What was once a bountiful sandalwood forest has now become a dry, barren corner of Hawai'i. And for Yishan Wong that's a reality he wants to restore.
Yishan is now the head of Terraformation, an organization that plans to fight the climate crisis through reforestation efforts. While he's searching for ways to scale his team and combat the climate crisis, he’s found that in order to take on this beast, it requires some tech and a whole lot of empathy.
“It can be a beautiful world that mankind has written in stories of the future and past. And that's something that we can hand down to our children.”
The story of Terraformation is an interesting one. Partly because of Yishan's Sci-Fi perception of the world. The CEO described the Earth's fate in two contrasting outcomes: A barren wasteland due to environmental degradation and nuclear war. The other a beautiful Garden of Eden.
Yishan's vision of future Earth is for people to thrive in a sustainable world. Even if that means restoring that garden one tree at a time. This is where he brings technology to solve the climate crisis.
“The environmental challenges of the late 20th century have been solved through a combination of greater consciousness technology and conservation. It's this beautiful blue-green planet that’s home.”
While the impact of climate change has been detrimental to countless ecosystems, Yishan expressed how part of combating the climate crisis is forgiving the generation before us.
“We have made some mistakes. I tend to forgive my parents and ancestors because they tried to do the best for us. They tried to build a safe and secure civilization for their children.”
For Yishan, moving forward and finding a solution to climate change isn’t about pointing fingers and dwelling on the past but acknowledging the efforts of the past.
“How did they know the impact of fossil fuels which were the basis of the greatest technological advancements? Especially when fossil fuels raised billions out of poverty with little side effects at the time.”
Saving the Earth is no joke. It takes compassion and empathy. Two skills that the Terraformation CEO exercises with his team. If you’re going to rewrite the fate of the world and mankind, leaning into the human condition is the first step.
“We have made some mistakes. I forgive my parents and ancestors because they tried to do the best for us. They tried to build a safe and secure civilization for their children.”
Like we said, saving the world takes time, compassion, and some help. You need all hands on deck. When expanding his team, Yishan's priority was uplifting those around him. That meant pausing and taking a breath.
“We'll look at how hard we're pushing, compare it to what needs to be done, and it’ll be like 1%. We simultaneously feel both bad about how we're not even close to measurement. And yet we’ll feel good that we've accomplished a huge amount.”
A feeling that too many of us feel. However, Yishan found that to make a true change, it starts with appreciating the incremental wins. He described how holding these feelings close to your heart and mind is essential to leading.
“We have to know how small our efforts are in measuring up against the huge enormity of the mission. Yet at every stage, we do far better than we have ever done. And that by itself is a huge accomplishment.”
And that’s the moral of the story. Yishan described how at every juncture, humans were tiny compared to the challenges that we faced. And yet when you step back, humans accomplished way more than those who came before.
When it comes to leading the Terraformation team, Yishan applies that same school of thought: take a moment to pause and look back at what you've done.
“We have to know how small our efforts are in measuring up against the huge enormity of the mission. At every stage, we have to do far better than we have ever done. And that by itself is a huge accomplishment.”
Effective time management. “It's important to recognize that you're not a robot, and your brain isn’t a computer. We have this idea that our brains are thinking machines. It's just a mass of neurons that are more or less just firing randomly. So, focus on producing thoughts and output that are better than your previous ones.” For Yishan, it's about shifting from self-awareness to self-improvement. Once you're aware of how you allocate your time and energy, maximize those moments to create exceptional ideas.
Reserve time for yourself. “Often, you're doing work for other people which is necessary for a collective organization. However, to produce extraordinary results you ultimately have to originate new things out of yourself.” He urges people to take control of your time. It's quite simple: reserve time to replenish and recharge time that's meant to be yours.
No to drugs, yes to meditation. “There's no drug that you can take to achieve that level of control and output when it comes to meditation.” When the Terraformation CEO discovered meditation it was a game changer. Yishan notes that meditation can never be forced upon someone. Part of meditation is having the true desire to engage in it. And when you do, that’s when you can truly find peace.
At the end of every interview series, we ask our guests a series of rapid-fire questions to get to know them better as a leader. Their quirks and habits have led them to where they are today.
Q: What are you currently reading?
A: Two books that I'm reading right now are about water and electricity. The Grid and The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.
Q: Night owl or early bird?
A: Night owl. 🦉
Q: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
A: I didn't realize my haircut would look better shorter until much later in life.
Q: If you could go anywhere right now, where would it be?
Q: What’s your hidden talent?
A: I can detect when people are lying through their voice stress patterns.
Q: Tell me an underrated word.
A: Synergy. It's an important concept, and there's only one word for it. But, it's been ruined in the last 30 years. We need to unironically reclaim that word.
Q: What's one thing you're looking forward to in 2021?
A: My wife has had Covid for a year now, and it really sucks. There's evidence that the vaccines helps people with long-haul Covid. She's scheduled for her vaccine, so I'm hoping it will help her.
Saving the planet can start with planting a tree and some feedback.
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