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Fast Company

"Fast Company" - 12 new articles

  1. Occupy Wall Street Moves Into New Phase With Student Debt Refusal Campaign
  2. Amazon's Fire Kindles A Phone Rumor, Shoots A Missile Into The Smartphone Cold War
  3. Dolphin Whistles Help Solve The Mysteries Of The Cosmos
  4. Nest Collective's Neil Grimmer Gets A New Generation To Eat Its Spinach--And Like It
  5. As "Breaking Dawn" Shatters Box Office, Its Screenwriter Breaks New Ground With "Earthseed"
  6. Revitalizing The Muppets Franchise
  7. Venture For America Wants To Create 100,000 New Jobs By Matching College Grads With Startups
  8. New Media Meets Zines In "The World's First Perfect" Irony
  9. Advertising Pioneers CP+B and Hyper Island Hawk World Peace
  10. How One "Walking Dead" Actor's Racist Maniac Makes For Must-See TV
  11. Martin Scorsese On Vision In Hollywood
  12. Inside The Papal iPad, Reid Hoffman Expects Facebook IPO In Early 2012, iPad Magazine Readers Want More
  13. More Recent Articles
  14. Search Fast Company
  15. Prior Mailing Archive

Occupy Wall Street Moves Into New Phase With Student Debt Refusal Campaign

This afternoon at the newly cleared, heavily patrolled, and sparkling (Christmas lights!) Zuccotti Park, a group of activists dressed in caps and gowns made from garbage bags and draped with paper chains announced the official launch of the Occupy Student Debt Campaign.

Led by NYU professor Andrew Ross, the group is trying to get student loan borrowers to sign a pledge of "debt refusal." Once they reach one million signatures, everyone stops paying back their loans. The idea is not to pump up the profits of student loan servicers and big banks by creating a new group of defaulters, but to call attention to the spiraling cost of higher education, the mounting pile of student loans ($958 billion as of this writing), and the Dickensian situation many borrowers find themselves in as a result of the lack of basic consumer protections like bankruptcy on student loans, especially private student loans.

"I strongly believe my entire life--and I'm 50 now--was ruined by student loan debt," said Johanna Clearfield, an organizer of the campaign. Her $20,000 loan is over $50,000 after default.

This announcement marks a new phase of the #OWS movement. As the focus shifts away from tent cities and confrontations with police, we're likely to see a series of similar single-issue campaigns channeling the energy and borrowing the media spotlight of Occupy. Student loan debt, which enriches Wall Street through securitization even as it punches holes in the dreams of legions of young people, has been central to the grievances expressed around Occupy, making it an excellent place to start. (This campaign is not to be confused with Occupy Student Debt, which has a website and Facebook page, or with the efforts of Student Loan Justice founder and Occupier Alan Collinge, who was present at the Zuccotti Park launch holding up a sign calling for restoring bankruptcy protection on student loans.)

It's also very much in the spirit of the Occupy movement that the Occupy Student Debt Campaign has chosen unilateral direct action (just stop writing those checks) instead of addressing a set of demands to the federal government or anyone else. Unfortunately, their chosen tactic has given them a hard row to hoe. They're wide open to criticism that they're just encouraging people to back out on their obligations. "It's not a free ride out there and it's time that everyone realizes that," stated a typical comment on an Inside Higher Ed piece about the campaign. Nor does suggesting that the federal government should just pick up the tab for free public higher education, which has historically been funded by states, read like a serious policy proposal in this day and age.

As someone who's been writing about student loan debt for a long time, what's most interesting to me here is the role of faculty members in speaking up about the problem. NYU, where Ross teaches labor history and political theory, is among the most expensive private universities in the country. The website includes a pledge for faculty to sign, reading in part, "We faculty can no longer acquiesce to the ruinous impact on our students of the surging cost of higher education." It takes courage for those who draw their paychecks from our current higher education system to stand up and say that it's no longer tenable, and it might lead to some real change.

[Image of Johanna Clearfield: We Are The 99 Percent on Tumblr]

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Amazon's Fire Kindles A Phone Rumor, Shoots A Missile Into The Smartphone Cold War

kindleAccording to industry blog Digitimes, Eastern partner manufacturers are expecting an inventory glut in Android-powered tablets after the holiday--exacerbating what may already be an oversupply problem. Insiders are blaming the iPad and the Kindle Fire, and high consumer expectations for Windows 8 tablets arriving in 2012. This sounds like bad news for Google, but things could get worse if rumors of an Amazon smartphone prove true.

You may ponder that Google has dropped the ball for Android on tablets when you read Digitimes' words that "the inventory problem will appear to be significant after the 2011 year-end peak sales period, accoring to Taiwan-based supply chain makers." So many unbought Android tabs may be cluttering the shelves and warehouses in fact that waves of price cuts are predicted in the early New Year. That sounds attractive for potential Android tablet buyers, but it's as bad a sign for Google as HP's earlier price cuts for its then-doomed TouchPad were, and that price cuts for RIM's ailing PlayBook tablet are. 

To blame are two tablets: the iPad, of course, and the new Kindle Fire. Changewave research has just published some statistics that underline how much of a hold these two devices have over the market. Among 3,000 interviewees of those who said they were planning to buy a tablet, 65% said they'd be buying an iPad, and 22% were plumping for the Fire--just 4% said they fancied a Galaxy Tab from Samsung, which is regarded as one of the most successful full-on Android tablets so far. The Fire, on the other hand, completely buries Google's Android UI beneath a custom Amazon user experience that's shaped around all the content that Amazon can supply--books, music, videos, and thanks to its own tightly curated app store, apps too. That all but cuts Google out of every revenue stream from the Fire.

Overall 130% boosts in tablet sales are predicted during the 2011 holiday buying window, and that's a huge success for Apple and Amazon too, which has seemingly bagged the number two tablet slot just weeks after the Fire's launch. Interestingly, Changewave's data suggests that the Fire isn't eating iPad market share--it's displacing other Android tablets, probably because it's clear the Fire isn't as full-featured a machine as Apple's, and yet it delivers a killer combo of low price, Amazon's powerful brand images, and excellent access to Amazon content.

What Google may have messed up on is delivering a rich, high-powered Android version for tablets--and delivering inconsistently for those it has already powered. Articles containing lines like "while there's no word yet in an Ice Cream Sandwich updates, you can bet that Sony's pushing for one" (referring to the latest tablet-friendly Android build, V5.0, in context of Sony's unusual and interesting S-series Android tablets) typify the problem. And with Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 for tablets expected to allow millions of wannabe tablet users to work within the familiar Windows environment, Android tablets may have a tough sell in 2012. 

Which leaves us looking at Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet. It's selling like hot cakes, and there are already rumors that another manufacturer, Foxconn (Apple's lead tablet and phone partner) is coming on stream with more 7-inch tablets early in 2012. That's a sign that Amazon isn't suffering inventory problems like other tablet makers. And as a different sign that Amazon has bigger plans, there are already swirling rumors that Amazon has plans to bring an 8.9-inch Fire to market in the second quarter of 2012. We can't know, but we can guess that Amazon is planning a similar low price for this machine (which is pitched more squarely against the iPad) and may also bump its internal specs to deal with criticisms about the sometimes jerky performance of the existing Fire. 

All of this is fuel for the rumor fire that Amazon is planning, later in 2012, to take its mobile device experiment one stage further and into smartphones. It's a natural move, because as we've noted the Fire is all about delivering Amazon content to Amazon clients via its 100% Amazon-centric UI. And there's no reason this same model wouldn't work on a smartphone. Using its experience with the Fire and earlier Kindles, Amazon now knows how to produce high-grade hardware that's distinguished by its design and capabilities. Plus there's the almost unchallengable success of Whispersync to remember--a seamless and free way for users to get content for their Kindles, piggybacked on 3G cell phone signals. There's also news Amazon's bought a voice-recognition firm to rival Siri, possibly leveraging its own extensive cloud service servers for the back-end processing. 

If Jeff Bezos' firm chose a mid-range specification for the chips, internal storage, screen, and other hardware of the Kindle phone, it could offer it at an extremely competitive price--along with a full-fledged ecosystem to deliver content and apps that even Google can't rival. Do we see a sniff of desperation in Google's recent moves to get into the MP3-vending game?

An Amazon smartphone like this, priced at a $100 to $199 range and leveraging Amazon's ecosystem and its cloud services and brand would immediately make a splash in the low-mid smartphone market because it'd be hard to find a rival to it among existing Android handsets (and even non-Android ones)--devices which offer only some of the seamless content access Amazon offers, and often a scrappy and unreliable access to apps on the Google app market. Amazon could even offer the phone for less than $100 because it's been suggested the firm is selling Fires at a loss, knowing it can recoup the money--and plenty extra--through ongoing sales from its store. 

Such a phone would be a true innovation in the smartphone market that's become a little stagnant. Android phones have secured a big lead in sales, but Apple's share isn't slipping too fast at the moment--and merchants seem to be selling out of the iPhone 4S as soon as it arrives on its shelves. The entry of a rich-content Amazon phone would shake the market up dramatically, likely stealing big chunks of the low-price market, disrupt the cold war, and may thus even prompt Google and Apple to move ahead with more of their own innovations. That would only benefit consumers the world over.

[Image: Flickr user micahb37]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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Dolphin Whistles Help Solve The Mysteries Of The Cosmos

With a lot of help from Flipper, scientists have a better shot at understanding phenomena like black holes and supernovae.

Let's back up. To understand the connection between dolphins and supernovae, you have to start in the year 2000, when German company EvoLogics was founded. EvoLogics is one of the only firms on the planet whose entire output consists of biomimetic innovation. Its products and proofs-of-concept include robotic manta rays and penguins, ultra-efficient propellers and Terminator-like human torsos.

But the company's most successful innovation has been a system for allowing electronics to communicate at a distance under water. Acoustic modems--which use sound waves to transmit information--are one of the few viable methods for "wireless" communication in a medium that blocks or absorbs the electromagnetic waves we usually use.

Water transmits sound quickly, but it's also a noisy medium, full of countless other objects transmitting vibrations over vast distances. But dolphins have found a solution. Their distinctive whistles can be heard from as far away as 25 kilometers. Being heard above the din of the ocean without generating tremendously powerful calls can only be accomplished by sending your signal over as many different "channels" as possible.

In any medium, a wave traveling to a distant source may travel along many different paths, because it's traveling through different mediums and bouncing off things along the way. This means multiple copies of the same signal can arrive at its destination at slightly different times. Signals that arrive in this way can mess with the original message, as the two versions of the signal collide. It's called multipath interference, and if you've ever seen ghosting on old-style analog televisions, you've seen its effects.

Dolphins get around this kind of interference by continuously varying the frequency of their signal--in other words, by constantly adjusting the pitch of their call. By spreading it across many different frequencies, they increase the probability that at least part of the signal will arrive intact, no matter the conditions in the ocean.

It took eight years of research to determine exactly how dolphins do this, and the results were then poured into what is arguably the most advanced acoustic modem ever created. The results are a modem that misdelivers only one in every billion bits of information (PDF).

Evologics S2C modem has been on the market for a few years, and like all new technologies its taken that long for engineers to figure out what it might uniquely enable. Currently, it's in everything from deep-sea observatories to tsunami alert systems, but one of its most unique applications is in the Baikal Deep Underwater Neutrino Telescope.

Neutrinos are elementary particles that are born in stars and black holes and the Big Bang, and understanding them is vitally important to our understanding of the galaxy (currently, they're the partical that might be moving faster than the speed of light). The problem with neutrinos, though, is that they don't interact with matter very often. So, to find and study them, you need to be looking very carefully in a very controlled space.

The Russian Lake Baikal is one of those places. It's the deepest lake in the world. It's also the oldest--30 million years in the making--and every winter it freezes over with ice a meter thick. That makes it the perfect platform for a neutrino detector, which is lowered into its depths every February. For a neutrino detector to be sufficiently sensitive to be of much use, it needs to be inside at least a cubic kilometer of water. The world's largest of these type of detectors is buried deep in the South Pole. Building a comparable detector in Lake Baikal requires knowing exactly precisely where, in that one kilometer cube each of your neutrino sensors are.

That's where the dolphin modem comes in. A revamped Baikal neutrino detector requires that scientists know where their detectors are to within 40 centimeters. The S2C system--with a lot of help from dolphins--can position them to within 5 millimeters.

And that's how millions of years of cetacean evolution yielded a system that can peer into the deepest reaches of time and space.

[Image: Flickr user Jesslee Cuizon]

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Nest Collective's Neil Grimmer Gets A New Generation To Eat Its Spinach--And Like It

Baby food is big business.

At least it is when you do it like Nest Collective, a Bay Area company that has transformed the baby-food industry by introducing the now-commonplace, BPA-free spouted pouch to the U.S. market through its Plum Organics brand.

Kids--and parents--ate it up: The company's sales grew more than 3,000% (as much a statement on success, as starting small) between 2007 and 2010, making it among the fastest-growing private companies in America.

The one-two punch of portable, less-wasteful pouches and the tasty, organic foods that parents wanted for their children turned out to be a category-changing innovation (and if you've ever taken a whiff of beef-stew baby food in a jar, that's no surprise).

Baby food sales had been declining year over year by 2%; meanwhile, baby-food pouches--which currently represent about 9% of the total baby food category--have grown 506%, according to Nielsen Data. 

Nest Collective cofounder and CEO Neil Grimmer says the company's purpose is to "nourish the organic generation from high chair to lunchbox." 

"We are the parents that we serve," Grimmer says. "Our creative process starts with that--living the lives of the ones we serve. I look at what my kids eat every day, what they don't eat, and try to use that as a point of inspiration."

Watch the video below to hear more from Grimmer about how his company is transforming nutrition for a new generation. 

[video_twistage 1]

Check out our Who's Next series for more profiles of the big thinkers everyone's talking about. For more leadership coverage, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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As "Breaking Dawn" Shatters Box Office, Its Screenwriter Breaks New Ground With "Earthseed"

Screenwriter-producer Melissa Rosenberg helped make Breaking Dawn a box office smash by staying faithful to the books. With her next project Earthseed, she ditches fan loyalty for high fidelity, by "sounding out" her script with F/X experts at ILM.

When tapped to write the screen adaptation of the blockbuster, brooding Twilight books, screenwriter-producer Melissa Rosenberg took what you might consider the writer’s Hippocratic Oath—a first-do-no-harm procedure that safely transplanted the story of Bella and Edward from bestsellers to the box office: See the book on-screen.

“The emotional ride has to be the same as the books,” Rosenberg says. For the latest film, Breaking Dawn, that meant, “no matter what, I had to hit the three important sequences to the story, the wedding, the honeymoon and the birth. Those three sequences are hugely important to audience. At the same time, I couldn’t think about it too much or I was going to be paralyzed with fear. I mean, at a certain point you can’t please everyone.”

Judging by the film’s opening weekend, she’s come pretty damn close to making everybody happy. Her scrupulous cinematic renderings of the fourth and penultimate installment of Stephenie Meyer's tales of vampire teen-fangst got box office blood pumping with an estimated $139.5 million in domestic box office, a healthy chunk of a $2 billion global franchise.

It’s also the kind of figure that catapults the former Dexter staffer and writer of the dance movie Step Up into a league of her own as one of the most successful screenwriters in recent Hollywood history. And with that, a half-dozen newly announced projects, including a television adaptation of AKA Jessica Jones for ABC and Marvel (with comic book genius Brian Michael Bendis), an opportunity to break that “See the book on-screen” rule. With her newest project Earthseed, she's doing that quite literally--and developing her screenplay by creating its sound.

To develop the film adaptation of dystopian teen trilogy Earthseed, Rosenberg trekked up to George Lucas’s special effects mecca Industrial Light & Magic and sat with a team of sound specialists to think about the aural aspects of a futuristic world, while drafting the script itself. “Usually the screenwriter turns in the film, then the director starts building the imagery and production details,” says Rosenberg. “What’s remarkable is Paramount is starting with these technical concepts from the very beginning. So as I’m writing the story, I’m in a room with the world’s best technical thinkers and we’re asking: ‘What are the sounds of this world? Of these characters? That’s kind of amazing to have access to ILM this early in the process.”

It also hints at a compelling and rather logical new approach to moviemaking. One you might call green screenwriting--a way of building in the digital F/X and visual possibilities well before production starts. Heck, in the case of Earthseed, it’s happening before a director is even attached. “It’s an approach I’m enjoying as I build this universe,” says Rosenberg. “I have access to all of these technical advisers who are helping me envision this universe and sharing what’s possible in the story.” Not to mention, with ballooning post-production budgets, “green screenwriting” might give a studio like Paramount an earlier and more accurate read on how much a flick might cost. You hear that, Green Lantern?

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Revitalizing The Muppets Franchise

This month's The Muppets movie tries to reverse decades of brand mismanagement.

table p {font-size:15px !important;line-height:1.3em !important;padding:8px !important;} THE FAULTTHE FIX

Selling out Some fans balked in 1996, when their beloved Miss Piggy started shilling for Baked Lays, and then again in 2006, when she appeared in a Pizza Hut commercial to sing suggestively about "Cheesy Bites." Kermit's bizarre Ford Escape Hybrid ads didn't fare much better.

starting fresh The Muppets takes place in the real world, just as Henson intended. And fun, character-driven story lines abound: Miss Piggy, for example, starts the movie as a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue Paris, and Animal is in a clinic for anger management.

Overextending the brandTheme-park rides! Baby clothes! A Muppified version of America's Next Top Model! For decades, no possible extension was too off-brand for Henson's franchise, which made fans wonder if its ever-changing owners knew what made the Muppets special at all.

focusing on the funny Though some corporate tie-ins are inevitable (see: a line of Kermit the Frog kicks from Adidas), the modern Muppets promote themselves on YouTube, where their cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" has logged more than 22 million hits.

selling to kids Muppets movies have long been rated G--an odd choice for a group whose '70s TV gig contained an episode titled "The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence." And Tim Hill, who directed 1999's Muppets From Space, was best known as a writer on SpongeBob SquarePants.

courting to grown-ups The Muppets touts an edgier PG rating, for "mild rude humor," and coscreenwriters Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, who penned the R-rated hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The laundry list of buzzed-about cameos--Jack Black! Mila Kunis! Zach Galifianakis!--doesn't hurt either.

The Great Muppet (Financial) Caper

1989 Disney agrees to buy the Jim Henson Co. for a reported $100 million; deal falls through after Henson's sudden death. 2000 German media group EM.TV buys the Jim Henson Co. for $680 million. 2001 EM.TV sells rights to Sesame Street characters to Sesame Workshop, a New York-based not-for-profit, for $180 million.

2003 EM.TV sells the Jim Henson Co. back to the Henson family for $89 million. 2004 Disney buys the Muppets for $68 million.

Everett Collection (Sam The Eagle, Kermit The Frog, The Muppets, Spongebob Squarepants, The Muppet Christmas Carol); Jack Abuin/Zuma Press (Jack Black)

A version of this article appears in the November 2011 issue of Fast Company.

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Venture For America Wants To Create 100,000 New Jobs By Matching College Grads With Startups

Andrew Yang founded Venture for America to tackle unemployment, one aspiring entrepreneur at a time.

Andrew Yang wants to create jobs. Specifically, 100,000 U.S. jobs by 2025.

It’s an ambitious goal, but one that Yang believes is completely attainable just by getting recent college graduates to work at startups rather than take positions in finance, consulting, and law. But not just any startups: Yang wants to recruit young talent to ignite entrepreneurial sparks in such economically depressed areas as Detroit; Providence, Rhode Island; and New Orleans.

So who is this one-man economic stimulus package?

Yang is a 37-year-old serial entrepreneur with experience in just about every industry sector, from health care to fashion retail. This August he founded Venture for America (VFA), a wildly ambitious nonprofit based in New York City that is recruiting its first class of fellows. 

Yang spoke with Fast Company about his own career and how he aims to change the unemployment game, one aspiring entrepreneur at a time.

The Big Idea

Early-stage businesses are different, says Yang. "You need more people to help you grow capacity effectively," countering the prevailing wisdom at many larger companies to run as lean as possible. "To expand, you need the right kind of talent on board early. Talent is a key lever that drives growth."

In his opinion, no one is better at recruiting talent than Teach For America, the 21-year-old initiative that places top college grads in teaching positions in low-income schools. VFA aims to place 50 fellows a year at startup businesses in underserved communities for at least two years. For example, Digerati, a Detroit-based business with an innovative focus on IT, will be offered a VFA fellow for an annual salary of between $32,000 and $38,000. During that time, the fellow’s performance will be assessed through regular conferences between VFA and the business owners. At the end of their tenure, the company can opt to hire the fellow under new terms.

Rooted in Personal Experience

The idea for VFA came from Yang’s own life after academia. After graduating from Brown in 1996, Yang pursued a law degree from Columbia. That’s when he first became aware that many graduates were unsatisfied with their professional choices, and the impact Teach For America had on attracting young people to historically low-paying jobs in education. 

Yang’s own career reflects a restless pursuit of new opportunities. After a brief stint as an associate in mergers and acquisitions at law firm Davis Polk, Yang embarked on a series of ventures, including an Internet fundraising company for celebrity-affiliated nonprofits, a health care software company, and a mobile content management company. He then developed the original curriculum for Manhattan GMAT (he scored a 780 on the exam) and served as the company’s president and CEO until it was acquired by Kaplan/The Washington Post. 

“As someone who’s run a company or two, we are always looking for young, talented people to hire, yet find it difficult to connect with them,” says Yang. Thus, Venture for America was created as a platform to connect graduates looking to pursue more satisfying career paths and executives at startups looking for the best and brightest employees.

Rules of Attraction

In just a few months, early-stage companies have flocked to be part of the program, and VFA has collected more than 1,000 applications submitted by college seniors applying alongside and in place of more traditional opportunities in finance, consulting, law, and even big tech. "When I go to college campuses, I encounter students with passion and enthusiasm that badly want to be put in positions [that make a difference]," Yang says. "It speaks to the nature of young people."

Yang’s initiative has also attracted a slew of A-listers to invest and sit on its board of directors. Execs from Acumen Fund, Zynga, JP Morgan, and Viacom pepper VFA’s extensive team. Yang quips that part of his success stems from a skill he learned as a teenager waiting tables at a Chinese restaurant: "It helps to smile." 

On a more serious note, he chalks VFA’s early traction up to sales.

"As an aspect of a successful startup, sales gets a bad rap for not being intellectual, but it’s a key driver in VFA," he explains. "Many people have experienced the same need that we seek to address firsthand, so it was an easy idea for people to support." 

Management Style

"I think people learn best in positions of responsibility," says Yang. "I like to put them in places where they have to stretch, and I’m there to provide guidance." It’s a management concept that’s embedded into the VFA program and one that goes hand-in-hand with Yang’s view of mentorship.

"For someone’s first job out of college, it’s important to have a professional environment to learn and structured ways to do things. Mentorship and role modeling are a big part of the early stages of someone’s career. I think the best mentors had careers that you would like to have, and being in same industry is helpful." 

In the Trenches

VFA can provide its fellows with early career mentors but it also gives them the kind of experience you can’t learn from a textbook. The single biggest difference between a whiteboard and an actual operation is how a person meets goals. 

"When someone gives you a set of deliverables, you immediately translate how to deliver. People who had that [real-world] experience immediately translate to what it would take to accomplish goals. Instincts don’t grow overnight. There’s no way to get them but in the trenches," he says.  His own experience on the ground taught him a lot about complications and complexities.

Looking Ahead

For now, Yang’s got his sights set on sending a critical number of best and brightest to work in startups in Detroit, New Orleans, and Providence, beginning next spring. From there, he hopes to grow the program to other cities; they're also considering Cincinnati and Las Vegas. 

Though he’s industry-hopped a lot in the last decade, Yang asserts he’s dedicated to Venture For America. "One thing I tell people starting a company is that you have to be committed for a long enough time to build. I committed the next number of years to VFA. I’m very focused on it and I really like startups."

Not to mention the potential he believes there is to grow.

"Imagine a country where the same proportion of talent that goes to financial services or law school goes instead to early-stage companies," Yang says. "A relatively small proportion of the best and brightest are going there now, that’s what we are setting out to change."

Check out our Who's Next series for more profiles of the big thinkers everyone's talking about. For more leadership coverage, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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New Media Meets Zines In "The World's First Perfect" Irony

A semi-anonymous writer and editor reviewing others' reviews of indie music parlays blog buzz into actual people in a real-life record store clamoring for copies of his throwback printed product, a zine.

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Advertising Pioneers CP+B and Hyper Island Hawk World Peace

And, no, "World Peace" is not line of organic specialty soaps.

Can a group of people typically associated with stoking our consumerist urges achieve a plan for world peace?

In 72 hours?

Since Wednesday, November 16th, global ad agency CP+B and Swedish new media school Hyper Island have been working together on the 72 Hours For Peace project. This collaborative effort aspires to no less than peace on Earth but does so in a practical manner: by creating the world’s largest creative commons database of ideas for how to end all major conflict.

Initially, Hyper Island simply wanted to hire CP+B to come teach one of their Master Classes--three-day intensives that cover forward-thinking lessons on interactive and digital communication. The agency agreed to teach a crash course, but Hyper Island also got a lot more than it bargained for. Instead of talking about changing brands, CP+B decided to use the opportunity to apply its creative problem-solving process to changing the world.

“When you get a creative brief, there’s always a problem you need to solve,” says Gustav Martner, an executive creative director at the European arm of the agency. “It’s always the same process, whether it’s big or small.” In this case, the scope of the problem is decidedly big. The 72-hour project looks at the idea of peace as the ultimate “impossible brief.”

The three-day event was broken down into separate curriculums for each day, mimicking the way creatives at CP+B attack a new assignment. The first day, the event kicked off with a briefing session. After receiving the parameters of the assignment--which in this case resembled that of a superhero’s--the students were then separated into 60 groups of 5-6 people. From there, they were charged with developing ideas for potential solutions into short, concise paragraphs. These ideas were then pored over and written up like press releases. Next, the agency creatives held feedback conferences for fine-tuning.

On the second day, the team from CP+B helped further shape the initial wave of ideas and had the teams also come up with new paragraphs, in case their first ones could be topped. Each group would eventually vote on the best ideas to run with, and develop them further through more feedback sessions. Finally, on Friday, November 18th, each team uploaded a video presentation describing their plan to the 72 Hours of Peace site, helping to form the online database. Here's one: 

[vimeo 32319964]

So far, the massive project has generated a wealth of innovative ideas, too, ranging from a brand that would sell designer jewelry made from melted-down weapons, to the creation of a worldwide one-day armistice in online multiplayer war games as a symbolic starting point.

The initiative has also attracted a lot of attention online. In addition to reaching the number one trending topic spot on Twitter in Sweden, on Thursday both the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and the Swedish Foreign Ministry have engaged in Twitter discussions, using the the #72hPEACE hashtag.

Movements for peace have often been neatly packaged inside an anti-commercialism message, but the 72 Hours for Peace project indelibly proves that positive solutions can come from many different places--even advertising agencies and boutique media schools.

[Top, thumbnail homepage image: "Hug Or Die" from Team 14 in 72 Hours For Peace Project]

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How One "Walking Dead" Actor's Racist Maniac Makes For Must-See TV

Michael Rooker only needed a handful of scenes to turn Merle Dixon into a fanboy favorite. But it was his real-world commitment to bringing the character to life that gave the AMC series its watercooler buzz.

Merle Dixon doesn't do warm and fuzzy. The maniacal gun-slinging racist and nastier of two redneck brothers on AMC's genre juggernaut, The Walking Dead, Merle achieved cult status last season after sawing off his hand to escape encroaching zombies. Considering his few scenes, the level of demand for Merle's return surprised both the network and producers, and might not have happened were it not for the humanizing force of actor Michael Rooker.

Rooker's recent presence on the show, in the form of a hallucination, was not only Merle Dixon's long-awaited reentry, but a stellar example of a network tapping into its characters--and their fans--to promote a series about the undead in a fresh way: Throw out just enough meat to appease appetites, but keep 'em hungry. And Rooker, who playfully dodges questions about his next appearance, dove into the scene with humor-laced swagger and improvisation. Coercing his semi-conscious younger brother, Daryl (Norman Reedus) into climbing a steep ravine to safety, not even Rooker knew everything that would spill out of his mouth.

"When I make things my own, that's when the script comes alive, and that's part of what makes Merle so memorable," Rooker says. "I love the uncertainty of doing it as real as I possibly can. I don't think about how I'm going to play a role. I'm more concerned with what's underneath and between the words, who the person is, why he's doing what he's doing, and if what he's saying is truthful. And then I let it roll. I equate it to being a jazz musician, who bends, twists, and elongates musical notes so they evolve into something more personal, when you're pouring your soul into it."

After nearly three decades in films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Cliffhanger, JFK, Days of Thunder, and Slither, Rooker watched his popularity explode after a handful of scenes and a disappearing act last season, prompting three fan groups, a videogame gig in Activision's Call of the Dead, and an AMC promotional campaign that teased his eventual Nov. 13 return.

From Merle's ferocious anger in last season's rooftop fight with the other survivors to the charged irony of his waving a pistol while demanding a democratic vote for himself as group leader, Rooker took pains to avoid affecting a good ol' boy cliché. But when Merle opened the next episode with a delirious, grasping, four-minute monologue that preceded his hand severing, his dynamic changed. "Merle had been a brash, crazy, loose cannon in the fight," says Rooker. "This showed you a completely opposite side, and created more questions than answers."

"What Michael does is literally command the screen in such a way that you can't look away," says executive producer Gale Anne Hurd. "He's completely believable. When he was firing his gun during takes, unsuspecting people in Atlanta were hitting the pavement. I don't know that another actor would have been quite as convincing. I'm sure, when he encountered people after the show aired, they probably assumed he was crazy, when he's really a pussycat."

Which hints at the secret ingredient for Dixon devotion. While Rooker's embodiment of Merle may have created fans, the authentic way he embraced them created a grassroots promotional force.

"Merle isn't a likable character. He's the one you love to hate. But it's Mike who makes him interesting," says Kim Sarem, who founded the Rookerholics. "He knows his craft and you can't take your eyes off of him on the screen. He's the same way on Twitter, Facebook, and in real life. He's Tweeted back and forth with many of us, dozens, if not hundreds, of times. He knows about us, and remembers us, and where we're from. All of the Walking Dead actors are extremely approachable and grateful for fans, but Mike's been the most interactive."

"I talk a lot on a CB Radio, which is a lot like Twitter," Rooker counters. "I drove to Atlanta for Walking Dead and talked on the CB to pass the time. Truckers gave me the handle Tagalong, cause I'd tag along on convoys."

Last April, the Rookerholics crafted a Mo Merle Twitter campaign to bring Merle back, aimed at AMC and Walking Dead producers, and enlisting the help of fellow fan group, the Zombie Survival Crew. Dixon's Vixens joined them on subsequent Twitter blitzes. Rooker and Reedus often tweeted shout-outs to each other. "It was a social networking trifecta, all for getting Merle back on the show," laughs Rooker.

The furor inspired AMC's Where's Merle? Twitter contest promotion at last summer's San Diego Comic Con, where fans could get pictures taken with a life-size sculpture of Merle (now residing at AMC's New York headquarters, handcuffed to a ficus tree.)

"We hoped people would embrace the new characters, since the Dixon brothers weren't in the comic book," says Hurd. "But we didn't know there would be so much Dixon love."

Rooker has responded in kind. He joined the Zombie Survival Crew as its head of special forces, created severed polyurethane hands to dole out to fans at conventions, mentioned the groups in interviews, and instigated the idea for the first Rookerholics meeting at the recent Horrorhound Weekend in Cincinnati, where some two dozen members introduced themselves and explained why they were addicted to Rooker. The best story earned a signed zombie-shaped shooting target. The group was so stoked from the experience, it's now planning campaigns for a Merle Dixon action figure, a Sons of Anarchy guest spot for Rooker (who rides a Harley for real), and a listing in next year's People's "Sexiest Men Alive" issue--none of which they bothered to consult Rooker about first.

All of which Rooker finds endlessly amusing. "We basically have a virtual party going," he laughs. "Listen, I'm just a regular guy and I have a slightly different perspective than a lot of actors. I survived pretty poor circumstances. I grew up with eight siblings. Our house in Alabama had an outhouse and a dirt floor. When my folks divorced, our mom moved us to a rough Chicago neighborhood. To come from that, and make a life and a career, is pretty tough and takes a lot of fight. It's made me have to get the job done better than most. And I'm gonna enjoy it better than most."

[Photos courtesy of AMC, Rachael Tedeschi, and Rachel Griffith]


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Martin Scorsese On Vision In Hollywood

How Marty Scorsese risked it all and lived to risk again in Hollywood.

  Scorsese's Directors Orson Welles Roberto Rossellini Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger John Cassavetes Robert Altman Scorsese's Characters John Lloyd Sullivan Boris Lermontov William Friese Greene Chuck Tatum Tony Hunter

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Inside The Papal iPad, Reid Hoffman Expects Facebook IPO In Early 2012, iPad Magazine Readers Want More

Breaking news from your editors at Fast Company, with updates all day.

Ebay Buys Hunch. For a figure rumored to reach $80 million, eBay has just announced it's acquiring Hunch. Hunch's "technology talent" and its "deep expertise in areas like machine learning, data mining and predictive modeling" will be used to boost eBay's shopping experience, the press release reveals. --KE

--Updated 11:45 a.m. EST

Pope To Light World's Largest Christmas Tree Via iPad. The world's largest electronic Christmas tree will be lit by Pope Benedict XVI on December 7 via a special iPad app. Pope Benedict will light the electronic tree, located in the Italian town of Gubbio, remotely from the Vatican. Also on the agenda? A video greeting for the townspeople of Gubbio... delivered via iPad. --NU

--Updated 10:15 a.m. EST

France To Tax Internet Use And Give To Art. A new tax is France will charge Internet service providers a fee to access the Internet. The powers that be will channel those funds toward the Centre National de la Musique, to help pay for music and cultural events. --NS

--Updated 7:40 a.m. EST

Grand Central Apple Store To Open Soon? Apple may take the black drapes off and announce the opening of its store in Grand Central station tomorrow, 9to5Mac reports. The opening could be as soon as Black Friday, the biggest shopping day for the U.S., or soon after. The store, Apple's largest by square footage, will occupy a prime spot, with 750,000 people passing through Grand Central daily. --NS

Reid Hoffman Expects Facebook IPO In Early 2012. LinkedIn cofounder and investor Reid Hoffman believes that Facebook will open up its public offering in the first half of next year. In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, he explained that Facebook is already putting in some of the financial legwork necessary for an IPO toward a financial filing for the Securities and Exchange Commission. Going public would comply with the SEC request and reward the employees and the company at the same time, is Hoffman's theory. --NS

iPad Magazine Readers Want More Digital Content. A study sponsored by the Association of Magazine Media has sunny news for magazine publishers. 46% of the 1,009 people polled said they're reading more magazines since they got their iPads. Sixy-three percent also said they'd wanted more digital content, AllThingsD reports. --NS

--Updated 6:00 a.m. EST

[Image: Flickr user]

Friday's Fast Feed: Citigroup: Expect Amazon Smartphone By End Of 2012, Call Facebook Friends With Skype, PayPal Launches Facebook App, and more.

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