As someone who is usually reading magazines (or occasionally appearing in them), I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about what goes into producing a regular periodical. I got a crash course in Publishing 101 over the past few months thanks to a really interesting and fun collaboration with WIRED. I am the guest editor for the December 2013 issue, or as the WIRED team calls it, the 21.12 issue.
Back in the spring, folks from my office and WIRED started talking about the possibility of doing this guest-editor project together. They’ve had guest editors in the past (the most recent being J. J. Abrams in 2009) and so we started to see when it might make sense to work together. We eventually settled on the last issue of the year.
I was particularly happy to be working with WIRED because of its focus on technology and innovation. Its roots and spirit are all about new ideas, innovative technologies, and the ability of creative thinking to open new markets or solve old problems. That’s evident if you’ve ever taken a look at WIRED, which includes sections with names like Infoporn and Gadget Lab.
For me, it was a chance to extend a conversation I’ve been having when I travel to universities and great research companies. How can we harvest additional brainpower to tackle the problems of the poor? What are the problems that are being ignored and need attention? How do we encourage people who are making great progress? The WIRED audience was a great group to continue that dialogue. They’ve already got a bias toward technology and innovation. Could I convince them to channel some of that capacity for the poor?
From WIRED’s side, they were excited to push the boundaries of their own publication a bit to look at topics far away from Silicon Valley. So we met in May to talk about innovation and opportunity for the poor. We had a great discussion about polio, vaccines, agriculture, and entrepreneurship. We talked about the difficulty of designing new tools for places where lights, refrigerators, teachers, and doctors are in short supply.
WIRED then went to work thinking about writers who could follow some of those topics. I wouldn’t be responsible for everything in the issue but we would collaborate on the biggest features and stories. I also promised to write an essay on some of my current thinking about innovation and philanthropy. And we agreed we’d try to find someone who needs no introduction for the cover to have a conversation with me about the potential of innovation to make the world a better place.
Over the summer, writing assignments were made and the reporters fanned out. Most of the real work was done over email, with occasional phone calls between people in my office and WIRED’s editorial and writing staff. They proposed a slate of stories, and I liked just about everything they proposed. They asked for a little help with some introductions, but their writers and editors did just about all the work, independently chasing stories that brought to life the ideas we’d discussed on that May morning.
Besides getting the essay written, there were a couple other things I needed to do. One, I invited President Bill Clinton to sit down with writer Steven Levy and me for the cover story. President Clinton was super generous to give us some time during this fall’s Clinton Global Initiative. And two, I reacted to the stories as they were coming in.
I’m particularly happy with a couple of the longer pieces. Melinda and our friend Paul Farmer on designing health care systems that work for the poor. A terrific look at the Bridge International Academy schools in Africa and a compelling story and beautiful photo essay about the campaign to rid Afghanistan of polio.
But there are other cool features, as well. Tim Brown, the president of IDEO, has a great essay on design for the developing world. There’s also a section on gadgets I wish existed. It took shape when we all sat down to talk about four problem areas for the poor. WIRED asked international design experts to craft prototypes of gadgets that might make a difference in those areas.
All of the staff at WIRED—the writers, photographers, graphic artists, and editors—made this a great experience. (Watching all the work that goes into getting an issue out each month, I’m glad I’m not on the hook for January.) I’m really happy to have had the chance to do it, and hope you’ll like the results. Most of all, I hope it gets us all thinking more about the incredible opportunities we have to make a better world.