow rather than because they serve a actual genuine purpose in our lives and our world or whatever it is that we’re trying to build, right? Like, we’re, we’re often so caught up in what is the thing that people think we should be doing that we don’t spend enough time thinking about what do we actually need to solve this problem for us right now. And when you think more strategically about everything that you do and the reason why you’re doing it, I think that you find that you waste a lot of time chasing things just because they seem like they feel good or because somebody else told you that they’re useful. You know, don’t follow a path ’cause it’s someone else’s path. That doesn’t make any sense. That doesn’t get you anywhere. Define success for yourself. That’s the only way in which you actually build something.
EV: So Jason, I wanted to, you know, go back to your first answer really quickly ’cause it was really funny-
EV: -that you mentioned that you were change-resistant when you were younger ’cause you just wrote a book about adapting to change.
EV: So I won’t, like, you know, make that, you know, sort of psychoanalytic loop or anything. But I did wanna know, like when you look at– ’cause this is a topic that like people have talked a lot about, right? But you wouldn’t have added to it if you didn’t think that there was really something to add. So it made me wonder like, is there a lot of bad advice out there about change? Like, is there something where you’re like, I really wish people would stop saying this and stop believing this, and then what would you replace that with?
JF: Yeah. So here’s something that I wanted to be really delicate with about the book. Silicon Valley gets picked on too much, and I realize there’s a lot to pick on. I’m not excusing the things that are worth picking on, but like, you know, sometimes like the answer to why there’s a problem here is not because of Silicon Valley [laughs], it’s just, I feel like it becomes a punchline. But all the same, something that I think is a mistake that people often make in Silicon Valley is that they’ve created something new and the way in which they introduce it to the world is basically by saying, hey, this old thing that you do is stupid and you should stop it because it doesn’t work as well as this new thing that I created. And people don’t like that. And there’s a good reason why they don’t like that. It is because people don’t like new things. What people like are better versions of old things, what people like is something that is familiar to them, but an improvement. And you know, a story that I love to tell is the car. So, you know, when the automobile was first introduced in the late 1800s, it was– well, it wasn’t called the car ’cause nobody had that word. It was called the horseless carriage. And that’s if you were being generous. And if you were not, then you called it the devil wagon because that’s often what people called it. They hated this thing. And they threw rocks at it, they yelled, “Get a horse”, like as a car was driving down the street. And then when we tell the story now of how the car became the dominant mode of transportation, we often tell the story of Henry Ford. Henry Ford, he revolutionized manufacturing, and as a result, he made cars more accessible and affordable to the average person. True. But something else happened before that that Henry Ford was the beneficiary of, and that is often not a story that’s told, but I heard it from a automobile historian and it basically goes like this. So in the early days, automobile industry was trying to figure out like, why do people not like this thing? And they looked at their own marketing and they realized that they were talking about the car as a replacement to the horse, right? Just like Silicon Valley often talks about this new thing as a replacement to this old thing. You know, like I said, people don’t like that. The horse was a member of their family, the horse had been in their families for generations. And now you got somebody coming along saying like basically stop doing that. It doesn’t work as well as this other thing. People don’t like that because, like I said, people don’t like new things, they like better versions of old things. So the car industry realized they needed to make a change. And the change that they made was that they stopped talking about the car as a replacement to the horse and they started talking about the car as a better horse. They started using or popularizing terms like horsepower. They started naming cars after horses, which we still do today. They started putting mechanical horse heads on the front of cars, which we obviously don’t do today. And the result of that was that they built what I like to call a bridge of familiarity, where they stopped trying to just say, I have a great solution and let me thrust it upon the world. They instead started from the position of where people are. Where are people right now? What are they concerned about? What do they need? And then build from the consumer to themselves or build from the audience to themselves. I call it the bridge of familiarity. And, anyway, the thing that I– I guess to go back to your question about what is the advice that I don’t really like, you know, I think that there is too much out there which just basically amounts to, like, hey, this new thing is better, so just by its dint of newness, you should like it. Because, you know, that puts people on the defensive. People aren’t comfortable with that. And that’s not a smart way to approach introducing change or, frankly, try to manage your own change in your own lives. So instead, what we need to do is understand where the panic comes from, relate to it, accept that it’s a normal part of the experience of change, and then build from there. It’s very interesting ’cause I came up with this framework that change happens at four phases: panic, adaptation, new normal, and wouldn’t go back.
ZK: This is the four phases of change as opposed to the five stages of grief philosophy.
JF: Yes. Well, you know, look, there’s a lot of blank phases of blank frameworks in the world and I picked mine, but you know, when I talk to people about it, they often pause and say, oh, you know what? I totally panic. Maybe I’m in the panic stage right now. And that’s okay. Let’s recognize that people panic. And that if we can address people in that moment and help them get out of it, that we’re all gonna be better for it.
ZK: Back to our sensibility thing, like that whole mantra you just articulated really is helping people get into a framework, literally a state of mind from which they can then solve whatever challenges they have as opposed to if they’re not in that, it gets really, really challenging. And, you know, part of it is, you know, one of the more vibrant aspects of certainly American, but let’s call it Western capitalism over the past 20 years has been some of the innovations that have led to, you know, this medium like Zoom or a podcast or things that are technologically enhanced conversations and connections. And, as you just mentioned we’re kind of in the downside of the upside when it comes to how we look at tech, how we look at big tech, how we look at the consequences of these tools that have been created, right? But a lot of those tools have transformed the way we communicate and the way we interact. Again, we’re focused right now on all the ways in which that can be incredibly negative and creates hot emotions and creates addictiveness and attention and all of that. But a lot of what you’re talking about is even if some of these downsides are true, there’s a way to approach these changes that is not one of like despair and panic, right?
JF: Right. That’s exactly right. And this is why I love the work that you guys do. So I think we ask the wrong question of new things in our lives or in society because the question that we ask is, is this perfect? Is this perfect? And I mean, I’ll tell you the answer to the question, the answer is no. Like, nothing is perfect. So that’s not how we have to think of things because if the filter in which we’re gonna look at something is, is this perfect? And the answer’s gonna be no, and then we’re gonna wanna discard this new thing. So instead what we should ask is a different question. And that question is, is this new problem better than our old problem? Because once you ask that, you make room for problems. And you also say that let’s measure progress not by perfection, not by a standard that cannot be reached, but rather by whether or not we are improving the problems that we’re grappling with. And I think that people often mistake new things for whole downside, [laughs], because let’s use your example of Zoom because it’s a really good one. So, you know, if you go far enough back to the introduction of the telephone, what you’ll find is a lot of people who were concerned that the telephone would replace human-to-human contact. That why would anybody ever go over to somebody’s home when now you could call them on the phone. And of course, you know, what really happened was that we found uses for calling people on the phone and we retained uses for coming over and talking to someone or like, I don’t have to run over to your home now to ask you a simple question, I can call you, but for a longer, more engaged period of time, I would much rather be at your home. What we have is a world of both, but we don’t really believe that a world of both is going to be possible. We tend to think of a world of replacement, that new is going to wholesale replace old. So telephone will replace all forms of, you know, like, interaction, Zoom will replace all forms of, well, also human inter– why, again, would we ever meet because we have Zoom now? And instead, what we have found with Zoom is that it is a really nice supplement to everything that we already had, that we we interact in ways that were unexpected. A lot of entrepreneurs have told me that Zoom meetings can often feel more intimate than standard business meetings ’cause you’re at home, you see people’s homes, the kids run into the room, and you just feel like you’re a part of people’s lives in a way that you wouldn’t have before. It’s not a replacement for everything. It’s integrated into the way in which we are– well, we have another tool at our disposal. And that is almost always the case with new innovation. And I think that we miss that point, and as a result, we see something new, we say, here’s what we’re going to lose, and we extrapolate that loss and say, well now we’ve lost everything. I’m gonna lose this, I’m gonna gonna lose that, and I’m gonna lose that. We don’t make the space for the possibility of gain and for new innovation to settle in and create new value. Like, this is why I like long tail thinking because when you look at something with a long time horizon, you allow for the possibility of new uses, of new discovery of uses, of new experiences that could not have been anticipated at the beginning of the introduction of something. And that’s where you ultimately often see the greatest value. We don’t know what new innovations are for until sometime later. And so let’s give ourselves the space to discover that.
EV: Some of your most fun work, in my opinion, is when you go into history and you talk about fears that seem so quaint now. Like when the teddy bear was introduced or the long form novel and people were like freaking out in the newspapers. It definitely lends some perspective to some of the things that we’re freaking out about today.
JF: Yeah, well, I mean, the reason I like history is because the story’s been told, right? So, you know, my podcast, for those who don’t know, Build for Tomorrow often takes these deep dives into history as a means of trying to understand the things that we’re talking about today. And, you know, I don’t do it to discount changes that are happening today, right? It’s not like, oh, because we worried about this a hundred years ago that the worry today is meaningless. But rather to say, you know, because we worried about this a hundred years ago, let’s see what ultimately drove a resolution because that might open a way forward now. And on also, just to recognize that, you know, new changes– one of the most powerful things anybody said to me, which I’ve, like, just really thought a lot about, was I called this guy David Shimer, I believe his name was, who wrote a book about the hundred years of Russian efforts to interfere with American elections. And he said that he got going on this book because after the 2016 elections, he was hearing politicians and people in media talk about what happened as unprecedented. And he said, look, that’s actually a really problematic way of viewing the world because if you see something as unprecedented, then, number one, you’re going to limit your scope of where the problem is to something that’s very new, because obviously, something new must have caused something that is unprecedented. But also, it opens the possibility for all sorts of kind of lies and stories, right? So, I mean, think about it, if I woke up tomorrow and I looked in the mirror and my face was green, that’s never happened before so that’s unprecedented, and therefore, I would think, well, crap, what happened yesterday, right? Like, what was the thing that happened yesterday that turned my face green? What was it? What did I eat? What did I touch? But you know, when we’re talking about Russian interference in American elections, that wasn’t unprecedented. In fact, what happened in 2016, by David Shimer’s reporting, is a version of what they’ve been doing for a century, right? Basically utilizing the newest technologies of the day to exacerbate existing divisions in American culture. Did it with television, did it with newspapers, did it with radio, then did it with social media. So if you think that the problem is unprecedented, then you’re gonna say, oh, the problem is social media, so then we’ve gotta shut down social media, we’ve gotta make massive changes to social media. And that’s not to say that social media didn’t play a role, but if you throw Mark Zuckerberg in jail, you don’t solve the problem. So we need to have a better understanding of a more complex problem, which means that we have to understand that this has been around for a long time. The more that you can understand the history of a problem, the more that you can appreciate the complexities of it today, and therefore, the more you can actually start to move yourselves towards real solutions,
ZK: History, complexity, subtlety, understanding,-
ZK: -perspective. Oh my God, those are like fighting words. I don’t know, you know, what are you talking about as opposed to just reaction and of the moment and there is no past and who the hell knows what the future’s gonna be? Again, I think there is more– and you certainly find this in your own work. You know, there’s more resonance with these, with urging people in this direction than you would believe if you just listen to kind of the news of the day or an argument on the street, you know, people do live in these realities, right? They do wanna know, they do wanna understand. It’s just, you know, it gets drowned out and lost and hard to see. You know, there’s still–markets may be cascading and IPOs may be drying up and venture capital may have been in a bubble, but there’s still a lot of venture capitalists and there’s still a lot of entrepreneurs who are actually just trying to do interesting, compelling, sometimes innovative, sometimes silly things with real enthusiasm about what the future’s gonna be. And you know, we do risk, I think, losing sight of that in our rush to, oh my God, everything’s falling apart.
JF: Yeah, without question. And I will tell you that I had an interesting revelation a little while ago. I was wondering like, why does a product like The Social Dilemma, that horror show of a Netflix documentary, like why does that capture people’s attention in the way that compelling and deeply reported messages that basically say the world is more complex and it’s not as bad as it seems, like, why does that not resonate as much? And, you know, I came to this realization, and this is like something I’ve been working on for my own work and I’d be curious what you guys think of it for your work, which is, I think the problem often with pushing back against fears is that it comes off as saying, oh, there’s nothing to worry about. And if there’s–
JF: If there’s nothing to worry about, then there’s nothing for people to do, and people like something to do, They like to feel like there’s something that they can do, even if, frankly, they’re not going to do it, or the thing that they’re told to do is just simply impractical, which is like, you know, the takeaways of The Social Dilemma were like so absurdly impractical that they’re not going to be utilized by anybody living in the world today, but it gave people a sense of agency. And I think part of the problem with pushing back against fears is that you actually take people’s agency away. You say, ah, the world’s complicated, there’s nothing you can do about it. So I’ve been really trying to figure out how do I zero in on solutions that counter our understanding of a problem, right? So it’s like, no, you don’t understand the problem, well, over here it’s actually a different problem and here’s something that we can do about it. I think that when people are given that sense of control, that they react more positively and they also want to amplify it more. So I’ve been trying to figure that out because I think people, they’re desperate to do something, or at least to feel like they could do something.
EV: Yeah, I definitely see that a lot when we send out, you know, for instance, our weekly newsletter, and we kind of– the takeaway at the end of the day is always like, the world is more complicated than a simple, you know, clickbait headline is gonna give us. And people very frequently write in and say like what can I do? And it doesn’t feel right to tell them like, well, not much, but like, be informed and like, that’s gonna slowly lead you into a better place. So, you know, I guess it’s just where– you know, wrapping up our time here, have you settled on a good answer to that? Like, what do you give people when they’re asking you for that kind of agency? Because I think we also have this twin problem of like, people are hungry for something to do, and yet there’s also this feeling of like learned helpness a lot, particularly in American society, that like, even if they do something, it’s not gonna matter and it’s not gonna make a difference. So maybe you can chew on that for us.
JF: So where I often land on that is that I think people can start-
JF: -with themselves.
EV: [laughs] Speaking of Zoom intimacy. Hi. [laughs]
JF: I have a three-year-old at the door, so, see, I told you Zoom just–
JF: Guys, I’m– Hi, everybody.
Child: Mom needs you.
JF: Okay. Can you tell mom that I’ll be off of this podcast in just a moment?
JF: Yes. My three-year-old is now calling me Jason.
EV: I think we will.
Child: After you use the potty, you have to clean the potty.
ZK: Oh. [laughs]
EV: That’s something to do.
EV: Yeah. Speaking of something to do,
ZK: Well that’ll keep things in perspective at least.
JF: Okay. That is something to do. I’ve been giving–
EV: Yup, that’s right.
ZK: What is that? That’s like the old Buddhist, you know, what is enlightenment? Chop wood and carry water, right?
ZK: That’s kind of a latter day version of it for you.
JF: I mean, I feel like that is a sort of general mission for the world, right? After you use the potty, you gotta clean potty.
ZK: Clean the potty.
ZK: Yeah. So I mean, it’s a metaphor for life, really.
ZK: It actually is.
JF: [laughs] And for everything that we were-
JF: -talking about right now. So back in the early days of the pandemic, those moments used to stress me out when the kids would come barging in and I’d be on a podcast or I’d be speaking and people would’ve been paying for me for my time or whatever. And then I came to realize that actually, these moments of interruption and unexpectedness, they’re the most human parts of anything that we’re doing. And that when you will let that curtain down a bit or, I don’t know if that’s the right metaphor, but whatever, you part that curtain that, that people feel more connected. It brings a little more humanity, right? Like up until that moment, I was like, expert guy going on and on and on, and now I’m guy with a three-year-old who’s telling me to clean the potty, right? And that actually– people like that, like it’ll become the most memorable part of this episode for people. And I think that’s a good thing. That just means, you know, like embrace the messiness of what you’re doing, because ultimately, people’s lives are messiness and they see themselves in your messiness. So anyway, there’s my advice, but to your question, I mean, look, sometimes with very large, complicated problems, the thing that you can give people to do is maybe gonna feel a little unsatisfying, right? Because it’s gonna be like, you can join this group, or you can send this message. So oftentimes, what I do is actually try to get people to understand themselves, right? Because like, I did an episode on misinformation but the way that I approached it was to examine all of these funny, fun facts that we all think we know, right? Like a goldfish has a 10-second memory, and like, these things aren’t true at all. Like we’re kind of full of all these fun facts that are actually completely wrong. And then to understand why they’re all wrong or why they stick in our heads so much, right? Which is to understand this thing called the availability heuristic, which, which is which is that if something is easy to remember and easy to recall, then it feels true to you, which is how misinformation can very easily lodge in people’s brains and feel like fact. So, you know, you give people some insight into their own brains, and then you give them a kind of missions, which is basically like the next time that you hear something that feels true, consider more deeply whether it is true, because that is actually the first barrier of defense for misinformation. And now that’s something that they can do on a daily basis, and they can also tell friends about it and it makes them feel smarter, and it makes them– you know, at the next dinner party, they’re gonna bring something like that up. And so I feel like if you can arm people with what to do, even inward-facing, that it makes them feel more empowered to make change that’s outward-facing.
ZK: Amen, brother. I will take that any day of the week. You know, with all these things, it would be good to have an hour more, two hours more. And look, we do have an hour more. I just don’t know that people would listen for an hour more.
JF: Yeah. I mean, for what it’s worth, I apparently have a potty to clean.
ZK: Yeah. So I mean, that– time’s a-wastin’, man, so,-
JF: That potty won’t clean itself.
ZK: Well on that metaphorical and very pungently literal note,-
ZK: -I wanna thank you for joining us. Everyone should go read Jason’s book and we’ll provide links to it on the site. Build for tomorrow, but change is inevitable.
JF: Well, thanks, guys. Thanks for the great work you do. I love the newsletter. I love being a part of the network and you know, well, we can pick this conversation back up. Next time we talk, I’ll update you on how the potty went.
ZK: Absolutely. Thank you so much. Good luck.
JF: [laughs[ Thanks, guys.
ZK: So, Emma, again, I love Jason’s energy and he’s like exhibit A of how you start and the sensibility you start with. I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, but it feels like a record that needs to be played endlessly-
ZK: -because it isn’t as out there as it should be. Like, we need to be on some Spotify playlist.
EV: I can say something new. The other thing that I love about Jason is that he combines business with life hacks with history with like psychology with this and with that, and it’s just kind of like, it’s hard to put him in a box and it’s great. Like he can talk to you about 10 different topics. And I think that’s also rare these days. Like people have their lane and they stay in their lane and they’re an expert on that thing, and Jason’s like, no, I’m gonna d– I don’t know how he does it to be honest. I mean, his day must be packed.
ZK: Yeah. And that’s also an interesting point of maybe the degree to which we’re all so siloed professionally and in terms of microexpertise, maybe that doesn’t get enough attention as one of the other barriers to communication. Like nobody’s a generalist.
ZK: And there’s so much specific knowledge and specific skill sets in so many different walks of life that it becomes harder for people to talk to each other professionally. We know that it’s harder for people to talk to each other personally in like a hyperpolarized climate. But yeah, the degree to which cutting across multiple fields, having and wearing multiple hats, I certainly have embraced that can be something that allows you to be more connected, right? Because you’re not as segmented in this very specific area, and you don’t have a lane that’s so clear. Of course, it’s easier to have accidents when you don’t stay in your lane, so-
ZK: -that’s the flip side to that particular issue. Shall we turn to the news of the week?
EV: Let’s do it. So I have one that I really think is a big one that I really don’t think almost anyone knows, even people surrounding this particular country. And before I say the news, I’ll say that I think that you can see in many countries worldwide, these small steps for women’s rights and LGBTQ rights, they are in fits and spurts and they don’t often make the news, but there is a lot of progress going on. And the news that we wanna talk about in particular today is Slovenia.
EV: Slovenia. When’s the last time that we talked about Slovenia?
ZK: That would be never.
EV: Yeah. So Slovenia, post-communist/socialist bloc, the first country from that block to legalize same-sex marriage and with the same piece of legislation, they’ve also legalized same-sex couples to adopt children. They just did that last week, which is pretty cool.
ZK: And if I am not incorrect, notice the double negative there, you did a TikTok for The Progress Network that went Slovenian viral based on the good news coming out of Slovenia.
EV: Yes. It went post-communist bloc viral. And it was one of those things where it was very heartening, it was very exciting to see other people being excited for Slovenia. And then the comments were also full of people from Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, saying like, can we be next? Can we be next? So, you know, the other countries in the area, Estonia has agreed to recognize same-sex unions created in other countries from 2016, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegro, they all have same-sex civil partnerships. But other than that, like I said, fits and starts.
ZK: That’s a funny one about Estonia, right? We’re not gonna actually make it legal, but we we’ll make it legal for other people to do it somewhere else, and then we won’t fight it as long as you did it after 2016.
EV: Yeah. And there’s also a really funny little loophole going on right now with China, and I think it’s Utah, because Utah has the law that recognizes same-sex marriages. They will recognize them also if they’re done out of country. So what Chinese gay couples are doing are zooming into Utah, getting married in Utah, because Utah will recognize the union. Of course, it’s not sort of valid in China, but it’s just to do it. [laughs]. So.
ZK: Who says globalism is dead?
EV: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. The power of Zoom is still with us post-pandemic.
ZK: All right, so all hail Slovenia.
EV: All hail Slovenia.
ZK: And maybe Utah Zoom marriages, but that may have other purposes. What else should we be taking a look at other than your sudden and astonishing TikTok fame?
EV: [laughs] Pretending to be the Slovenian high court nonetheless.
EV: So I also wanna talk about NASA today. You know, we had mentioned in last season, I think it was an interview we did with Gregg Easterbrook, that NASA is up to this very daring and potentially life-saving thing where there is a possibility, we don’t know how large or how small, but there is a possibility that an asteroid might one day come back to earth and kill us all, or maybe just demolish a city, you know, dinosaur-style. And NASA has actually gone through the steps of figuring out how to knock a spacecraft into an asteroid to knock that asteroid out of its orbit/ out of its, you know, course towards earth, if that ever were to happen. And they actually just hit an asteroid with a spacecraft for the first time recently.
Audio Clip: NASA can already celebrate its success of the DART mission, literally like the premise of a sci-fi movie. They used a small spacecraft to hit an asteroid and throw it off course.
The goal is to prevent scenes like this, an asteroid colliding with earth, creating a devastating impact like the kind that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Our job was to model how that impact would happen, model what the crater would look like.
ZK: Yeah, no, I saw that and it reminded me a little of the movie almost 20 years ago, Armageddon, which was a different kind of Armageddon as opposed to the one that we’re trying to combat. This was about the asteroid that was gonna hit the Earth that is saved by Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck and a whole series of, you know, Mötley Crüe people. And I too noticed the asteroid deflection NASA thing. I mean, NASA has not gotten a lot of great accolades, mostly because of their bureaucracy and their kind of sclerotic use of lots of funds for little output. Although the telescope, the recent telescope, is absolutely extraordinary. And it is a reminder that there are things that government can do well. I mean, I think we talked to Che Bolden too about Interastra and sort of the new emerging space economy that clearly NASA has been not a leader in the past 10 years relative to SpaceX and other more private institutions. But it remains a bundle of potential and this was a good sign that, as you say, they can actually do things that are both creative and important.
EV: Yeah, and it’s cool that one day we may not have Bruce Willis, but we may have NASA with the asteroid coming to Earth.
EV: [laughs] How’s that?
ZK: Deep thoughts.
ZK: Also, Deep Impact. Speaking of deep thoughts where the asteroid, you know, kind of hit–
EV: Is this another movie?
ZK: It’s another movie.
ZK: Yeah. Another, with Morgan Freeman playing the president and Téa Leoni, you know. Anyway,-
EV: [laughs] Anyway.
ZK: -you can all go look up asteroid disaster movies for 500, Alex.
EV: [laughs] Well, I have one more thing about NASA so we can add this onto the Jeopardy board. Obviously, right now, one of our huge sources of emission’s our airplanes and all of this airplane travel, and one of the things that’s actually preventing us from emissionless airplanes is batteries, another thing that like, doesn’t sound so fun and exciting, but it’s actually fun and exciting because NASA has developed a new kind of battery called solid-state batteries and they’re lighter, they’re safer, there’s no liquids in them. So it’s not like a lithium battery.
ZK: Hence the word solid-state.
EV: Solid-state, exactly. But that means in a plane, because it’s lighter, you can put it into an aircraft or like really large vehicles, it’s not gonna overheat or catch fire. And it means that like in the future, we could actually be on a plane that not only is good for the planet, but is completely silent.
ZK: That is true. We are a ways away from the either commercialization or even the massification of the deployment of these. But it is a reminder that there is a whole bevy, a whole plethora of technologies that are in sort of far more than experimental stage and far less than commercial deployment stage that we just don’t, you know, hear about as much because they have not shown up in Teslas and they haven’t shown up yet. But there are certainly a lot of people who would argue quite passionately that we are only a heartbeat away from a battery revolution that will really change the equation, not just of cars, but of planes and helicopters and sort of everything.
EV: Yeah, and it’s a good reminder too that NASA is not just dealing with like random space rocks, right? Like there is-
EV: -a lot of real world applications like we’ve talked about with Che as well. So that’s it for space.
ZK: We’re done with space. We’ve done space.
EV: [laughs]. We’ve talked about it twice and we’re done. But I have one more, and I’m curious if any of our American listeners have seen this change in pharmacies yet because it’s supposed to be sort of starting on the ground now, that hearing aids can be bought over the counter.
ZK: I’m sorry, what?
EV: [laughs] I fell for that for a half second before I caught that joke. That was good. That was really good. [laughs]
Audio Clip: For the first time, hearing aids are available over the counter at major pharmacy chains and other retailers without the need to see a doctor first. We get more from CBS’s, Roxana Saberi.
Buying a hearing aid over the counter could turn the sound back up for some people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
It’s meant to be very user-friendly. Consumers can get the device, set it themselves, and go on from there.
EV: So I don’t know how many people know this. I guess if you’re listening to this podcast, you probably don’t know this or you’ve already gone through the hearing aid process. Anyway, you need a prescription to get a hearing aid and hearing aids are quite expensive. And obviously, anyone who’s American knows that if you can avoid getting caught in the insurance tornado, it’s better not to. And this legislation was actually introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren, I think it was 2016 or 2017, and it’s taken up till now [laughs] to be put through and realized on the ground in pharmacies. But for me, this is like a rare American insurance win that something has gotten, you know, taken out of the claws of American insurance companies.
ZK: Yeah. I mean, there’s a whole set of regulatory capture issues, right, that began with good intentions, protecting the consumer. You still can’t buy contact lenses through Warby Parker without a prescription from a licensed either doctor or ophthalmologist and/or optometrist.
EV: That’s a very specific experience, it sounds like. [Laughs]
ZK: [laughs] But no, but it’s like, you know, it’s like the hearing aid one of you can’t buy certain things that I’m sure there was a perfectly reasonable reason why you needed a gated experience or you needed to have someone sign off. I mean, eyewear maybe because you shouldn’t be undercorrected when you’re driving. But once these things are much more ubiquitously available, cheaper, and it’s hard to imagine like what harm a hearing aid would do if you feel you can’t hear. So hopefully, things will move much more in that direction rather than in a restrictive, we’re gonna make sure that you have to go through 14 different hoops in order to get something that you could walk in to a pharmacy and buy.
EV: Right? Yeah. And I didn’t mention cheaper, but cheaper. They are definitely supposed to be from, you know, $4,000 or $5,000 for like a really nice one to a few hundred. So yeah.
ZK: That would be cheaper.
EV: That would be cheaper. And I should say too that it’s possible to go overboard on this, You know, I live in Greece, as people who listen to the podcast will know, and up until very recently, you did not need a prescription to get antibiotics, which meant that antibiotics were being, you know, passed around like candy and lots of people with viral infections taking antibiotics, which is bad for all sorts of reasons, so.
ZK: The argument is it’s the Goldilocks situation, right? You don’t want no regulation and you don’t want intense thickets of regulation. You want the right amount of regulation that is suited to the issue and the moment and finding that happy median is not easy and no one gets it right. But maybe there’s a self-corrective mechanism going on to help us get it right-er. That’ll be our next season, What Could Go Right-er?
EV: [laughs] Sounds great. I mean, at least you know, with hearing aids that you’re not gonna create some kind of like antibiotic resistant something that’s gonna take over humanity. So there’s that.
ZK: So that’s our news of the week. And, again, these are things that people I’m sure were aware of in little nuggets. I think one of my teenage sons mentioned the asteroid deflecting NASA thing because it was cool. But they’re not the kinds of things that get headline attention. You know, there’s no such thing as good news. Yes, occasionally, there’s a medical breakthrough, a scientific breakthrough that gets accolades and notice when it’s extraordinary and unusual, and the recent– you know, the telescope and the pictures that the space telescope provided were– I think a lot of people saw those and were astonished and really transported. You know, it was a really nice moment of almost like all of us taking a deep breath, looking up, either metaphorical or literally, and seeing the wonders of what we do not know out there. But those moments are rare and they should be less rare.
EV: Absolutely. Amen. Hosanna. All of those things.
ZK: Thank you again, Emma.
EV: Thanks, Zachary. What Could Go Right? is produced by Andrew Steven. Our editor is Jordan Aaron. Executive produced by Jeff Umbro and The Podglomerate. To find out more about What Could Go Right?, The Progress Network, or to sign up for the What Could Go Right? newsletter, visit theprogressnetwork.org.
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