I've been writing profiles about cool people doing good work for a while now, and one of my standard requests is to ask the interviewee to come up with a question of own to answer. It's been great to see the wide range of Q&As people have put together. Here are 16 questions asked (and answered by) 16 visionary thinkers. (And if you want to learn more about this fascinating group, click on their names to read the full profile.)
I’m a natural born planner and so, of course, the question I ask myself must be set in the future. Even though, as far as I can tell, life rarely works out the way one plans it, I think a lot about where I want to end up and what exactly I’d like to be doing.
Hopefully in 10 years, at 37, I’ll have a wife and children — I’d like around three — and a thriving socially conscious business with employees who genuinely enjoy the culture we’ve created and the work we’re doing.
I’d like to live in Asheville, North Carolina, or another small progressive city, hopefully in the South; that’s where I’m from and where most of my family lives.
If all goes well, I will have found a way to balance life and work and have enough money to not have to worry too much about having enough money. I will be doing something I love with people I love in a city I love — all the while making some sort of grand contribution to society. I will look back at 27 and laugh at my inexperience and naivety and then promise to do the same at 47 about my life at 37. I will be happy, healthy, and will wake up each day excited for what’s ahead and grateful for what I’ve been given.
Yes, that would be nice. Fingers crossed it all works out.
From Toby Jacobs and Scott Duncan: Can the largest conservation goals be achieved through appeals to logic and changing peoples' minds?
Great question! This is definitely the attitude of lots of funders and organizations focusing on education and capacity-building, but I have my doubts. We can see in everything from smoking to carbon footprints that knowing something's harmful sometimes isn't a deterrent. I think our current lives are so disconnected with the natural world, that there's an overarching normalcy bias, and the vast majority of people won't change until it's too late. I look to a serious societal downshift, brought on by erratic climate, peak oil, and normalizing of the economy to put us back on a sustainable track.
From Leon Godwin: Ohh, this one should be easy, but it’s hard. I mean, do I go informational and instructive, like “What’s you favorite recipe or gardening technique,” or should I go for funny and contextual, like “what is your favorite color,” followed by “What is the capital of Assyria?” and “what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” Or maybe I just go with the simple and classic, like, “What is your favorite "Stars Wars" movie?” I think I’ll go with that one.
"The Two Towers." That’s the one with the robot right?
From Nick Callanan: What's for supper?
If your answer includes only local foods purchased directly from, or at most three degrees removed from, the grower, you are on the leading edge of the revolution.
From Peter Troast: What's the best way for renters to get in on the efficiency game?
Obviously, the big question is who pays the energy bills. When it’s the landlord, he or she has just as much incentive, and maybe they just need the nudge. When it’s the tenant, pressuring the landlord to fix his building so it’s less of an energy hog is the only solution. The best way would be, if possible, to talk to your landlord about a comprehensive energy audit, and it’s shocking how many property owners don’t know about this. If pressuring your landlord doesn’t produce results immediately, tackling the small things can still have an impact. Lighten your plugload with power strips, change out light bulbs, turn down your water heater if you have access, insulate your water heater if you have access, switch out faucets and showerheads for low flow models. These are the things that may seem trivial when looked at individually, but collectively can have a pretty substantial impact.
From Quayle Hodek: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs considering entering the cleantech arena?
My advice is typically a mix of encouragement and realism. So my first thought is, go for it! Just don’t do it blindly. Starting, growing, and leading an organization of people can be very rewarding, enjoyable, and yes, earth-changing.
The more specific advice I like to share is the practical stuff you’d learn eventually through an MBA program or just along the way.
1) Follow your passion. Your idea will never make it unless you’ve got unshakable belief and a strong purpose behind the product or service you want to provide.
2) Write a solid and comprehensive business plan. Flying by the seat of your pants is absolutely necessary as an entrepreneur, but any excuse to skip creating an extensive and formal business plan is just amateur, not visionary.
3) Your team is everything. The most talented individual contributions are only meaningful when part of a cohesive team. And the best plans are similarly useless without an inspired group to execute them.
4) Check your determination. In my experience, entrepreneurs whose ideas have been successful all have a tireless work ethic and commitment to their cause. Typically this means 60-80+ hours a week in the early years of your venture. And you often must get through 10 “no’s” for every one “yes” when pitching your concept to investors or your product/service to potential customers. That’s just the deal. Be ready for it.
Social, environmental, or other “impact” entrepreneurship allows the chance for your life’s work to be aligned with your personal mission and values. How cool is that?
From Gary Hirshberg: I just watched your rap video and it makes me want to do something to protect myself and my family. What can I do?
So glad you asked. There are two really important things you can do. One — spread the word. Add your own shoutout to the rap at www.justeatorganic.com, and send it to your friends.
Two — the answer is in the lyrics. When you shop, you vote. It’s the most powerful thing we do, and when we choose organics when we shop, we are sending a message to the stores, producers and farmers. Increase the demand for organic food and the food industry will respond. Let the industry know that you want healthier food and that you know it is possible. We need to take matters into our own hands as consumers and shine a light on the food system problem — and on the solution.
From Lindsay Clarke: I get asked this all the time, so it’s likely you’re wondering this, too: Where is Cameroon, and what’s it like there?
Cameroon is located in west Central Africa, with Nigeria to its west, Chad and the Central African Republic to its east, and the Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea to its south. It’s often referred to as “Miniature Africa” due to its diversity of environments and cultures. Its varied landscape stretches from the lush shores of the Gulf of Guinea to the arid plains of the northern Sahel and is home to hundreds of ethnic groups, including the Bamileke, Fulani and Baka. Cameroon’s official languages of French and English are spoken in addition to about 250 indigenous languages and both Christianity and Islam are practiced alongside the many indigenous belief systems.
Because it’s so diverse, it’s hard to generalize about Cameroon. I will say this, though: it’s got great food and music, warm and welcoming people, and a pretty good football (soccer) team, too. The Cameroonian population is just under 20 million, and the life expectancy is about 54. An astounding 40.5 percent of the population is under the age of 15 (so let’s build some schools, eh?). Only 33 percent of girls and 41 percent of boys make it as far as high school. Most families grow at least a portion of food they consume, including corn, beans, and tubers like cassava (manioc) and yams, as well as fruits like papayas, pineapples, and plantains. Cameroon produces a lot of agricultural commodities for export, too, including bananas, rubber, cocoa, and coffee. It’s main export commodities include oil and lumber.
For more information on Cameroon, I recommend checking out the CIA World Factbook and UNICEF’s profiles on the country.
From Seth Goldman: How come you didn't became a professional rapper back in 1987?
My roommates and I (Juice Master Zeus, DJ Cold Cut and Dr. Spud) had a lot of fun making music and performing on campus, but we didn't have any meaningful message to get out back then. Over the 13 years that I've built Honest Tea, I've gotten more engaged in environmental and health causes, and I've also gained more confidence in my role as someone who needs to speak out (or rap out) when I see something that needs to be addressed. Making "Rethink what you Drink" was some of the most fun we've had since we started the company.
From John Rooks: What does real sustainability look like?
Great question! I think most of what passes for sustainability is bolt-on. Real sustainability integrates corporate goals and sustainability goals and aligns them. Most CSR programs are noble distractions — good things to do, but end up distracting companies from their potential.
My latest project, Authenticating Real, tries to answer the question by measuring the Authenticity Gap of corporations.
That was totally self-promotional and contrived. And authentic. I’m ashamed.
From Jereme Monteau: What do you do for fun?
I've been incredibly fortunate in my career but I'm also really stoked about the adventures I've had in my spare time. Maintaining a balance between work and fun is really important to me. Whatever I do, I like to do full on! I've always really enjoyed anything that gets me outside and into the woods, mountains or oceans. Trail Running, surfing, snowboarding, skiing, hiking, climbing — you name it and I've probably tried it, even mountain biking (yeah it's been a while). I'm lucky enough to live close to the amazing East Bay Regional Park (ebparks.org) system. There are endless miles of amazing trails to run nearly out my back door. I spent five years or so climbing as much as possible. (Good thing because I ended up meeting my amazing wife, Ariel, at the climbing gym.) After my second big run at a startup, I took most of 2006 and 2007 off to surf and run. My soon-to-be wife Ariel and I drove from Berkeley to southern Costa Rica (11,000 miles round trip) over three months. We were married in July 2008, and I convinced her it would be a good idea for me to hike 160 miles on the John Muir Trail with my friends Ryan and Lech. The summer after that Ryan and I launched Transit & Trails!
These days my lovely wife and I are filling every spare moment thinking about and preparing for the arrival of our baby boy in June!
From Bentley Christie: What are some of the misconceptions people have about vermicomposting?
I think a lot of people can’t help but associate organic “wastes” with dirty, smelly, unsanitary conditions (sadly, I don’t think city “green bin” programs really help with this — but don’t get me started). Factor in the “ick” factor linked to worms and bugs, and it’s no wonder a lot of people don’t like the idea of setting up an indoor worm bin.
The reality of the situation, however, is that a properly set up worm composting system is odor-free and presents absolutely no health risk for the average person (those who are hyper-sensitive to fungal spores may want to keep there bins outside though) — nor is it going to become a roach motel and/or unleash countless pests into your home.
As for the vermiphobia — what’s amazing (and always fun to witness), is that a lot of people who are brave enough to give vermicomposting a shot end up changing their tune pretty quickly once they see the process in action, and of course once they see the results! These worms are pretty remarkable little creatures, and it’s not very difficult to warm up to them.
From Troy Dayton: Tell me about your latest project.
The ArcView Group is facilitating the emergence of the legal cannabis industry by connecting forward-thinking investors and visionary entrepreneurs in an effort to meet the expanding and changing needs of responsible cultivators, dispensaries, and customers nationwide. With deep industry experience, The ArcView Group is poised to usher in the next generation of cannabis-related businesses with the creation of The ArcView Angel Network.
The ArcView Angel Network will be hosting the Cannabis Investment Forum Series (CIF), a series of events exclusively for the top ancillary cannabis business entrepreneurs and qualified investors in order to facilitate seed and early stage investment in federally legal enterprises within the medical cannabis industry.
If you are an accredited investor open to angel investing in this sector or an entrepreneur with a business or a business plan that does not violate federal law, I'd like to hear from you.
From Josh Dorfman: If you could offer just one piece of career advice to others who want to make a difference in the world, what would it be?
Always, always trust your gut above the opinions of others and do what you’re most passion about. More people along the way will try to dissuade you than encourage you. Don’t let their fear and failures become yours. Follow your path.
From Jeffrey Davis: What's the most important thing about life to me?
The most important thing about this whisper of time that I call life is to never quit living it. I never want to wake up one day and just find myself existing. I want to always be learning and growing and changing and loving. I want to feel changed for the better (yes, that is a line from a song in the Broadway show, "Wicked"), from every encounter with another human being and I hope that they feel the same from me.
I don't think anyone has all of the answers...least of all myself. I think if we can all work together and learn to love, appreciate, and accept each other that the world would be a much more awesome place.
I wonder why that seemingly simple reality is so difficult for us.
From Michael d'Estries: What's your favorite way to eat an avocado?
I'm so glad you asked. People really don't appreciate the tasty joy that is a fresh avocado. Here's my preferred method:
1. Slice avocado in half, remove giant pit with spoon. 2. Place both avocado halves flesh side up so that the space left by the pit acts as a small bowl. 3. Take some extra virgin olive oil and liberally sprinkle over the avocado. 4. Take some balsamic vinegar and do the same. 5. Garnish with sale and pepper. 7. Serve in a bowl and enjoy using a spoon to carve out the avocado.