The design world has long been preoccupied with dreaming up ever sleeker cars, laptops, smartphones, and even kitchen gadgets. But Patrice Martin and Jocelyn Wyatt are at the forefront of a hip new field fashioning decidedly less glamorous -- if all the more consequential -- systems and devices aimed not at the world's yuppies but at those left out of the design revolution.
Martin is creative director and Wyatt executive director of IDEO.org, a spinoff of the design firm IDEO that brings engineering and marketing innovations to poor communities throughout the world. The idea: Put Silicon Valley's brains and money toward tackling development challenges from sanitation to agriculture, financial services to gender equality. In Kenya, where only 61 percent of the population has access to clean water, IDEO.org came up with a subscription home-delivery system -- designing everything from the shape and look of the water containers to a stylish logo to help market the service, now being piloted in Nairobi. "The solutions that we come up with, we really try to make tangible," Wyatt explained. Part of the goal, she says, is "storytelling" -- offering simple, visual explanations of their new designs, whether it's an in-home toilet system in Ghana or kitchen accessories to make Tanzanians' cookstoves easier to use.
a development expert, is the business brains behind IDEO.org,
and Martin is the artist. Together, they're turning Silicon Valley's eye for
elegance toward the needs of the poor. The wealthy have Apple
iPads to handle their information overload and Herman Miller
ergonomic chairs for their aching backs. Why not apply design thinking -- which
Wyatt calls "inherently optimistic, constructive, and experiential" -- to the
world's messier problems too?
MARTIN Reading list: Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman; What Is the What, by Dave Eggers; Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. Best idea: Coca-Cola and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria partnering to leverage Coca-Cola's distribution systems for medicine delivery in Tanzania. Worst idea: The offensive YouTube video, Innocence of Muslims. American decline or American renewal? Renewal. More Europe or less? More Europe. To tweet or not to tweet? Tweet.
WYATT Reading list: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo; The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, by Eric Ries; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. Best idea: Slavery Footprint's Made in a Free World platform for businesses to eradicate forced labor in their supply chains. Worst idea: Mitt Romney's Big Bird comments and suggestion to cut PBS funding. American decline or American renewal? American renewal. More Europe or less? More. To tweet or not to tweet? Tweet.
Brutal dictators, sectarian divisions, political repression. These are among the messy and unpredictable causes oft cited for modern-day conflicts. Robert D. Kaplan reminds us that other, more elemental factors are still often at play: mountains, rivers, even soil types. As he writes in his ambitious new book, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, topography and borders (or lack thereof) are inseparable from geopolitics -- from the "utterly porous" frontier fatefully linking troubled Afghanistan and Pakistan to the vast natural resources spanning China and Russia, whose proximity "commands a perennially tense relationship."
In 1993, Kaplan, then a globe-trotting Atlantic correspondent, skyrocketed to fame when President Bill Clinton reportedly read his gloomy third book, Balkan Ghosts. (Presidential aides said it helped convince Clinton against initially intervening in the Balkans.) Flash forward 17 years and 11 more books. Kaplan predicted in his 2010 book, Monsoon, that the Indian Ocean would "demographically and strategically be a hub of the twenty-first-century world," a view that caught the attention of Barack Obama's administration as it weighed a strategic "pivot" to Asia and one that looks more and more ahead of the curve as global power continues to shift from northern landmasses to southern seas.
Now, in The Revenge of Geography, Kaplan synthesizes his canon of geographic writings to show how landscapes and climates still shape our world. He links America's failures in the Iraq war (which he initially backed) to a misunderstanding of Iraq's desert landscape and "terrain-specific" militias, and he argues it's no coincidence that last year's Arab democracy protests began in one of the North African countries closest to Europe. Most controversial (at least among the "liberal humanists," whom, Kaplan warns, he will make "profoundly uneasy") is his revival of early 20th-century geographers like Halford Mackinder, whose theory that control of Central Asia "is the pivot on which the fate of great world empires rests" was infamously adopted and distorted by the Nazis to justify their idea of Lebensraum. Kaplan's book is not only the definitive account of geography in modern history, but the most convincing argument in recent memory for its centrality in foreign policy today.
Reading list: The Second Nuclear Age, by Paul Bracken; God's Playground: A History of Poland, by Norman Davies; The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker. Best idea: We need to return to the bipartisan realism of the likes of the elder Bush administration. Worst idea: Obama is a foreign-policy disaster. American decline or American renewal? Both. More Europe or less? Both, as the EU will compete with Russia and Turkey for influence in Central Europe and the Balkans. To tweet or not to tweet? If we could all only stop.