June 14th, 2013
04:56 PM ET

The Right Stuff

Editor's Note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 15th, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 30-minute profile of Graham Hill. 

What is most important to you? House? Car? Clothes? Formal china? Probably not. These things might make your life more convenient. To some extent, they might enable you to do the things that Are actually important. But our stuff, when we think about it, isn’t that important.

What is important to most of us? Our friends, families, having meaningful work, amazing experiences. As I have heard it said, “The most important things in life aren’t things.”

Yet somehow, when many of us look at our lives, we see a disproportionate amount of time and energy directed toward stuff. We work extra hard so we can make the car payments. We max out our credit cards to keep up with fashion. We move into big homes so we have a place for the hutch that stores the formal china.

In the late nineties, I had the great fortune of selling my startup. What did I do with my newfound cash? Same thing any good American would: I got lots of stuff like a new car, furniture, gadgets and of course a big house.

This ability to consume was new to me. When I was growing up, everyone in my middle-class, six- child family had everything they needed but not much more. When you’re raised with just enough, you imagine having more than enough will make you that much happier.

But there I was living the American dream–driving a quick car, living in a big house, with the ability to buy more–and I was no happier. What was I missing?

I was missing the fact that no amount of stuff would ever make me happy. I actually found the more things I had, the more complicated life became. There were more things to buy and maintain, more things to keep track of, more things to lose.

A number of events in my life–most notably a serious romantic relationship–made me realize that people, amazing experiences and meaningful work are the real important parts of my life. The other stuff is just stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I love objects and architecture. I studied product design in college and have built homes as a carpenter before I got into startups. But my later life experiences made me reevaluate how and why our stuff and homes were designed. I started to wonder why we often ended up living to support our stuff and homes rather than the other way around?

It was with this question in mind that I started LifeEdited. I wanted to help start a movement where our products, homes and the way we live are aligned with what’s important to us.

On a practical level, this meant doing more with less. The average American takes up three times more living space than sixty years ago. Yet we still don’t have enough room for our stuff, evidenced by a $22 billion dollar personal storage industry. Worse still, we have become a nation of debtors paying for our big homes and stuff. Clearly, our lives could use a good edit.

LifeEdited is starting with homes. We help conceive homes around what is important in people’s lives. We are specialty consultants to architects, currently working in cities such as New York City and Las Vegas. Often, the result is a space that is much smaller than the typical American home. My own 420-square-foot Manhattan apartment sleeps up to four, seats twelve for dinner, has a home office and much more. The smaller footprint is cheaper to buy, easier to clean, greener and, even though there’s a generous 426 cubic feet of storage, doesn’t permit me to collect a lot of unnecessary stuff.

Because I have fewer things, the stuff I do have is quality stuff I love and appreciate.

LifeEdited is about freedom, not restriction. We think the less-but-better approach leads to more money in the bank, more time for friends and recreation and less to think about. It’s about including everything that’s important and “editing” out the rest.

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Filed under: Architecture • Culture • Design • Innovation • The Next List • Thinkers
May 31st, 2013
11:28 AM ET

Five things I learned in the ICU that helped me start a business

Editor's Note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 1, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 15-minute profile of innovator Francesco Clark.

By Francesco Clark, Special to CNN

1. Show up.

They say “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” When I was laying in a hospital bed hooked up to a ventilator and dozens of tubes, the most impactful moment was when I saw so many of my friends and family there, sitting just a few feet away. I couldn’t speak. My left vocal cord was paralyzed. My left lung had collapsed. I had inhaled too much water and shattered two vertebrae in a diving accident that became the pivotal instant that changed my life.

What did I have to rely on for those first terrifying hours after? When I felt alone, when the doctors told me I probably wouldn’t survive the night, I still felt at my core that somehow I’d survive. But how can you know for sure when everyone around you doesn’t?

Those are the moments when a well-intentioned note doesn’t matter, but being there does. What got me through was that I felt at ease and immediately comforted knowing my parents, brother, sister and so many friends were there supporting me. It was a testament to how meaningful the unspoken word can be.

The emails were touching but I don’t remember them. What I remember is everyone who was there in person.

2. Live with passion.

In the helicopter on the way to SUNY Stony Brook’s emergency room I finally closed my eyes. The door was open and I could feel the warm wind wafting onto my face but the thought of seeing the ground disappear below me was too much to bear. I was strapped into a gurney, my spine filling with an increasing amount of pressure that felt like it would explode.

For the first time, I didn’t have to reassure anyone I was alive or direct someone to call 911. Those ten minutes of introspection made me realize, “I might not make it through tonight.” None of it made sense. The weather was too serene for something so catastrophic to happen. It was a beautiful summer night with the moon and stars floating in a sky I wasn’t sure I’d see again.

I wanted to live, desperately. My first instinct, in a surge of energy, was to fight to fix what just happened. As it turned out, every part of being in the ICU was a challenge. Relearning how to breathe became the first and most important task of living. With my lungs unable to clear themselves by coughing, my blood oxygen levels were too low to sustain my body. I had to make it better or I’d need to be on a ventilator.

The nurses gave me a clear cup with a tube attached to it. The goal was to blow into the tube and make a little red ball float intermittently for thirty minutes. It was the most boring thing I was supposed to do but it was the most important. I needed to figure out a way to get strong enough to breathe. I found a way that was just as effective but all my own.

My sister and a childhood friend, Alex, stopped by my room the next day. They unpacked a disc player and placed it on the table facing my bed. Alex had an ABBA CD with him that he put in the player and said “sing.” For nine days, I didn’t care if I made a fool of myself: I sang so horribly and my lung capacity rose to a normal range. I could breathe on my own, without a machine, and it felt like a triumph.

3. Make a connection

There was a night nurse, Cynthia, whom I began having long conversations with. I’d wake up gasping for air from a recurring nightmare I couldn’t escape. It would play over and over in my head and I’d panic. Imagine dreaming that you suddenly can’t feel your legs or arms, only to wake up and realize that this horrible nightmare is actually reality.

But through conversations with Cynthia I began to feel human again because we’d talk about anything but my injury. That connection to another human being, the feeling of mutual respect, gave me the peace of mind I needed in order to go back to sleep and hold on to hope.

4. Commit to what’s important.

Like most twenty-four year olds, when I was confronted with a big change, there was a two-part reaction. The first was, “how do I deal with this?” and the second was, “what are my other options?” My injury forced me deal with the former on a level I never thought I could.

Many times I’d question whether my nerves would grow. The scientific community didn’t think they would. But it didn’t and doesn’t make sense to me why I can’t get better. I don’t have a disease, and new research is breaking the old boundaries.

I committed to my recovery. By focusing on that goal it became easier to email the leading spinal cord injury researchers and doctors around the world. I moved past the fear of asking a dumb question and learned to be direct and honest. It was easier than I expected and opened a world of possibilities where once there was none.

When I started Clark’s Botanicals, I had no idea what it would mean to run a skincare company. I was only sure of the formulation my father and I had made, and believed in our organic collaboration. The rest of it felt like a world of unknown. At first I thought I had to understand every part of it immediately. Eventually I realized that if I just stayed committed, I’d learn and grow as we expanded. And, like my nerves, why wouldn’t it grow if I were truly committed to it?

5. Realize there is no box.

Everyone has a different story. My good friend, Brooke Ellison, sustained a high-level cervical spinal cord injury when she was a young girl. It disconnected her body from her thoughts and made her dependent on a ventilator.

I often wonder if her brain ever just chills out. I suppose it might not have time to. She emails me while grading her students’ term papers, the ones who are hoping for a passing grade from their college professor. Those pupils probably don’t know she’s one of the first quadriplegics to graduate from Harvard and then become a leading Ph.D. in bioethics.

She’s not the kind of person to mention that because her focus is on something so much more beyond herself—engaging others and explaining the most complex topics in her brilliantly simplified way.

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Filed under: Culture • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers
May 28th, 2013
04:29 PM ET

How Francesco Clark made beauty from tragedy

Editor's Note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 1, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 15-minute profile of Francesco Clark.

Madonna and Michelle Obama are self-proclaimed fans. Jane Larkworthy at W Magazine calls it simply “divine.” And Harper’s Bazaar’s Alexandra Parnass says it’s the most innovative skin-care line she’s ever seen.

It's Clark’s Botanicals, which has quickly developed a cult following, particularly among the fashion elite, since its launch in 2005. The secret, according to founder Francesco Clark, is Jasmine Absolute, a blend of essential oils found in all his products. But for some, Clark's unique entry into the world of beauty is at least part of the draw.

This Saturday, June 1, marks the 11th anniversary of the accident that would forever change Clark’s life. He was just 24, enjoying the first night of a summer rental on Long Island, when he decided to take a late-night dip.

“The second I dove in,” he says, “I realized I dove into the shallow end of the pool.”

Francesco was paralyzed from the shoulders down. “You’ll never move your arms,” doctors told him. “Don’t even think about your legs. Don’t even bother.”

Clark never accepted his diagnosis. Not truly. But it wasn’t until his hero, actor-turned-disabled activist Christopher Reeve, passed away that he decided to take full responsibility for his recovery. And for the first time since his accident, Clark looked in a mirror. “I didn’t look like myself.”

One of the side effects of his spinal-cord injury was he could no longer sweat. “I had acne everywhere, but it was unreactive to any $500 cream, $3 cream, prescriptions, over-the-counter," he said. "Nothing worked.”

Eager to reclaim the friends and colleagues he’d neglected since his injury, he turned to his father, a doctor trained in both homeopathy and Western medicine.

After setting up a lab in the kitchen, Clark and his father investigated 78 botanical ingredients before landing on Jasmine Absolute, the unique blend of essential oils that solved Francesco’s skin problems. Today it’s used throughout the Clark’s Botanicals skincare line, sold in stores from New York to Hong Kong.

But far more important than the line’s success is the role it’s played in Clark’s recovery.

"It was the first time I saw the power of the beauty industry," he said. "A lot of people think it's just about the way you look. For me, it's about the way I felt."

Bolstered by the renewed sense of purpose his company has given him - and his aggressive pursuit of spinal-cord injury treatments - Clark has defied his doctors’ diagnosis. He now has partial use of his arms, wrists and hands. And as his company continues to grow, so do his dreams.

“You know, I’m very impatient and I want to do more," he said. "I want to be more independent, using my hands. And I plan to walk again in the next three to five years.”

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Is this (finally) our flying car?
May 9th, 2013
03:52 PM ET

Is this (finally) our flying car?

By Doug Gross, CNN

It's one of science fiction's greatest unfulfilled promises, right up there with teleportation and time travel.

And, no, Terrafugia hasn't built us a Tardis or promised to beam us up. But they say they're closer than ever to giving us a flying car.

This week, the Woburn, Massachussetts-based aerospace company announced it has begun feasibility studies on a car capable of vertical takeoffs and landings. The TF-X would be a four-seat, plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, according to the company.

“We are passionate about continuing to lead the creation of a flying car industry and are dedicating resources to lay the foundations for our vision of personal transportation,” Terrafugia CEO Carl Dietrich said in a media release. “Terrafugia is about increasing the level of safety, simplicity, and convenience of aviation.  TF-X is an opportunity to provide the world with a new dimension of personal freedom!”

Yes, the long-awaited promise of "The Jetsons" may soon become reality.

Lest you think  the company is just getting our hopes up for some cheap publicity, know this - they've already created a flying car of sorts.

The Transition is a street-legal vehicle that's designed to fly in and out of airports. It was successfully flown for the first time in 2009. The second-generation version of the Transition performed a driving-and-flying demo last year.

The new TF-X project comes as work on the Transition shifts "from research and development to certification, production, and customer support activities," the company said.

Terrafugia says it has about 100 orders for the Transition, which goes for $279,000.

MORE: Robotic jellyfish could be undersea spy

The big difference between the Transition, which is scheduled to hit the market in 2015, and the new flying car is that the TF-X would be able to take off anywhere,  like a helicopter, and not just at an airport.

Its automation systems would make taking off and landing a self-driving process, though the driver would be able to take over manual control at any time.

Terrafugia (Latin for "escape from Earth") says it has had "preliminary conversations" with the Federal Aviation Administration about the TF-X and that the agency has "demonstrated their willingness to consider innovative technologies and regulatory solutions that are in the public interest and enhance the level of safety of personal aviation."

In other words, we might actually get to ride in one someday.

What do you think? Will we see widespread use of flying cars in our lifetimes? Let us know in the comments.

More: Rugged wheelchair offers off-road freedom for disabled

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Filed under: Culture • entrepreneurs • Future • Innovation • Tech
January 8th, 2013
11:18 AM ET

Greg Gage: Let's start a neuro-revolution

Editor's Note: Greg Gage is a globe-trekking neuroscientist, engineer, teacher and entrepreneur. He's the co-founder of Backyard Brains, a Michigan-based company that wants to revolutionize how science is taught by putting neuroscience in the hands of young people. Watch Greg Gage's full 30-minute profile this Sunday at 2 P.M. ET. on CNN’s “The Next List.” 

Why he matters: Gage has come up with an innovative way to inspire future generations in neuroscience. As the co-creator of Backyard Brains, Gage created the “SpikerBox,”a small DIY kit that helps young people understand the electrical impulses that control the nervous system. He brings cool hands-on experiments to schools so students can see and hear brain signals, or “spikes” from the living neurons of insects like cockroaches.

Gage is passionate about coming up with ways to change neuroscience education, because, he says “when it comes to the brain, we’re in the dark ages. One out five of us will be diagnosed with a brain disorder that still has no cures. By getting more people involved ... we can inspire those interested to become neuroscientists, and perhaps cure brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”

Why he cares: The inspiration for Gage's work as an educator came from a realization that the advanced equipment he used as a PhD student could be made at home for a fraction of the price, in less than a day.

"Our equipment that we were using cost $40,000," he said. "We set off on a self-imposed engineering challenge to see if we could replicate our expensive lab equipment with something affordable by consumers.”

Gage ended up with the $100 "SpikerBox. It can be used with a smartphone, iPad or computer to monitor brain activity in real time. After a few minutes, amateurs can begin to understand the basic principles of how neurons encode information, and how remarkable the brain can be.

FULL POST


Filed under: Culture • Education • Innovation • Smartphones • The Next List
December 13th, 2012
04:39 AM ET

Jim McKelvey: 'People who solve problems are happier'

Who: Jim McKelvey is an engineer, entrepreneur, artist, community activist, environmentalist, and citizen of the world. Co-Founder of Square, Co-Founder of Third Degree Glass Factory, Co-Founder of Mira Publishing, Director of Emerald Automotive, General Partner of Cultivation Capital, he is a man who embraces challenge in many forms. Tune in Sunday, January 6 at 2 P.M. E.T. to watch The Next List's full 30-minute profile on McKelvey.

Why you might know him: McKelvey is most well known as the Co-Founder of Square, the mobile-payment system. In fact, it was his belief that small entrepreneurs endured abuse in the credit world that led Square to focus on payments.

Why he matters: He’s tackling some really tough problems with imagination, passion and grit. Most notably, McKelvey is working on creating a new economic model to help keep the struggling publishing industry alive. Why? Because “that’s meaningful work - people who write, they need every bit of resource they can get.” If that’s not enough, he’s launching an initiative to try to help reduce violence and provide a path to jobs for highly motivated but poorly educated kids in crime-ridden sections of St. Louis.

McKelvey’s philosophy: That any problem can be solved with enough resolve and the right people. Even if a problem was too big yesterday, everything is changing all the time and new tools are available every day to take on even the most complex problems.

FULL POST


Filed under: Art • Culture • Innovation • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers
September 18th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

Neuroscientist: Progress follows 'lots and lots of ideas'

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) – Whether he’s peering into the mind of a mass murderer or spinning tales of the afterlife, bestselling author and neuroscientist David Eagleman is wrestling with some of the most profound questions of our existence. What is time? What is consciousness? How does the human brain construct reality?

“I’m very interested in the perceptual machinery by which we view the world,” Eagleman says, “and how we make decisions, our beliefs, our actions in the world.”

As head of the Laboratory for Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Eagleman and his students are pursuing some 50 different projects on the human brain. They study topics from time perception and brain plasticity to synesthesia, a condition characterized by a blending of senses. For research assistant and synesthete Hannah Bosley, synesthesia means that she associates letters and numbers with different colors.

“For example,” she says, “the word dog is D-O-G. It’s also yellow, clear and green to me.” FULL POST

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September 17th, 2012
01:51 PM ET

Carbon negative in Costa Rica

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) - In 1974, 23-year-old Juan Sostheim was tapped as director of Burger King in Europe. He opened the company’s first franchises on the continent and introduce millions to a phenomenon known as the “Whopper.”

Today, the former fast food king has traded in his crown for a new title: owner of Costa Rica’s first carbon-negative company, a sustainable farm and eco-resort known as Rancho Margot.

“What I’m doing today is basically the sum of my experiences,” say Sostheim. “I understand it’s a little bit crazy, but I think it should give people some hope that we all can change.” FULL POST

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Filed under: Culture • Environment • Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • World
September 14th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

Opinion: Common sense choices can fight climate change

Editor's note: Juan Sostheim is owner and founder of Rancho Margot, an eco-resort, educational facility and sustainable farm in Costa Rica. Sostheim is the subject of Sunday's episode of "The Next List," on CNN at 2 p.m. ET.

By Juan Sostheim, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Almost 40 years have gone by since I graduated from the University of Florida and started my professional career. I remember being relieved that the Vietnam War was nearly over and the threat of someone pushing "the button" and starting a nuclear war was becoming an unlikely scenario.

As terrible as these issues were, we always felt that we could somehow it behind us.

Today, we face a very different problem and it’s one which most people feel powerless to do something about on an individual level. I’m referring to climate change.

There have always been and will always be naysayers, but no one can stay on the sidelines and hope someone else will do the right thing. We all must become eco-literate. We all must participate.

In the scientific community, there is no doubt about where we are heading and what is causing it. There is some legitimate debate about how long the devastation due to climate change will take, how much damage we can expect or where, but the situation as a whole is clear; global warming is real and if we don’t change, life will forever be different. I’m an optimist and I know we can change. We must adapt and mitigate but most important of all we must let everyone know where we stand or it will continue to be business as usual.

When I built Rancho Margot, an eco-resort in Costa Rica, I had to make choices. I wanted to have the smallest possible environmental impact - but at the same time I needed to get tourists to come and support what we were doing. How was I going to sell my vision to people who don't believe in climate change? My mission became to get people to realize that small changes in lifestyle can have a big impact. There is no need to sacrifice.

So what is it that we as individuals can do? First and foremost, we must demand that the true cost of all products and services be visible for all to see. This is only possible if we demand that carbon footprints be measured under strict international norms. At Rancho Margot, we chose the PAS 2060 norms from the British Institute of Standards. We emit 115 tons of carbon dioxide per year and, through our mitigation efforts, sequester 1,375 tons. That means we had a minus-1,260-ton carbon footprint in 2011. As consumers, we need to demand this information.

Forget, for the moment, the global picture. This is about us. I want to know how much carbon we emit. I need to know. If this is not consumer protection, I don’t know what is. In the UK, all public companies are now required to report and certify their carbon footprint. It’s a start. It is a slow process and we have little time. In the absence of this consumer protection we need to make common sense choices. We can buy locally produced fruits and vegetables. We can buy quality that lasts and things that can be locally repaired. We need to stop supporting our own destruction. There is a whole sustainable future out there and it’s up to us.

The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of Juan Sostheim.

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Filed under: Culture • Environment • Innovation • The Next List • Thinkers • Video
August 6th, 2012
11:19 AM ET

Meet 'Mohawk Guy,' star of the Mars landing

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Forget Rick Moranis glasses, starchy button-ups and pocket protectors.

Meet the new generation at NASA: Bobak Ferdowsi, better known as "Mohawk Guy." Ferdowsi was spotted wearing a red-and-black mohawk with yellow stars dyed on the sides of his head during the U.S. space agency's overnight landing of its Mars rover, "Curiosity."

The Internet quickly turned him into a meme, superimposing text like "The Mohawk That Landed a Rover on Mars" and "Becomes an Internet sensation ... Too busy landing a robot on Mars to notice" over his images.

In case you'd forgotten, here's what the old guard at NASA looked like: FULL POST

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