Bestselling author Steven Kotler explains why he’s optimistic about the planet’s future
Steven Kotler is a man of many accomplishments. He’s a New York Times bestselling author, an award-winning journalist, and a two-time Pulitzer nominee. He’s a prolific storyteller, an entrepreneur, and, as Forbes put it simply, he’s “a unique guy.” But here at Planet Home, we also know Kotler as one of the main characters of our origin story.
Searching for a Solution
In 2017, Kotler had already been working in the environmental space for twenty years. He was working through an idea he had to bring together minds from the tech industry and the environmental world to develop technology-based solutions that would address the challenges faced by our planet.
“There was a real advantage I saw in this crossover. The environmental problems we’re trying to solve need technology, and technology can help us scale environmental solutions in a way that would meet the needs of this moment,” Kotler said. “I wanted to create something that would help bridge that gap.”
Another question on his mind, “How do I bring the environmental message to more people?”
The answer, as it turned out, would be discovered through the collision great minds with different perspectives
That year, a mutual friend introduced Kotler to Antony Randall, an world-leading director, producer and engineer in the entertainment and non-profit spaces, who was working on a similar vision from a different angle. Randall had read Kotler’s book, Abundance, which Elon Musk once described as “essential reading for anyone looking for a better tomorrow.”
Kotler and Randall, along with Planet Home’s co-founder Gabrielle Hull and our now chief solutions officer Robert Suarez, began to collaborate on an idea that they hoped would bring us closer to that better Living. Over the next few years, this concept would grow into what Planet Home is today.
“There was a little bit of a relief,” Kotler remembers of those early conversations with the group. “When you meet like minded people who are solving the same problems and share the same ambitious vision, you think, ‘Okay, I’m not crazy!’”
As accomplished professionals of different industries, the group took a multidisciplinary approach, leveraging the range of their expertise.
“There was a lot of synergy. It was a bunch of people looking at the same problems from different angles, coming up with solutions we each couldn’t have executed alone,” Kotler said. “We had all been trying to solve environmental issues in our lanes. Through our combined experience, we had a clear idea of how to do this right.”
In many ways, the group’s collaborative approach to problem-solving set the tone for what the greater Planet Home community would become – a collective of solutionists from diverse backgrounds, coming together to solve the planet’s biggest challenges from every angle.
The Evolution of Planet Home
By August of 2017, the group had hosted its first event in Tahoe, California with 6,000 attendees. Two years later, Planet Home 2019 had grown into a full three-day festival with over 10,000 attendees packed into the San Francisco’s Palace of the Fine Arts. Kotler remembers the first event as proof of concept, while the 2019 event proved the possibility of bringing this platform to new heights and bigger audiences.
One memory from Planet Home 2019 comes to mind that, for Kotler, summarized his whole experience at the event. He was standing beside the main stage with Amanda Ravenhill, Planet Home’s program director, speaker, and community leader. The two were watching Bill Nye, one of the event’s featured speakers, receive a standing ovation.
“It was incredible, the applause went on for five minutes and just got louder and louder,” he said. “It was a rockstar moment, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. You would have thought Metallica was on stage, not some science guy.”
Beside him, he remembers, Ravenhill jumped with glee and grabbed his shoulders. “We’re winning! We’re winning!” she said.
Kotler thought back to his days as a journalist in the 90s, how difficult it was to get publications to cover environmental issues, and how isolated he felt in pursuing this cause. Then, to witness a massive crowd cheering for science at a festival dedicated to environment solutions, it absolutely felt like a win.
“It was so lonely for so long doing this work that, to see something like that, it was special,” he said. “It’s awesome to see how many more people are involved in this conversation today.”
Going with the Flow
More people than ever before are concerned about the planet’s well-being. Studies show that, in the last seven years alone, global concern around environmental issues has risen by an average of 13%. In some countries, concerns have risen by as much as 30%.
But what has sustained this cultural shift over the past few decades? Can we harness this same energy to drive change in the next decade?
Yes, and the key ingredient, according to Kotler, is flow. As Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective, Kotler describes flow as our biologically built-in ability to achieve peak performance in the face of great challenges. Flow amplifies focus, creativity, and productivity. Kotler says that flow can make the impossible, possible by unlocking human potential at both the individual and collective levels.
Given the range and magnitude of our planet’s challenges today, it may often feel like we have an impossible task on our hands. But, Kotler explains that evolution shaped humans to perform at our best flow, especially when our survival calls for innovation.
“Flow amplifies everything you need to innovate, be creative, and make more resources, which is exactly what we would need to solve grand environmental challenges,” he said. “It also amplifies empathy and environmental awareness. This allows you to fully appreciate the world and feel connected to it. If you feel like the world is separate from you, you’re not going to be able to fix it.”
The Path Forward
With the COVID-19 pandemic upending our day to day lives, many of us may feel all but “in flow.” But, Kotler believes that this year has actually provided us new advantages.
“First, we all got a close look at what an exponential problem looks like,” he said. Before, exponential issues like climate were difficult for many to understand or fully realize. “Now, we also know what an exponential solution to an exponential problem looks like. That’s something we can carry over into the conversation around the planet’s health.”
The pandemic also reminded us of the good that can happen when we work together to take care of each other during trying times. Kotler is optimistic that this lesson is one we will carry forward.
“COVID showed us that we can cooperate at a global level in a non-wartime situation,” he said. “In January, there were 0 vaccines. Then, nations and scientists collaborated like never before and now 150 vaccines are in development. We showed that global cooperation is possible and it gets results.”
Although many of us are uncertain what new normal awaits us in the near future, we have the opportunity to reshape the world and the way we live in it for the better. Kotler is hopeful that better days are ahead of us and, if we take action, a greater tomorrow is within reach.
“Whatever comes on the other side of this, it’ll have more social justice and more environmental justice than anything we’ve seen previously. We have a chance to re-boot the economy in ways that are good for the planet,” Kotler predicts. “It’s just a question of will and effort and, together, I know we can do it.”