Today we stand on the precipice overlooking a new frontier — the century of biology, and businesses of all kinds need to be prepared to not only embrace what is coming, but have a strategy for how to leverage biology for the betterment of their businesses and the good of the planet.
When I finally had the opportunity to sit down and read it, my … mind … was … blown. Because though the authors interview 25 innovators about how biology is presently impacting a variety of industries, as well as what they think could happen in the very near future, it is even more telling to ponder what they haven’t thought of as being possible, which I found myself doing while reading. As I came across company names (pay attention to highlights) I pondered which might soon rival one of the three “As” of internet commerce (i.e., Alibaba, Alphabet [formerly Google], and Amazon) which have a combined value of about $1.6 trillion. The book discusses concepts such as using DNA for data storage or how the future of fashion may reside in garments being grown in vats (i.e., biofabrication) not woven on looms.
Despite the overwhelming need for teachers , the profession currently is looked down upon in the United States and people don’t understand that if you don’t invest in education, you’re not investing in the future. (Cynically, I understand the reason the United States doesn’t emphasize education more is that an educated populace is harder to control *cough* I mean, govern.)
It might not sound like a sexy profession, but it is a growth industry and will be for some time. By 2050, we’ll need to feed a planet of 9 billion people. And we’ll need to do it in the face of severe climate change and water shortages.
The American farmer is on average 58 years old.
This is of concern because no matter how much automation, robotics, and big data impact farming, you still need people to run those farms. Food security is an issue
So, I looked at the question a bit differently:
What would be the minimum number of people we could train to have a massive impact on jobs now and in the future?
[Digression: When we talk about creating jobs, we’re talking about creating employees. Others have pointed out, no employers wants to hire employees. Plus, most people hate their jobs. This is a big part of the issue with current job growth models. So, instead of talking about creating jobs, let’s talk about creating entrepreneurs and business owners. Luckily, this is something that Americans excel at.]
So in thinking about the answer, I thought about sectors that are currently experiencing high-growth and create value with fewer people.
Right now, biotechnology makes up nearly 3 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. It contributes more to the US GDP than mining and utilities – and almost as much as construction.
Over the past decade, biotech grew on average more than 10 percent per year, much faster than the rest of the economy. Biotech also requires fewer people to create significant value.
If you can imagine a small team developing a valuable medicine, an industrial enzyme, or a modification to a plant – all of those are potentially worth billions of dollars.
For most people, biotech is scary  but brewing beer is not.
Brewing is biotechnology…
distilled to its simplest form (and yeah, I did intend that pun). Fermentation is the oldest form of biotechnology and we’ve been doing it for 9,000 years
A brewer takes ingredients that have little value separately – water, grain, and hops – and creates something of value. (That sounds a lot like pulling money out of thin air, which is what good entrepreneurs do.)
I can’t find the stat, but I’ve read that all Americans now live within ten miles of a microbrewery.
What are the trickle down effects?
A microbrewery employs at least a few people. They have to buy the grain and hops which someone has to grow and process that requires more people, some farmers.
For example, New York state used to be the epicenter of U.S. hop production. The industry, destroyed by mildew-related disease and Prohibition, moved West. But now, the New York hops industry is re-emerging. (It’ll take a while to make a dent in the industry, NY grow only 300 acres, while Oregon and Washington State are growing some 400,000 acres of commercial hops). The microbrew boom is driving the farming of hops.
But doesn’t that mean the market is saturated?
I don’t know much about the specific outlook for breweries but since it involved biotechnology, making the jump from brewing to fermentation would be a small leap. The next leap would be to distributed biological manufacturing.
Back in 2001, Rob Carlson described distributed biological manufacturing as means of producing many of the things we used today. That means people who are trained as brewers can easily learn to brew items that are potentially of much greater value than beer.
For example, Bolt Threads is one of three synthetic biology companies that has genetically engineered yeast to produce spider silk – one of the strongest materials created by nature. That silk can be used to produce jackets, shoes, and bulletproof vests. And those are only a few of its uses.
In 2015, Stanford researcher Christina Smolke made the news for engineering yeast to produce opioids. Today, it takes one year to produce hydrocodone from poppies that are legally grown in Tasmania. At the time there was some debate as to whether such technology would be abused, say by drug cartels. The bigger debate should probably have been how do you give access to people who have no access to painkillers. Smolke and her team started a company, Antheia, whose mission is to make and fairly provide medicines to all who need them.
It’s not a stretch to imagine brewers being able to produce very high value products very easily.
So, if you want to have a massive impact on the economy, train 500 brewers.
 I am happily married to a public school art teacher and come from a family of educators.
I recently shared this reading list with thesalesblog author and sales guru Anthony Iannarino. Anthony’s extremely well read but admitted he didn’t read much fiction. Here’s what I wrote him:
I grew up on science fiction and have read a lot of it and admit it’s inspired my career. But I’ve also read a lot of magical realism, international fiction, juvenile/middle grades (thank you kids!), binge-read mysteries and have a soft spot in my heart for trashy novels (like those of Lee Childs, Jackie Collins, Jacqueline Susanne).
Mostly, I like books that explore an idea, but the books that I’ve read and reread the most times are:
Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, a very short, very Mexican book that has blown me away and inspired me every single time I’ve read it. At this point, I’ve probably read it dozens of times. It’s considered to the book that defined the magical realism genre and inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez to write One Hundred Years of Solitude. The book was so influential on Marquez that he could recite long sections of it from memory.
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. It’s his shortest novel but you can get most of his themes and big ideas there: paranoia, consumerism, American exceptionalism, and layers upon layers of mystery. Pynchon is probably most famous for Gravity’s Rainbow, written in the 1960s. It’s been couple of decades since I read that monster tome but parts have stuck with me. I haven’t gotten to his newer work but have been looking forward to reading Inherent Vice for a long while.
Neuromancer by William Gibson. That’s the one where cyberspace is defined and first explored. It’s a fast-moving thriller/mystery. Been a while since I reread but it’s an old friend. I’m also partial to his Pattern Recognition, which is about marketing (just reread this summer) and Idoru (which you might enjoy since a rock star marrying an AI is part of the story). His last book, The Peripheral was a thought-provoking look at our not-so-pleasant near-future.
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, a 1960s SF novel.
Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard. I’ve read most of his novels — there’s too many to list — and this one’s about a pair of 1960s drop outs trying to pull one big job. If you’re a movie fan, Out of Sight with Clooney and J. Lo is the best adaptation of Leonard novel. It’s also J. Lo’s only great movie role, though John Travolta is great in Get Shorty, and you can see Leonard in most of Tarantino’s films.
Y! The Last Man, which is a series of graphic novels about a plague that kills all but one man. He has to deal with women who have to deal with rebuilding the world. It’s awesome.
Most recently, I read All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders and The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupo — highly recommend those. Earlier in the year, I was blown away by Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. I’ve also been rereading Octavia Butler.
I track what I read on a couple of Pinterest boards. This one shows books I’ve read and reread, you’ll notice a fair amount of J.G. Ballard, William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, and Kurt Vonnegut. I can steer you to the best of those if you’re interested.
Ballard, Burroughs, Dick, and Vonnegut were huge influences on my thinking when I was writing fiction. Ballard and Burroughs were masters of description and people making their ways through unreal situations. Dick was one of the most prolific SF writers (Blade Runner, Minority Report were based on his books) and his influence is wide. Vonnegut’s view of the American condition is among the most critical and hilarious.
It’s 2044, the world’s a dystopian mess and people escape to, learn, live and work in a virtual world called OASIS (the followup to William Gibson’s cyberspace and Neal Stephenson’s metaverse).
At the start of the book, videogame designer James Halliday, the ultimate 1980s geek, leaves his vast fortune to the person who can find three magical keys (Easter eggs) hidden in the vast OASIS.
Enter one Wade Watts, an 18-year old living in the Oklahoma City “stacks” of trailers upon trailers left behind by people migrating to the cities. Compared to the other egg hunters (“gunters”), the poverty-born Wade is at a disadvantage and can’t travel OASIS. But what he lacks in finances he more than makes up in his knowledge of 1980s pop culture, and videogames skills. As a result, he finds the first key and starts the race that will continue until all three keys are discovered.
The quest is a blast. There are allies and enemies, a romance and an overload of 1980s nostalgia. I read it laughing aloud along the way, handed it to my son Alejandro, who enjoyed it, then I reread it. It’s a total blast.
I’ve been keeping a journal for more than 25 years. I should say “mostly keeping a journal” because there have been periods of time where I haven’t written in a journal regularly – though probably, I was writing just not in a journal.
At the pace of one page per day, that’d come to 9,132 pages or some 2,283,000 words. I’m sure I’ve written five times that.
My father suggested I keep a journal of a Eurail trip I was taking after college. Since I knew I’d be spending time alone on trains, in foreign cities, and since I wanted to write professionally, I started writing in a blue lab notebook back in mid-1980s and pretty much never stopped.
Keeping a journal became a habit pretty quickly. It’s not something I think about, I just write. (Unlike blogging which I do in fits and starts and am much more self-conscious about.)
I wonder how much that particular point in my life – my early 20s – motivated the writing. I’d just finished my formal education, hadn’t written much more than school papers and a few stories, and knew the only way I was going to become an author was to write. How much was motivated by being in that funny place between graduation and still trying to figure out who I was and what I would do. And how much was motivated by my father’s suggestion that I keep a journal.
Over the years, the journal became my the place where I’ve documented my marriage, the birth and growth of my three sons, my life in Brooklyn, and the ebb and flow of my businesses. It’s where I’ve given thanks for the blessings that fill my life, admitted my jealousies, fears, and shortcomings, celebrated successes and worked out anger and conflicts. I’ve also explored ideas for businesses, stories, novels and articles, analyzed dreams, made predictions, lamented the loss of friends and money, mourned the death of ideas that I’d finally grown out of, confessed and complained complained complained all in the confines of the written page.
The journal has taken many forms. From the blue-covered lab notebook to soft-cover oversized lab notebook, spiral-bound and hard-bound blank-paged sketch books, and loose leaf sheets of paper from companies that changed names or went out of business, canary-colored legal pads, to black-, green-, mango-covered Moleskines decorated with skateboard brand, band and random decals, I’ve written everywhere I’ve lived my life: in dens, kitchens, bedrooms, dining rooms, offices, hotel rooms, on boats, in trains, on planes, in cars. In every city I’ve lived in and visited in North and Central America and brief visits to Europe. It would be rare to find me without some kind of journal to write with.
I have tried keeping a journal on a computer, used Penzu for a couple of years, even have a secret email account that I will on occasion send notes to, but I prefer writing on paper, mostly with a fountain pen (a Lamy 2000).
The poet, Allen Ginsberg, founder and frequent lecturer at The Naropa Institute, warned me that the wrong ink, particularly ballpoint pen ink would destroy the paper. He also warned me that my journal would accumulate and that at some point, if I was diligent with my writing, I’d have to contend with quantity. It’s true, I have several plastic containers in my basement, a suitcase in an attic, and a shelf of my most recent scribblings in my bedroom.
I’m not a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction though I’ve read more than a lifetime’s worth and I get why it is popular: We live in a world of uncertainty and great post-apocalyptic stories give us the hope that we can survive the worse of times.
Peter Heller’s brilliant The Dog Stars gives us the story of loss, survival, and love in a United States decimated by a pandemic flu. The main character, Hig, shares his life with his dog Jasper, and Bangley, his gun-loving misanthropic neighbor. Hig spends days flying above their little outpost in Northern Colorado in a Cessna, patrolling their small expanse of land. He hikes into the Rockies to hunt and fish. While Hig and Bangley kill intruders with ease, their losses are significant because their world is empty and silent, and survival forces them to keep their guard up.
Heller’s writing is a treat and he has real talent for describing nature, ratcheting up the tension, and delivering a very satisfying story.