Book review: We do things differently by Mark Stevenson

Mark Stevenson
Mark Stevenson

For any of us that have felt deep concern about the lack of vision in government, We do things differently is a timely reminder of the power of grassroots innovation to create solutions to some of the world’s big challenges.

Futurologist, entrepreneur and founder of The League of Optimists Mark Stevenson travelled the world to interview people who found new, low-cost and sustainable ways of improving healthcare, refrigeration, agriculture, energy systems, education, urban renewal and even politics.

What makes the book so engaging is not just the incredible ideas and initiatives he discovers, but the way he tells the story of the people themselves – what motivated them; what made them smile; their body language.

The pages are alive with the personalities of those engaged with what he terms “rebooting” our world.

There is the town in Austria where a mayor led a complete renewal of the town’s economy through the use of renewable energy.

There are agricultural scientists and farmers working with rice paddies in India where a new way of growing rice is delivering results chemical companies could only dream of replicating – and doing it without genetically modified crops or fancy laboratories and patents.

Trends arising globally intersect with many of the stories, such as the use of crowd-sourcing by medical researchers and mathematicians in India that is leading to a breakthrough in the treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis.

There is also a real spirit-lifting magic in the way an invention like Peter Dearman’s engine, invented by “hacking” his lawnmower in his garden shed so it literally ran on air, has found applications that have global importance in terms of improving things for people in countries lacking safe food storage.

Yup, from tinkering with a lawnmower and compressed air to helping solve world hunger is quite a leap, but that’s what Stevenson looked for and found.

Reading stories like these is a wonderful boost to the belief that human ingenuity, if applied in the right directions, is capable of creating the sustainable world we hope for.

As Stevenson writes in the introduction:

“There is an old Chinese proverb:
‘When the winds of change blow some people build walls, others build windmills.’
This is a book about the windmills.”

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