As we move further into the presidential campaign, we're going to hear a lot about the ways we're lacking and where we fall short. And though the conversation has rightly and finally shifted to the need to grow the economy, much of it is still dominated by hysterical and destructive demands to impose deficit-cutting austerity even before the economy gets back on its feet (which would only increase, not cut, the deficit).
Of course, it's only right that we should focus on where we're coming up short. But let's start talking much more about our surpluses.
That's why I was so drawn to a new book by Peter Diamandis, who has been a friend for many years and is the CEO and chairman of the X Prize Foundation (of which I am a board member). "Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think," co-written by Steven Kotler, offers three things in short supply: solutions, perspective and, just as important, optimism.
Arguing, as Diamandis and Kotler do, that the world is getting steadily, demonstrably better carries multiple hazards: of tone-deafness; of giving short shrift to suffering, corruption and the parts of the world -- including many parts of America -- that are in steady, demonstrable decline.
But "Abundance" is not a work of Pollyannaism. The portraits of brilliant and empathetic minds at work improving the human condition are not an excuse to ignore the many areas in which our leaders and institutions are failing us. Rather, they are a reminder of the possibility of doing good by tapping into our collective intelligence and wisdom -- and into game-changing advances in technology.
"Abundance" delves into the ways innovators and entrepreneurs have seized on the advances in computing, robotics, artificial intelligence and medicine, collectively solving problems like never before. It puts special emphasis on the wave of do-it-yourself innovators who "can now tackle problems that were once the sole purview of big governments and large corporations" -- citing many examples, including Burt Rutan, an aerospace engineer who became frustrated by the state of government-run space exploration (one of Diamandis' passions) and created SpaceShipOne, a human-carrying spaceplane built by a team of 30 engineers that outperformed the government's model, at a lower cost.
The book also spotlights the ways the walls have come down in terms of how we connect. Diamandis and Kotler highlight groups that exemplify the DIY principle -- especially those operating in spheres that were formerly the sole province of government. These groups are expanding our understanding of the ways we can innovate, improve, and help each other.
In education, there's Sal Khan, a one-time hedge fund analyst who founded the Khan Academy, featuring a series of digital video lessons for students of all ages, on subjects ranging from history to math to molecular biology. According to the book, as of last summer, the Khan Academy was getting more than 2 million visitors a month and building up its library at the rate of three new videos a day.
"Technophilanthropists" -- as the authors label a collection of tech entrepreneurs turning their attention and their considerable resources to solving the world's biggest problems -- are another group the book identifies as essential in building a future of abundance. As examples, they point to Bill Gates' crusade against malaria, and Jeff Skoll's work fighting pandemics and nuclear proliferation. Because many of these technophilanthropists made their money reinventing entire industries, when they turn their attention to philanthropy they are, by their very nature, bold and global.
And then there are the world's poorest people, the "Rising Billion" whose limited circumstances have historically locked them out of the conversation. But no more. "The net is allowing us to turn ourselves into a giant, collective meta-intelligence," the authors write. "And this meta-intelligence continues to grow as more and more people come online. Think about this for a moment: by 2020, nearly 3 billion people will be added to the Internet's community." It's like sitting at a table with a group of people, and having another group of people -- bringing different insights and perspectives -- pull up chairs and join the conversation.
Diamandis and Kotler are very aware of the huge roadblocks in the way of those who would change the world. Now, as ever, there is potential for transformative ideas to go unheard -- and for destructive ideas to gain traction. But by highlighting so many examples of innovation and creativity in so many different fields, "Abundance" is a book with the power to inform, inspire, and push back against the forces that have always existed to stifle the dreams of those who, like the young engineers behind the 1960s moon launches, "didn't know they were trying to do the impossible."
"Demonstrating great ideas involves a considerable amount of risk," Diamandis and Kotler write. "There will always be naysayers. People will resist breakthrough ideas until the moment they're accepted as the new norm. Since the road to abundance requires significant innovation, it also requires significant tolerance for risk, for failure, and for ideas that strike most as absolute nonsense." And here is their blueprint for abundance: "think young, roll the dice, and perhaps most importantly, get comfortable with failure."
(Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)