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The Problem with Conventional Wisdom: It’s Often Wrong

Many years ago, millions of people believed the world was flat. They also believed the Earth was the center of the universe. Both beliefs seemed so intuitive, so obvious…how could things possibly be otherwise? But as we all now know, they weren’t wrong but far from the mark. Simply because everyone believed these things to be true didn’t change the fact they weren’t. In fact, it was this widespread acceptance of these notions, also referred to as conventional wisdom, that was the problem. But as later appreciated, conventional wisdom is often wrong, which is why challenging conventional wisdom is essential.

(Do you embrace bold ideas or shoot them down? Join in the discussion in this Notes From Ed about a Super Bowl commercial!)

By definition, conventional wisdom reflects commonly held beliefs by the majority that often go unquestioned. Grounded in common sense and what seems readily apparent, these ideas undermine our capacity to use critical thinking. Challenging conventional wisdom seems like a waste of our time, because everyone believes its beliefs to be true. But repeatedly, history as well as modern times prove these assumptions to be false. Whether it’s about the Earth’s shape or the reality of a future Metaverse, conventional wisdom is often wrong. And it’s important that we understand the barriers it imposes in our efforts to excel.

“Conventional wisdom is no wisdom at all. Conventional wisdom is taking somebody else’s word for the way things are. It’s the followers of this world who rely on assumption. Not the leaders.” – Richard Marcinko U.S. Navy SEAL commander and Vietnam War veteran

The Benefits and Pitfalls of Conventional Wisdom

Despite the fact that conventional wisdom is often wrong, it does serve an important purpose. These types of beliefs rely on mass consensus as a means to validate their truthfulness. In many cases, this approach works well, and conventional wisdom lets us make some quick assumptions. This can naturally speed up our decision-making since we don’t have to spend any time on challenging conventional wisdom stances. As long as the majority is right, we can rely on conventional wisdom to make good choices. But unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Because conventional wisdom is often wrong, it’s essential we explore its accuracy. Consensus beliefs are often byproducts of groupthink where everyone migrates toward a common idea. The more people who support a belief, the more difficult it becomes to consider alternatives. This is why challenging conventional wisdom is so hard. Inherent biases become increasingly entrenched in notions that are assumed to be accurate. And this leads to a fixed mindset, reduced creativity, and a resistance to change. All of this undermines innovation and new ideas, and it keeps us away from the road less traveled. In fact, many have missed out on some of life’s greatest opportunities simply because they refused to question conventional wisdom.

“Bitcoins are not a real investment; they are bets inside a casino. People who are desperate to keep the game going rush back in, hoping to bring the price back up, but it never lasts.” – Kurt Eichenwald, American journalist and a New York Times bestselling author

Conventional Wisdom in Modern Times

Understanding that conventional wisdom is often wrong throughout the course of history, it’s worth exploring modern beliefs as well. As in the past, many shy away from challenging conventional wisdom. This routinely results in an inability to appreciate new opportunities regardless of their merit. One example of this involves cryptocurrency and digital coin. Because conventional wisdom suggests Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies aren’t tangible currencies, they assume they’re simply fads. This encourages them to see other related issues, like energy inefficiencies of blockchain, as supportive of their position. While these issues are important, exploring each in greater depth is essential in an effort to make the best choices.

(Yeah, high energy consumption is a big problem in digital ventures like blockchain and cryptocurrency mining. Read about it in this Bold story.)

Of course, the future of cryptocurrency isn’t the only thing that conventional wisdom questions today. The popularity of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, has also been something that is challenging conventional wisdom. These digital assets are also supported by blockchain, which awards them a degree of authenticity. But many believe these digital assets are over-valued and over-rated. Conventional wisdom suggests that supply, which could be in abundance, fails to support current demand prices. But knowing conventional wisdom is often wrong, it’s worth digging a little deeper into the NFT market. Failing to do so might result in a major lost opportunity.

Perhaps, the most difficult thing to accept when it comes to conventional wisdom involves the Metaverse. Despite the fact that Facebook (now Meta) is all in on the idea, many see this is simply unfathomable. Virtual realities may work well for video games, but extending retail, social interactions, and marketplaces into this realm raises doubts. Challenging conventional wisdom that finds the virtual inferior to reality, a metaverse seems implausible. But we know that conventional wisdom is often wrong. It may just be that Facebook and others are onto something destined to be a game changer. Ridding ourselves of a fixed mindset so we can explore these possibilities is critical for us to adapt and evolve.

“‘NFT’ used to be a term only familiar to a small group of users. We’ve already seen the metaverse concept and NFT sector being validated by large traditional tech companies, I think it’ll slowly grow to become part of everyone’s daily life.” – Eric Chen, CEO and Co-Founder of Injective Labs

Due Diligence Is the Answer

In many instances, conventional wisdom offers accurate perceptions and insights. But conventional wisdom is often wrong, and therefore, true wisdom demands broader considerations. Challenging conventional wisdom by asking “what ifs” and “whys” should be the first step. Likewise, exploring the facts and assumptions in greater detail is also important. By performing our due diligence, whether it’s about NFTs or the Metaverse, we enable ourselves to make better decisions. If these prove conventional wisdom correct, then we can proceed rest assured. But if not, it might just be we’re allowing biases and fixed mindset to rule the day. And this is not a good recipe for long-term success in a world that’s constantly changing.

 

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Giving Plastics a Makeover – Welcome to the Age of Super Polymers

When most people think of plastic today, the first thought that comes to mind probably involves environmental concerns. Over the last many decades, we have seen the damage plastics cause to oceans and aquatic life. (Check out this deep dive–pun intended–into oceanic pollution in this Bold story!) We have also seen how recycling efforts have failed to keep pace with production. But scientists across the globe are investing a great deal of effort toward making advanced plastics for the future. Some are exploring ways to incentivize recycling efforts. Others are creating brand new super polymers that will likely change the world as we know it. In the process, our views of plastics may significantly change in the coming years.

At the current time, problems associated with plastics involve two key areas. The first one, with which we are quite familiar, relates to its recycling. Though many plastics can be recycled, there is little money in it to encourage these activities. Secondly, existing plastics remain difficult to work with, requiring additional efforts to mold the material into desired objects. But this looks to be rapidly changing in this age of advanced plastics. New processes related to old plastics and the discovery of super polymers introduce new opportunities. Both look to be ushering in a new era where plastics may once again enjoy a favored position.

“Our approach views plastic waste as a potentially valuable resource for the production of new molecules and materials. We hope this method could drive an economic incentive to recycle plastic, literally turning trash into treasure.” – Frank Leibfarth, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, UNC College of Arts & Sciences

Advanced Plastics to Address Recycling Problems

When it comes to plastics, the U.S. has a major environmental problem. Each year, over 46 million tons of plastics are produced in the country. This equates to about 287 pounds per person annually. These figures alone might not be such a big issue if plastics were routinely recycled. However, the average rate of plastic recycling that occurs in the U.S. is about 9 percent. In other words, production far outpaces reproduction, and this is what is causing notable environmental impacts. Because recycling plastics is costly and of limited production value, incentives are lacking. This is one area of sustainable practices, however, that researchers hope to change.

Some chemicals in beakers staring at molecules
Advanced plastics means innovations in many facets of our lives!

Currently, chemists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are working with advanced plastics to address this issue. Existing plastic polymers and super polymers are extremely strong and resistant to reuse. The reason for this is because of the existing hydrogen bonds within these structures. Previously, recycling plastics was limited because breaking these hydrogen bonds was cost-ineffective. Therefore, efforts to reuse plastics was hindered by a lack of incentives. But UNC researchers have discovered a reagent that can readily (and inexpensively) break these hydrogen bonds. In turn, this would make it much easier to recycle existing plastics. By stripping them of their hydrogen molecules, they can then be reused for all types of new applications.

“We don’t usually think of plastics as being something that you could use to support a building, but with this material, you can enable new things. It has very unusual properties and we’re very excited about that.” – Michael Strano, Professor of Chemical Engineering, MIT

Introducing Super Polymers

While it’s important to address plastics recycling, other researchers are focused on other areas of advanced plastics. In new MIT research, chemical engineers have developed super polymers that will likely revolutionize materials for the future. Traditionally, plastics are created in monomer structures that consist of one-dimensional linear chains of molecules. These chains are then molded into the shape of various objects through a process that takes time and effort. However, MIT researchers have now developed super polymers that exist in two-dimensional sheets. Plus, these advanced plastics self-assemble, requiring no effort at all in production.

The ability of these super polymers to form two-dimensional sheets is quite a big deal. The material is 6 times more resistant to breaking than bulletproof glass. It is also twice as strong as steel despite being a sixth of its density. Also, its lattice structure is impermeable to both gases and liquids, making it an ideal material for protecting underlying structures. As a result, these super polymers can be used as lightweight, incredibly durable materials that could revolutionize a number of industries. This not only includes those involved in producing smart phones and devices but likewise construction and automotive industries as well.

“An important aspect of these new polymers is that they are readily processable in solution, which will facilitate numerous new applications where high strength to weight ratio is important, such as new composite or diffusion barrier materials.” – Matthew Tirrell, Dean of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, University of Chicago

The Future of Advanced Plastics

The discovery of these super polymers is certainly an exciting development. In addition to the new potential applications of these advanced plastics, they also can be developed faster and less expensively. The structure of these two-dimensional molecules also has an auto-catalytic tendency. This means that once they begin to form, the structure encourages the addition of increasing layers of these super polymers. In essence, all that is required is the addition of these special plastic monomers to a water solution. Hydrogen bonding then does the rest, creating the ”stacked disc-like” super polymers.

The future potential of these advanced plastics is tremendous. Some industries have already been mentioned, but these super polymers could be quite beneficial for the space economy. (Catch up on the advances of the “Space Economy” in this Bold story.) Incredibly strong and lightweight materials are routinely sought for all sorts of space equipment. Plus, its impermeability could offer the high-quality protection these same materials may require. Likewise, combining these advanced plastics with better recycling techniques could help resolve their environmental impact. Based on these recent discoveries, ti certainly appears we will be seeing plastics of the future in a different light.

 

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FarmRaise’s Platform Hopes to Solve Modern-Day Financial Struggles for Farmers

In the U.S., agricultural farming remains one of the most notable industries in the country. Agricultural products contribute over $1 trillion to the overall U.S. economy while farms provide $1.3 billion itself. Likewise, America is home to some two million farms that comprise almost 400 million acres of land. But despite these figures, farms, and farmers specifically, face constant challenges. Most recently, the pandemic placed significant pressure on many farmers. And every year, extreme weather accounts for over 90% of crop losses. Such challenges are why many farms struggle to make it financially over time.

Understanding these challenges, U.S. policymakers often offer agricultural supports for farmers in the way of farm grants. But actually accessing and submitting grant applications is far from simple. Descriptions and qualifications are often confusing, and the time required to fill out grant applications is substantial. This creates a dilemma for many farmers as they must decide whether it’s best to farm or apply for funding. Unfortunately, many lack the time and/or insights to access these funds, which is why innovative agtech solutions are being proposed. In this regard, FarmRaise’s platform designed to help farmers receive grants is quite welcomed.

(Dig deeper into agtech solutions in this Bold story!)

“I know getting into farming is no easy venture…The future of agriculture really is the young farmers of today and I’d hate to see attrition because of the pandemic when there are [grant] programs like this one that can hopefully make a difference.” – Robin Hackett, Microgrant Farm Program in Ohio

Modern Challenges for Farmers

When it comes to financial stability, the farming sector has always faced some difficulties. Changes related to the weather, economic seasons, and international supply and demand shifts are common threats. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic created new obstacles for many farms, especially those recently in business. As supply chain delays and unpredictability set in, many new farmers found themselves quite vulnerable. Without capital, infrastructure, or resources available, many new farmers decided to close up shop. This is why some states like Ohio are offering smaller farm grants to some recently established farms as a means of support.

Of course, the pandemic isn’t the only current issue that modern-days farms face. Many farms are under pressure to become more sustainable and climate friendly in their practices. Overall, statistics suggest that agricultural farming accounts for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. But in actuality, this figure is much higher when land use and the short-term impacts of methane are considered. Many equate farming’s negative effect on the climate to approximate that of the transportation sector. As a result, increasing pressure from policymakers demand that farms reducing carbon emissions immediately. And this too has been tied to many farm grants.

The more short-term threats to U.S. farming thus appear to be related to more global events and developments. However, even larger threats loom over the industry in the long-term if public health issues are included. The nation faces its own set of health epidemics involving non-communicable diseases. Millions of Americans suffer from obesity, diabetes, and/or heart disease, and many hold farming practices accountable. Farming grants that prioritized the production of soy and corn for calorie production are believed to be responsible in part. Therefore, some advocate a shift in policies and farm grants to encourage a higher production of healthy foods as well. For farms to thrive in the future, each of these issues will need to be addressed.

“We’re seeing this keen focus on growing the size of the pie for conservation funding and it’s likely doubling in the years to come. Not only does [sustainable farming] incease farm profitability but it also sequesters carbon and can help to address climate change.” – Jayce Hafner, Cofounder of FarmRaise

Introducing FarmRaise’s Platform Solution

Several solutions are being pursued when it comes to the issues facing farmers today. Some strategies involve electric tractors as well as precision farming techniques. Others have suggested shifts toward indoor and vertical farming strategies. But none of these approach the current challenges from a financial perspective. In contrast, FarmRaise’s platform is solely focused on this area as it hopes to ease the burden on farms today. Specifically, FarmRaise’s platform makes accessing, applying and submitting farm grants simpler and more productive. And it does so without taking up unreasonable amounts of time that detracts from agricultural production.

 

a bunch of cows just hanging out
Tractor spraying pesticides on soybean field with sprayer at spring

FarmRaise has only been in existence for two years, but in that time, they have excelled. The startup has already raised over $7.2 million, thanks to participation in a California accelerator named Pear VC. In essence, FarmRaise’s platform takes granular data inputs about specific farms and populates applications for farm grants for farmers. The company has been so successful using this approach that it already boasts 10,000 farms in its clientele portfolio. Their rapid growth can be attributed not only to its exceptional algorithms. But FarmRaise’s platform has also thrived through major partnerships with farming giants Cargill and Corteva.

Feeling pressure to reduce their carbon emissions, these large agricultural corporations saw FarmRaise’s platform as a solution to their problem. They then turned several farms within their networks onto FarmRaise in an effort to access grant supports for sustainable agricultural practices. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for FarmRaise, given the fact that farms are being forced to adapt. With the help of FarmRaise’s platform, it now seems feasible that many farms can access funds needed. Such funds can pave the way to a more sustainable future for agriculture.

From Farm Grants to Broader Financial Services

FarmRaise’s platform has definitely made an impact by helping farms access farm grants more readily. But this represents only the beginning for the aggressive startup. The company soon plans to assist farmers improve their access to farm loans for land and equipment in coming years. Given that they will have collected necessary data for farm grants, this same data can be used for loan applications. The company then plans to move into tax planning areas subsequently as well. Of course, FarmRaise does not plan to provide these more targeted financial services themselves. Instead, they will serve as a referral network for farmers in exchange for finder’s fees. Regardless, it looks like the agricultural sector is ripe for these types of services. And FarmRaise plans to take full advantage of its opportunity.

 

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