March 11, 2015

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” – Victor Hugo

One of the great things about being human is being able to have ideas. We hear about certain animals coming up with ideas for improving their lives, such as the Japanese macaques who wash their sweet potatoes in the sea to make them deliciously salty. But we humans are unique in that for millennia we have had idea after idea not just about about how to make food grow faster, taste more delicious, cook differently and look more attractive. As a species we are constantly inventing, innovating and forging new pathways in the realms of science, art, music, language, literature, architecture and technology. The growth of our civilization depends on our ideas – the number 0, democracy, Darwin’s natural selection, the paintbrush, the symphony, tea, Hawking’s expanding universe, post-it notes, the internet and Nutella. Of course, not all of our ideas are great – humans also invented religious extremism, nuclear bombs and deep-fried Mars Bars.

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A few months back, I picked up a copy of Oxford historian’s Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s book Ideas that Changed the World, which includes such wide-ranging human ideas as cannibalism, the Zen concept of mu (nothingness) and jihad. It’s a book that I have kept in the living room thinking I’ll pick it up and read through it one idea at a time. But I rarely sit down and relax so I decided to pass the book along and stashed it in my “emergency give-away bag” in my car. Today, I revisited Isidore Recycling, the e-waste recycling company I wrote about on January 17, to purchase refurbished laptop (www.isidorerecycling.com). Kabira Stokes, the founder, was there so I stopped to say hello. As soon as I saw her, I realized that she might enjoy the ideas book. She built her company on the idea that both people and objects should have second chances, so hires the formerly incarcerated to repair and recycle electronic waste. I realized that of all the people I have met recently, she has had an idea that could change our world. In less than five years, her company is starting to have a substantial impact on Los Angeles, recovering waste, creating jobs and inspiring others to rethink their corporate models. Since great ideas rarely stay still, hopefully her model for a socially conscious company will spread to other cities.

“Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward: they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.” – Goethe

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