We Do Things Differently – Mark Stevenson [Book Summary]

by Nick

Outstanding innovators, no matter where they live, possess not only a supply of original ideas but also energy for their implementation. Futurologist Mark Stevenson, who traveled around the world, meeting with enthusiasts and discoverers and describing their innovative activities, is well known about this.

Among his interlocutors are former revolutionaries building democracy in Brazil, an engineer who decided to modernize the system for studying and searching for medicines, a fearless city gardener who lands on the streets of Detroit.

These people are not empty dreamers; they understand the immensity of the tasks facing them. Stevenson talks about global issues that, in his opinion, could destroy humanity, if not for “brilliant outsiders.”

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Repair a Broken System

Many have innovative ideas, but few take it into practice. Real innovators, when they see a poorly functioning system — be it food production, energy, healthcare, education, or politics — are coming up with practical ways to change it for the better, without delay, right now. They reject the philistine view that the generally accepted mode of action is the only possible one. Humanity needs these stubborn, active optimists.

“Resetting” Medicine Through Big Data

In 1998, the younger brother of engineer Jamie Heywood, Stephen, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Jamie energetically set about searching for treatment methods – and in a very unusual way. He created a biotechnological nonprofit organization, the Institute of ALS Treatment. He managed to raise several million dollars to develop a startup.

The institute began testing existing drugs designed to treat other diseases and used for officially unapproved indications for the treatment of ALS. Researchers at the Institute conducted Monte Carlo simulations on a large volume of material, demonstrating that many of the proposed methods for treating ALS are ineffective. As a meta-analysis of published works has shown, many medical articles present unreliable results.

The Summary you might like: In Touch and In Tune

The root of this problem lies in the conflict of interest. The longing desire of Haywood, the “elemental scientist,” to improve the drug research system, has not died out even after Stephen died. Knowing how important the patient’s contribution to medical research is, and with the systems thinking of an engineer, Jamie created the PatientsLikeMe website with his older brother Ben and their mutual friend Jeff Cole. Site algorithms are largely similar to those used by dating sites.

People suffering from various diseases talk about their symptoms and treatment, entering information in a strictly structured form that allows it to be compared, similar to how it is done on dating sites. Patients get to know and make friends with people with similar problems. If desired, they join drug trials, presumably giving a therapeutic effect, but not officially approved for this disease. Despite criticisms, users are delighted with the openness of the system. According to statistics, the participation of patients in the site improves treatment outcomes.

“Active Participation Medicine” and Drug Research

When Dave Debronkart was diagnosed with cancer, he began to look for opportunities for active participation in treatment. In his case, kidney cancer responded to treatment with interleukin, a drug that was thought to have little chance of success. Inspired by the ideas of the late Tom Ferguson, who back in 1996 encouraged patients to use the Internet, Debronkart helped create the Society for Active Medicine.

“There are always a number of people in the world who think differently than the rest. Some of them also act in a new way. These are people who, looking at the current state of things, do not just think: “I could fix something here,” but they roll up their sleeves and start working. ”

The authoritative Indian scientist Samir Brahmachari decided to tackle the problem of drug-resistant tuberculosis. Tuberculosis kills 4,000 people worldwide every day; in India, one resident of the country dies from him every minute.

Pharmaceutical companies have not released a fundamentally new cure for this disease since the 1970s. The reason is simple: tuberculosis mainly affects the poorest segments of the population – those who are not able to buy drugs at prices that justify investing in research and development. Therefore, scientists prefer to work on highly profitable drugs that help with “lifestyle-related conditions,” such as obesity.

According to industry experts, the development and official approval of the drug cost $ 2.6 billion. At the same time, only one of the 5000 drugs receives permission. Brahmachari created the crowdsourcing platform Open Source Drug Discovery, which attracted thousands of participants, to collect and analyze gene sequences in DNA. This platform has proven to be a quick and cheap alternative to existing drug development methods, cutting costs to $ 15 million. Scientists participating in the project use a computer model of the tuberculosis bacterium for data analysis.

To date, they have discovered 11 invariant genes that should be targeted by the effects of drugs. It is hoped that in this way the ratio of rejected and approved applications for drugs can be reduced from 5000: 1 to 100: 1. Similar technologies are used in the Open Source Malaria project, aimed at treating malaria.


Erica Stiger and Gauss Traore are soil scientists working in India with the KGVK Agricultural Development Agency. They are actively introducing an alternative “rice cultivation intensification system”, or SRI (System of Rice Intensification), which causes a lot of controversies. The first to promote this system was Professor Norman Uphoff, who learned about it in the 1980s from his father, Henri de Lolani, a missionary and agricultural specialist. Proponents of this method believe that with the correct planting pattern, regular weeding, and natural rain watering, you can get high yields. It is important that chemicals and GMOs are not used.

“These people bring a mirror to our established beliefs, and it shows an unsightly truth:“ What you are convinced of is wrong, and I could prove it … by doing better. ”

The “green revolution” in the twentieth century made it possible to achieve high yields with inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and intensive irrigation. It saved millions of people from hunger, but it led to poisoning and depletion of water resources, oxidation, and erosion of the soil, and increased the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere so that it began to affect the climate of the planet. Today, some Indian farmers claim that using SRI methods they collect “three to four times more” rice than using chemicals. The International Rice Institute, established during the Green Revolution, does not recognize this data. Erica Stiger also considers such high figures doubtful, but at the same time she already has a lot of evidence that the growing popularity of “agroecological” methods,

Cold Energy

At the end of the 19th century, the company of engineer Hans Knudsen announced the release of a vehicle operating “on liquid air”. True, then no one saw anything but sketches and drawings. Attempts to create such an engine were made later but were hampered by the fact that the specific energy intensity of liquid air is too low. One hundred years later, in 2000, the problem was finally solved by the Englishman Peter Dearman, who was experimenting in his garage. Dyrman injected antifreeze into the engine, which increased the pressure in it and made the pistons move more actively. Thus was created a new type of engine that can change the world.

“Fossil fuels … have many side effects that are very important.”

Unlike gasoline and diesel engines, the Dorman’s engine in liquefied air does not pollute the environment and does not give off heat to it. The main component of air is hydrogen, which turns into a liquid at a temperature of minus 195 ° C. This engine will be more economical in operation in comparison with those working on gasoline. It may not be suitable for heavy vehicles, but the Dorman Engine Company could successfully produce it for small cars. This discovery has applications in other areas. Every year, about half of the world’s food is spoiled due to the inability to provide adequate cooling. In developing countries, there is a lack of funds for refrigerated storage and transportation of food products. Dearman’s engine, which works by the cold and produces cold,

“Arriving in Detroit, you will find that wherever you are, a couple of blocks away you have a city farm or a local food business.”

Professor Yulong Ding from the University of Birmingham has found yet another important application of Dorman’s technology. At times of peak consumption, energy supplies are not enough. The production of additional electricity through the burning of coal or gas takes time and pollutes the environment. Ding’s project involves using Dorman’s technology to create gigantic batteries in liquid air for fast, clean energy. If the air was liquefied in plants operating on solar energy, such batteries could become part of a truly ecological energy system that meets the challenges of sustainable development. There are already “clean” ways of storing energy, in which during the hours of minimum load of energy networks, water is pumped up, and during peak hours it is fed down to the turbogenerators. In northern latitudes, there will continue to be an acute need for alternative energy sources, in particular for additional production and accumulation of energy during peak hours in the evening.

New Energy Market

The World Energy Council has long been talking about the “energy trilemma.” It is believed that it is extremely difficult and even impossible to solve since it requires:

  • 1) a constant supply of electricity,
  • 2) its universal availability;
  • 3) environmental friendliness.

It is generally accepted that the use of renewable sources leads to an increase in the cost of electricity and more frequent interruptions in its supply. However, proponents of fossil fuels prefer to hush up the side effects of its use associated with air pollution and climate change. The International Monetary Fund estimates this damage on a planetary scale at five trillion dollars, and the International Energy Agency insists on a figure 10 times less.

“And so I stand on a small patch of land. It seems that only a madman could decide to engage in agriculture on it. Nevertheless, everything blossoms here. ”

Fortunately, today some cities are starting to manage separate sections of a previously centralized energy system themselves. Among them is the Austrian city of Gussing. Peter Wadash, elected mayor of Güssing in 1992, set himself the task of changing the city’s energy system. Looking at how money from the city budget flows to energy monsters, the mayor of Güssing decided to organize the production of energy from local renewable sources.

Thanks to the mayor’s policies and the business acumen of engineer Reinhard Koch, Güssing today owns and operates a number of innovative utilities that are committed to sustainable development. Among them are solar water heating systems, a Fischer – Tropsch reactor producing liquid hydrocarbon fuel from the exhaust gas, and a bioelectric power station, which uses biomass derived from dry forest litter – grass and leaves, to generate electricity. (There are vast forests in the vicinity of Güssing.)

At first, Güssing received subsidies for the development of the power system “with additional conditions”. Banks and major suppliers tried to put pressure on the city. Güssing responded to the energy trilemma by implementing the principles of sustainable development, economic efficiency, and local ownership. Güssing produces electricity at home, but for its distribution, it needs the Austrian common grid, so the city authorities still have to work with intermediaries who set prices. If small-scale electricity producers working with renewable sources had direct access to the network,

“We have many possible options for the future – and now we must decide which one to implement.”

One of the creators of the Ethernet network, Bob Metcalfe, proposed the idea of a self-regulating open energy network Enernet. Inspired by the idea, James Johnson created the Open Utility project to bring the principles of platforms that bring sellers and buyers, such as Uber or Airbnb, to the energy market. Open and flexible market access can change the rules of the game for renewable energy suppliers. Small Internet-based experiments will soon turn into large projects in California, China, and possibly elsewhere on the planet.

The Revival of Gardening in the Cities

Ashley Atkinson, director of the non-profit organization Keep Growing Detroit, or KGD coordinates many of the urban farming projects. Participants in programs such as the City Plum Orchard, sponsored by KGD, grow fresh fruits directly in the city, supplying them to urban food factories. The activities of local organizations KGD, Foodlab and the Heidelberg project, dedicated to art in the urban environment, encourage citizens to be active, awaken their “collective energy”, and reduce the level of crime and tension in society. Today, in addition to Detroit, many cities – such as Santa Fe, Addis Ababa, Cape Town, and Kathmandu – actively support urban farming.

New Paths in Politics and Education

Active people around the world prove that old tasks can be perfectly solved with new methods:

  • In Brazil, “public budgeting” is developing – the participation of residents in deciding what money will be allocated from the local budget. Committees consisting of city dwellers evaluate projects and vote on their financing.
  • Englishman Carl Jarvis responded to an ad titled “Save Our School!” Published by the Hartsholm Academy. Visiting the school, he saw that there was a mess in it, discipline at a low level, and the students behaved like savages. Jarvis, the former owner of a nightclub, analyzed his own not-so-good learning experience and tried to figure out what the local school lacked. Today, Jarvis is the director. He completely changed the situation at school, prompting students to criticize themselves and learn from each other. He united employees and teachers in a single team, striving for high achievements. Today, the Hartsholm Academy is at the top of the UK academic performance ratings.
  • Farmer Bruce Ward (New South Wales, Australia) uses the methods of “comprehensive management” in his work. He does not divide cattle into groups but grazes the whole herd together. At the same time, animals do not eat grass under the root in small pens and remain healthy and well-fed. Each section of the pasture rests for a while so that the grass can grow there again. “Comprehensive management”, based on the traditions of the past, allows you to save resources and act in unity with nature.


  • The world needs active innovators that can break the old familiar methods.
  • Established belief systems serve the interests of established groups operating in various fields, and innovative systems benefit all of humanity.
  • Non-profit portal PatientsLikeMe, created by American Jamie Heywood, contributes to the testing of new drugs with the active participation of patients.
  • Indian scientist Samir Brahmachari launched a crowdsourcing platform, the participants of which are looking for drugs that can fight tuberculosis.
  • The goal of the Open Utility project is to transfer the principles of Internet platforms that drive sellers and buyers to energy markets.
  • Some Indian farmers have successfully implemented a “rice crop intensification system,” which allows for higher yields without using chemicals.
  • The engine in liquid air, created by the Englishman Peter Dearman, will allow keeping agricultural products in developing countries, providing its cooling.
  • In the small Austrian city of Güssing, the efforts of Mayor Wadash and engineer Koch created a new energy system that includes a bioelectric power station.
  • The Continuing Growth Detroit project supports urban farming, helping revitalize the city.
  • In Brazil, the “public budgeting” project allows citizens to set their own priorities for the local budget.

Why You Should Read “We Do Things Differently”

  • To become a great leader
  • To learn how to be an independent thinker
  • To start trusting your inner voice and never break your core values.

This book is available as: