RIP Stephen Hawking

Today, pi day 2018, at age 76 Stephen Hawking passed.

Though nearly everyone knows his contributions to physics and astrophysics are nearly peerless, few understand his work. Even as I earned my PhD in astrophysics at Columbia University, his work was beyond my studies (though one of my professors was a mutual friend). But then Hawking did theoretical work and I was helping build an observational satellite.

Even so, he expanded many horizons. Everyone can learn from him as a human.

Stephen Hawking, the man

At 21 years of age, after showing symptoms of the paralysis that would eventually take over nearly his whole body, doctors diagnosed him with a rare form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In particular, they gave him two years to live.

That was 1963. 55 years ago.

You don’t need to know the details of what followed–mind-bending discoveries, bestselling books, collaborations with global luminaries, prizes, state honors, medals, appearances on the Simpsons, and more–to know his contributions to humanity rank among the greats of all time.

Stephen Hawking and you

Thinking of Stephen Hawking and his obstacles:

What do you want to achieve in life?

What are you capable of?

What is holding you back?

What obstacles can you overcome?

Because for more than half a century Hawking could only look ahead to more paralysis. He communicated using a single cheek muscle. And look at what he achieved.

We have the ability to make his greatest contribution his influence on others, to motivate and enable us to go beyond our imagined limits.

In his words

I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.

and

Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.

This Biotech Company Is 3-D Printing Vegan Leather, and Fashion Companies Are Going Nuts

Andras Forgacs started getting calls from the last group of people he imagined would be interested in his company–fashionistas.

It was 2011, and he had just stepped away from his leadership role at Organovo, a startup that 3-D-printed skin tissue for medical use. It turned out, the fashion executives told him, leather is a gnarly industry. Livestock create one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases, and an estimated one-third of leather hides produced end up in landfills. The demand for leather goods was booming, yet there were shortage issues, and synthetic leather alternatives performed poorly.

They figured if Forgacs could print human tissue, surely he could print leather. Unfortunately, he told them, he couldn’t. But, says Forgacs, “if you’re an entrepreneur, you find yourself eventually saying, ‘Yes. I think we could do that’–and you figure it out.”

Later that year, Modern Meadow was born, a Nutley, New Jersey-based biotech startup that grows animal-free leather in a lab. In late 2011, Forgacs reunited the original University of Missouri, Columbia team that invented the bioprinting technology behind Organovo (the university licensed it to the company in 2009).

Modern Meadow’s four co-founders–Forgacs and three biophysicists, including Forgacs’s father–initially filed for government grants to explore animal-free meat and leather. But early on, says CEO Forgacs, “we realized that those are actually very different opportunities and businesses. You have to pick one.”

They decided to bet on leather, resulting in what’s been a six-year journey powered by $53.5 million in venture capital. Zoa, as Modern Meadow’s product is called, looks and performs like leather, but is created in the company’s lab through a process of DNA editing that grows collagen–the protein in skin–from yeast.

“Our goal is to create materials that are clearly leather but unlike anything you’ve seen.”

Modern Meadow can custom-­design the structural and aesthetic properties of the leather, whether it’s stiff or stretchy, thick or thin, textured or glossy. The leather starts as a liquid, and can be poured into any shape or pattern, or even used as a glue to bond fabric. “Our goal is to create materials that are clearly leather but unlike anything you’ve seen,” says Forgacs.

Since word got out, Modern Meadow has been approached by more than 150 companies in industries ranging from fashion to furniture to automotive. The 70-person startup’s first partners include several luxury consumer-product companies, which plan to debut Modern Meadow’s first commercially available products later this year.

Part of an emerging crew of startups operating in cellular agriculture–the pairing of food science with genetic engineering–Modern Meadow plans to appeal to more than just the animal-activist crowd. Leather, Forgacs points out, is a $100 billion industry–and one that has never really evolved. “At a biological level, it’s definitely leather,” says Forgacs, “but it’s also about exploring new design, new performance, and new functionality.”

The leather-growing process begins in a fermentation vessel that grows yeast cells that produce collagen.

CREDIT: David Williams

How to grow leather in a lab.

Modern Meadow’s strange science of creating leather from scratch takes place in a former pharmaceutical lab in Nutley, New Jersey.

Pivoting to collagen. Initially, the co-founders–Andras Forgacs, Gabor Forgacs, Karoly Jakab, and Françoise Marga–took skin cells from a cow and grew them in large quantities. This eight-week process, if scaled, would have required an entirely new type of manufacturing equipment. So instead, they put their effort into producing collagen, the main component in leather, which would allow them to utilize existing technology.

Brewing it like beer. The team gene-edited yeast to create a new strain not so different from the yeast used to brew beer–except, instead of producing alcohol, this one eats sugar and spits out collagen.

Producing leather in two weeks. The startup brews small batches in its facilities, but is partnering with a leading biochemical company to brew the yeast at scale in industrial tanks. Once the collagen is har­vested, it is turned from a liquid into a solid, fibrous material. The entire leather-creating process takes two weeks, says Andras Forgacs, making it “much more efficient, higher quality, and more cost effective”–and much closer to competing with calfskin.

XPrize’s Next Moonshot Competition? Turning Yourself Into a Robot

If you can’t beat the robots, become one. 

XPrize, the organization founded by entrepreneur Peter Diamandis and meant to encourage moonshot projects, is announcing its next competition at South by Southwest in Austin: The search is on for a company that can create a real-world avatar. The theoretical system would let a person see, hear, and touch through a robotic device at least 100 kilometers away.

It might sound far-fetched, but there’s plenty of incentive to give it a go–the winner will collect a cool $10 million.

Diamandis sees such a system as being helpful in disaster relief efforts, when sending in human rescue teams might be too risky. 

“If you remember the Fukushima nuclear reaction in Japan [in 2011], no one could get in there to turn the appropriate knobs to shut down the meltdown,” he says. “With an avatar, we could put an untrained user who knows that facility into that robot, and they could go and manipulate the panels and so forth.”

Beyond those high-pressure scenarios, Diamandis thinks avatars could have practical uses in everyday life. He envisions a world in which people have avatar systems sitting around in their closets, waiting for a doctor or cable company to come in and perform a house call or fix your WiFi. “It takes minutes instead of hours,” he says. “It’s the ultimate house call.”

Diamandis is officially announcing the start of the competition in a presentation at SXSW Monday. As of now, the contest is slated to last four years, though deadlines for XPrizes have been pushed back in the past.

The competition’s award is sponsored by Japan-based All Nippon Airways. Diamandis says the airline approached XPrize with the goal of finding the technology that could upend its industry in the future. “They came to us and said, ‘Instead of being subject to disruption, how do we anticipate that disruption and lead it?’ ” he says. The entrepreneur sees such a system as someday serving as a proxy for actual human experiences. “Imagine a future,” he says, “where instead of loading your body–I’ll call it your ‘meat body’–onto an airplane and flying it for 18 hours across the planet, you could Uber your senses into a robot and see through its eyes, hear through its ears, feel through its hands, manipulate the world around you, and effectively occupy that robot.”

The first XPrize competition, which ran from 1996 and 2004, offered a $10 million prize to whoever could successfully launch a reusable spacecraft into space twice within a two-week span. Inspired by the competition that eventually led to Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, Diamandis launched the contest with the goal of jumpstarting the commercial space industry. California-based Mojave Aerospace Ventures won that prize and eventually signed a deal with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Branson said late last year he expects that company to take up its first passengers sometime in 2018. 

The most recent competition, to land a module on the moon and have it travel 500 meters and transmit video back to Earth, ended without a winner after 10 years. Google sponsored that contest and its $30 million in prizes. Originally planned as a five-year competition, the deadline shifted a number of times before being called off in January.

“It became a fundraising competition in part,” Diamandis says. “To enter the game and play you had to have raised 30, 40, 50 million dollars of capital, and it just took a long time for teams to do that.” Still, he doesn’t call it a failure, since a number of teams are close to launching. Plus, he adds, “if every prize we announced got won, then clearly we’re not pushing the envelope hard enough.”

Anyone can apply for the current competition, though entrants will have to demonstrate serious intent by way of a documented game plan. The competition will have several checkpoints, after which only those teams that have made a certain degree of progress will be eligible to keep going. 

At IBM, I Got A Glimpse Of What Our Quantum Future Will Look Like

Quantum computing is the hot new thing. With Moore’s Law ending, there is a mad rush to find a new avenue for advancement. To optimists, quantum computing will fit the bill nicely and we’ll make the transition smoothly. To pessimists, the technology will kill encryption and bring down global commerce with it.

Neither of these things are even remotely true. Quantum computing is not the only way to improve computing performance. There are a variety of other approaches, including ASIC, FPGA and neuromorphic chips that will play a part. The apocalyptic visions of killing encryption aren’t worth taking seriously.

The truth is, in many ways, more exciting. Innovation is never a single event, but a process of discovery, engineering and transformation. Quantum computing is already deep into the engineering phase and the transformational impact will begin to take shape in the next 5-10 years. On a recent trip to IBM Research, I got a much better sense of what that will look like. 

A Nascent Science Project

We tend to first notice a new technology when someone like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk announces it on stage, but the truth is that the next big thing always starts out looking like nothing at all. It begins with scientists coming up with strange theories that few understand and then progresses with other scientists devising arcane experiments to test those theories.

Quantum Computing has been no different. The field really got its start with a talk by Nobel prizewinning physicist Richard Feynman in 1981 about simulating physics on a computer. He concluded that you can’t truly simulate the physical world with a digital computer, but you could with a quantum computer. Feynman’s prominence drew intense interest to the field.

However, to a large extent, Feynman’s idea was useless. It stimulated countless theoretical ideas, but since you couldn’t really do anything with those ideas there was no practical impact. That began to change in 1993, when scientists at IBM carried out the quantum teleportation experiment, which showed that you could send information using quantum principles.

By the late 1990s, the first rudimentary quantum computers were being built. These were also mostly useless, because your couldn’t really do anything with them, either. They were little more than proofs of the concepts that the theorists had been working on. However, they paved the way for something much bigger.

Engineering Actual Solutions

Today, quantum computing has long past the theoretical stage and is deep into the process of solving the engineering challenges. In a room at IBM Research that formerly housed classical supercomputing machines, I saw several of the supercooled tanks that now contain quantum computing chips. These aren’t science experiments, but working machines.

It’s not just IBM either. In 2010, D-Wave launched the first commercial version of its quantum computer, based on a scaled down approach called quantum annealing. Google also has a very advanced program and Microsoft and Intel are making serious investments in quantum technology. Some well funded startups, such as Rigetti, have also entered the fray.

The transformation goes beyond hardware too. Software is progressing as well. IBM has created QISkit, a set of quantum computing resources roughly similar in concept to Google’s TensorFlow library of machine learning tools. Rigetti has released Forest, a similar tool set and an ecosystem of companies, such as ID Quantique and QxBranch, has also arisen to leverage quantum related technologies.

In 2016, IBM launched its Q Experience initiative, which allows anyone who wants to work on its quantum computer through the cloud. To date, more than 75,000 users, ranging from software developers and scientists to students and the merely curious, have taken the company up on its offer, conducting over 2 million experiments.

Make no mistake. The quantum era has already begun. However, much like digital computing back in the 1950s, we still don’t have a clear idea of where it will take us.

Creating A True Quantum Transformation

Computers, as fascinating as they can be, don’t really do much by themselves. They need applications to make an impact on the world. For that to happen, other industries have to adopt the technology and figure out how they can apply new capabilities to solve practical problems.

It was with that in mind that IBM created its Q Network, a group of organizations, ranging from auto manufacturers and financial institutions to Oak Ridge National Lab and research universities, to explore real-world uses for quantum computing. Here again though, there are significant challenges to be worked out.

To understand why, imagine materials scientists form Daimler, a member of Q network, trying to understand how to use quantum computing to develop advanced materials to make cars lighter, stronger and more efficient. The data that they can get from a quantum simulation far surpasses anything a classical digital computer can produce, but it is also very different, which means they can’t be sure what to do with it.

In the coming years, scientists will have to learn to ask new and different questions that only a quantum computer can provide answers for. Then, they will have to help engineers learn how to see how these new possibilities can help them design better products. Once that happens, we may see a truly incredible transformation.

That’s the real potential of quantum computers. It’s not just that they will be able to do calculations thousands — if not millions — of times faster than conventional machines, but that they will allows us to do things that we could never do before on any machine, like the physics simulations that Feynman described back in 1991.

Technology Moves Slowly — And Then Very Fast

A hundred years ago, in 1918, an executive at a major corporation would have little awareness that anything was afoot. Technologies like electricity and automobiles had been around for over 30 years, but had not yet had much economic impact yet. That changed in the 1920s and by the end of that decade roughly half of the components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average had been dropped from the list.

In a similar vein, digital computers were around for almost 40 years before things got really hot in the 80s and 90s. Transformation takes so long not just because it takes time to make the underlying technology more powerful, but because other industries need to learn how to apply new capabilities to create better products and services.

That’s why the current debate over quantum supremacy is largely misguided. You’re not going to be buying a quantum computer at an Apple Store anytime soon –maybe even in your lifetime– and accessing one in the cloud will take significant training for the foreseeable future. So whether quantum computers can do traditional calculations faster than digital machines is of little practical value.

What is relevant — and incredibly exciting — is that over the next 5-10 years quantum computers are likely to allow us to solve problems that we never could before. We are entering a new era of innovation in which many old metrics will not apply. Those that win in this new age will not be the ones who can do old things faster, but those who can imagine new possibilities.

These Serial Entrepreneurs Are Out to Change the World of Startup Funding

Matthew Lally and Jonahan Foltz know a little something about how hard it can be to acquire funding for a startup .

Lally, an immigrant from the UK, founded a mobile marketing company that struggled for funding and was shortly after acquired for eight figures. Foltz, a nomadic serial entrepreneur” who’s sat at the helm of a whopping 20 companies, has experienced firsthand the exclusivity of traditional funding approaches, which are available to only a select few would-be entrepreneurs.

Together they founded PITCH, which aim to transform the way startups raise capital and make funding and exposure more available to entrepreneurs the world over. Here’s how they are making it happen.

Kickstarter Meets Shark Tank–with a Twist

You’ve heard of Kickstarter–the crowdfunding platform that helped democratize the world of funding by enabling entrepreneurs to pitch directly to consumers and earn their financial support. You’ve also heard of Shark Tank–the wildly popular TV show on which contestants try to convince industry titans to invest in their ideas.

Put those two ideas together, and you start to understand what’s happening with Pitch Investors Live.

The platform enables entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to a live audience of accredited investors who are able to ask questions, just as they would on Shark Tank. Meanwhile, the audience can ask questions and even buy tokens from the presenting entrepreneurs. Everyday people can watch these pitches and participate in crowdfunding, just as they can on Kickstarter.

“We want people to go on our app and at every single minute, there’s somebody pitching somebody else their idea from anywhere in the world,” says Foltz. “This is gonna create a huge community.”

While other funding models have also forged new communities, there’s one thing that distinguishes PITCH from existing crowdfunding platforms or VC funding approaches: All financial exchanges happen on the blockchain. The audience for each pitch will be able to purchase PITCH tokens that let them buy tokens from an existing project.

“These tokens are used by many different entrepreneurs to come up with these really innovative ideas–and they’re decentralized,” says Lally. “We’re not gonna be able to tell people who can and cannot go up to pitch. You go to Silicon Valley, people are picking and choosing. With Pitch, it’s the community.”

To date, the iOS app has attracted more than 1,000 startups and entrepreneurs who are ready to pitch their ideas and seek funding through the platform. Meanwhile, PITCH’s team has grown rapidly from just a few individuals to a team of nearly 40.

The company plans to build on this momentum with the launch of a limited time token sale, which started on Feb. 28th 2018, and which they hope will bring in up to $30 million. Future plans include developing enhancements to their existing app, decentralizing the platform on the blockchain, bringing on celebrities, and bringing together more bright minds. The goal is to have a beta version out within eight months of the token sale’s launch and a fully working model within a year.

A Funding Platform for the Future

“I’m a futurist,” says Foltz. “One of the things that I see is that there’s these cryptocurrencies creating a token economy. Blockchain is much bigger than just Bitcoin.”

These cryptocurrencies are growing at exponential rates. This year alone, says Foltz, token launches and token sales are expected to raise over $20 billion. Citing that the $20 billion is an underestimate (That’s relative to $4 billion in 2017 and less than $300 million in 2016.)

The way Lally sees it, the token economy is going to permanently change the entrepreneurial, economic, and social landscape.

“We believe we’re entering into a brand new type of society,” says Lally. “I really believe that this is the most exciting technology to hit our planet since the internet.” Just like the internet before it, Lally predicts the blockchain is going to change the way businesses manage information and transform the entire economy by disrupting the current reliance on third parties for all transactions.

It also makes entrepreneurship more accessible on a global scale. Because it’s based on the blockchain, PITCH provides the opportunity for equal access to funding and equal exposure–no matter whether an entrepreneur is based in a remote village or Silicon Valley. And because the app won’t control which pitches rise to the top (instead leaving those decisions up to its audience), it ensures unbiased opportunities for entrepreneurs of all stripes.

Foltz is acutely aware of the revolutionary potential for this model. “Let’s say for example there is a child in a third-world country,” he says. “I can actually send money to his bitcoin wallet (an address that acting as a digital bank). Twenty dollars to him is an incredible amount of money–[and sending it] is almost instantaneous. There’s no other method of payment that would even allow that to happen.”

Have We Reached The Tipping Point in the Gun Debate?

In times past, our reaction to mass shootings follow a very specific and recognizable cycle which includes initial public and private expressions of sorrow, call for gun control reform, congressional stalemate (or total disregard) and no change.  Might this time be different?  Might we finally be at a tipping point?

By definition, a tipping point is a point in time when a group–or a large number of group members–rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice.[1]  What’s interesting, that large group may not need to be all that large. 

In fact, scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute[2] (where I earned a master’s degree and was part of the adjunct faculty for more than 20 years) have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists at Rensselaer used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications on the influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals – like those surrounding our country’s gun debate.

What’s Different This Time?

There seems to be a more grassroots effort aimed at changing gun laws this time around. If we consider the courageous and ambitious youth movement being spearheaded by the Parkland, Florida high school students and couple it with the fact that industry leading companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Delta Air Lines are weighing in with changes to their company’s policies, it is possible that we may have reached the time where gun law changes are inevitable…And, why not?

Stiffer gun laws would likely have little economic impact on the gun industry, the cost of enacting better controls can be easily paid for and most Americans want stricter laws.

What Is The Economic Impact of Stricter Gun Controls?

It’s not that hard to speculate on what the subject of any prospective new gun laws might be.   All or some combination, of these 5 ideas would probably be at the center of any future regulation:

  1. Ban Assault Rifles
  2. Improve Background Checks
  3. Outlaw Bump Stocks
  4. Raise Gun Ownership Age
  5. Restrict Magazine Size

If we map these 5 ideas against the following simple facts about the U.S. gun industry:

  • U.S. firearms and ammunition is  an over $50 billion industry
  • It employs over 300,000 people
  • About 30 percent of U.S. adults own guns
  • Assault rifles account for less than 3% of firearms owned in the U.S.

You would likely draw the conclusion that enacting stiffer gun controls would have little to no impact on the industry that manufactures firearms and ammunition.  In fact, what little industry impact that might be felt, could easily be offset through the introduction of other new and innovative gun products (like those aimed at delivering improved safety).

Of course, new laws cost money.

Who Would Pay for the Enactment of the New Laws?

The only noticeable costs associated in any of these recommendations would be those related to background check systems improvements, which could easily be funded by a slight bump in income tax (e.g., Australia temporarily bumped its income tax by only 1% to pay for its gun law implementation, which was a far more extensive and radical program that included buying back guns) or the collection of a higher gun sales tax (i.e., similar to our existing luxury tax which puts a 10 percent luxury surcharge tax on boats over $100,000, cars over $30,000, aircraft over $250,000, and furs and jewelry over $10,000).

Of course, I’d advocate for later because I don’t happen to believe that the 70% of Americans who don’t own guns should have to pay for 30% of Americans who do.  Regardless, improvements in the background system could easily be funded and, if they were to be improved, those improvements could serve to save a lot of innocent people additional heartache.

But, What About Our Rights?

We certainly could have a debate about whether putting gun control laws in place would lead to the overturning of the 2nd Amendment.

But, let’s not!

If enacted, none of the 5 ideas outlined above would abolish the right of the people to keep and bear arms

So, let’s not use the 2nd Amendment as the reason to avoid putting stiffer gun controls in place.

Instead, let’s consider that the vast majority of Americans want improved gun control laws (i.e., The latest Quinnipiac University National Poll, published last week, showed that American voters support stricter gun laws by a whopping 66 – 31 percent, the highest level of support ever measured, with 50 – 44 percent support among gun owners and 62 – 35 percent support from white voters with no college degree and 58 – 38 percent support among white men)[3] and let’s figure out how to work together to get that done.

To close, we don’t know for sure if we are at the tipping point in the gun control debate in the United States, nor are we able to predict the exact business impact of additional controls.  But, if the scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Instituteare correct when they suggest that it takes only 10 percent of the population to hold an unshakable belief for that belief to be adopted by the majority of the society, then we just may be at the point where we can begin to make meaningful changes in our gun laws.   

Dick’s Sporting Goods’ CEO Just Showed the World What Courageous Leadership Looks Like

In the aftermath of the tragic mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 teenagers and teachers were killed and 14 were wounded, social media exploded with expressions of sympathy. There is not one among us who doesn’t grieve for the victims, their families, friends, and the Parkland community. However, while we can each post, shout, march, protest, and talk about change, few of us have a platform or a vehicle to be part of that change on a large stage. 

What if you did? What if you could do more than take a stand? What if you actually had the means to do something, something meaningful and significant; not just to be a bystander but, in some small way, to be an architect of the future? 

Edward Stack had that opportunity and, to his credit, he took it. 

Stack is the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, an $8 billion national retailer of sporting related apparel, supplies, and, yes, guns–some of which were assault-style rifles. I say “were” because that changed recently.

This isn’t a political post. I’m not taking up the debate over the 2nd amendment or attempting to convince anyone about the merits or risks of gun ownership. This is about the importance of one individual and one company taking a stand to try to make a difference. 

As it turns out, the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, purchased a shotgun at Dick’s. Although that particular gun was not used in his rampage, it nonetheless made the point that guns can legally get into the hands of people who because of their background, mental impairment, or age should not have the ability to so easily purchase them.

On February 28 Stack instituted a policy for Dick’s that specifically bans the sale of assault style weapons, such as the AR-15 used by Cruz, high-capacity magazines, and sales of all other guns to anyone under the age of 21.

It’s worth pointing out that Dicks’ had previously discontinued carrying assault-style riffles in 2012 after Sandy Hook only to put them back into it’s Field & Stream subsidiary a few months later. At last check, Dick’s website still lists for sale 13 semi-automatic guns including the AR-7, which has less power and uses a slightly smaller .22 caliber cartridge. The key in this case is the term “assault-style,” which refers to guns that have high-capacity magazines, a semi-automatic feature, and one military characteristic. 

This time around Stack commented, during one televised interview, that Dick’s would “never” reverse its position on assault-style weapons and sales of guns to anyone under 21. 

Will Stack’s move actually help curb the sale of assault weapons and access to guns for anyone under 21? The short answer is “no.” Sales of assault-style weapons have increased by about 25 percent over the past five years. History shows that closing one channel through which guns or ammunition can be purchased only increases sales volume in the remaining channels, which include nearly 80,000 licensed dealers, shops, and pawn brokers. 

So, why do it? To garner press? Unlikely, because the impact is at best neutral on Dick’s business. To enhance the brand? While many praise the move and claim that it will make them life-long customers of Dick’s, just as many are likely to swear off of Dick’s for good. There are economic repercussions as well. Even if assault-style weapons and gun sales to those under 21 accounted for one one-thousandth of Dick’s revenues, the cost of eliminating them would amount to about $8,000,000. That’s an expensive PR campaign. And this doesn’t take into account other implications for companies putting their brand in the sights of the NRA. For example, those faced by Delta Airlines, which in revoking discounted airfare for NRA members risks an almost certain denial of $40,000,000 in fuels tax credit restoration in Georgia. 

It’s also fairly clear that Stack’s move will have little to no direct impact on mass shootings. According to an article in Vox, of the 156 mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 only two were committed by those under 21 using a semi-automatic rifle. Another nine shooters under 21 used conventional guns. 

However, we could say the same of every post, rally, and protest. Why do we bother if no one person or organization can cause change to happen? Because the question at the end of the day is less about the influence any one person or organization has, and more about having the courage to use your position to stand up and do something rather than, as the song goes, just waiting on the world to change.

Whatever your stance on gun control it’s clear that we need to do something to not only elevate but sustain this conversation as a nation. Our polarized political systems has proven to be woefully inadequate in doing that. However, all leaders, not just politicians, have the power, and I’d go so far as to say the obligation, to decide on the social values the their organization will speak up for and support. 

I asked at the start of this article what you would do if you had the ability to influence. The reality is that you do. Your stage may not be as large and your sphere of influence may not be as great as that of the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you may not even make the cut for the Inc. 5000, but if you’re lucky enough to lead then you also have an obligation to accept the mantle of leadership and all it entails. Part of that is establishing the social values that your organization will influence, support, and sustain. 

Stack’s actions may be negligible in terms of their direct impact. But, ultimately, no one person creates the future. We must each either accept or reject that we take part in and play a role in shaping it or that we are simply shaped by it.