Building a better future: Terre Blair and Bloomberg Launch “Big Problems/Big Thinkers”

“Remember your humanity and forget the rest,” says Warren Buffett in an upcoming episode of the new series “Big Problems/Big Thinkers” launching today. Conceived and reported by acclaimed journalist and producer Terre Blair, the series asks some of the world’s leading thinkers to confront the toughest challenges we face – and help find a way forward.

Earlier today at DMEXCO, the annual mega-gathering of digital media professionals, Blair took audiences inside how she created the series in a special Q&A session with Bloomberg Television’s Carolyn Hyde. For those of you who couldn’t be there, we asked her to share her perspective on building ethical frameworks, getting leaders to open up and why she’s ultimately hopeful about the future.


Bloomberg Television anchor Caroline Hyde and Journalist Terre Blair on stage at the DMEXCO Motion Hall, September 14, 2016

By Terre Blair

What we’re seeing in the world today – the political and financial instability following the Brexit vote, the mendacity and lack of substantive discourse in the US election cycle, the refugee crisis in Europe are just the most recent examples – is the timely if sobering backdrop for Big Problems/Big Thinkers,“ my new series on Bloomberg television and digital platforms.

On the program, I interview an extraordinary group of leaders from business, politics, the arts, and academia to find out what are the most pressing threats to humanity’s future and what are their solutions. This work foregrounds the ways that entrenched ideologies, tribal habits and lack of fallibility contribute to our challenges, and stand in the way of solutions. Curiosity, creativity, openness – qualities shared by true pioneers – point the way to a more hopeful vision.  

Discovering that vision started as a research project for me, when I began asking: is there a set of values humanity could agree upon to ensure our survival?  I developed the idea to travel and interview industry leaders, cutting-edge thinkers, and presidents of countries on this question. That was the genesis of Big Problems/Big Thinkers.


Watch: Big Problems/Big Thinkers: Episode 1

Our interview subjects came from a varied mix of backgrounds and viewpoints: His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Warren Buffett; Ted Turner; Academy award-winning film director Steven Soderbergh; former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman; Bloomberg L.P. Founder Michael Bloomberg; philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah; Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former president of Brazil; Tarja Halonen, the former president of Finland.

From the six hours I spent one-on-one with Warren Buffet to sitting down with the famously private Soderbergh, I found key points of consistency as they confided the threats they saw as most pressing, the issues they most wanted to solve. What came through as a clarion call were the two most grave threats to our survival: climate change, involving scarcity of resources and over population; and the chance of nuclear, biological, or chemical attack or accident. Warren Buffett, who’s been a vocal problem-solver on the "loose nukes” issue, says there’s a 99 percent chance of some kind of attack within the next 50 years.

For these and other topics, there was a shared sense of an acute need for leadership in the face of a global crisis. Their voices were in harmony on the obligation to help people as paradigms shift and displacements happen. But their most remarkable point of commonality was the character of the solutions they came up with: thought-provoking, surprising, and, ultimately, hopeful.


Another issue that came up repeatedly: political paralysis and lack of leadership. I find that especially relevant at this time given the apparent surprise over the Brexit vote and the upcoming elections in the United States. In Big Problems/Big Thinkers, you hear a lot of “how did we get here?”  Many of those I interviewed answered by bringing in fundamental underlying issues.  Dr. Kwame Appiah said, “We lack fallibility,” meaning we don’t question whether we could be wrong in what we believe.  Steven Soderbergh argues the problem is “entrenched ideology,” while Tom Friedman described a politics that has “become tribal, like rooting for your football team.”

In our episode on the fallout from the financial crisis, we review lessons we may or may not have learned.  All my interviewees agreed we were over leveraged. Yet, I pondered the question Steven Green asked in his book, Good Value: Have we forgotten to ask, “Is it right?”, and only ask, “Is it legal?”

“I asked the interviewees if living a principled life correlated with their own personal happiness – why should we do something outside ourselves for somebody else outside our own family and friends?” – Terre Blair

In the episode on the values crisis we see so often, I asked the interviewees if living a principled life correlated with their own personal happiness – and why should we do something outside ourselves for somebody else outside our own family and friends? Madeline Albright told the story of how a young Abraham Lincoln, in his clean suit in a carriage going to work, hopped out to save a pig struggling in the mud.  When he got to work, he was asked why he’d saved the pig. “I saved it for myself,” said Lincoln, meaning it helps our conscience to do something for someone or something outside of ourselves.

The media’s place in all of this was a constant refrain. We discussed the role of the media and how it seems too much time is spent on false narratives and not on the issues that are critical to our survival. One strong message that comes out: If we help create these characters, then shame on us.

Indeed, in our information-saturated era, it’s notoriously easy to surround ourselves with streams that represent only the opinions we agree with. I’m delighted to partner with Bloomberg Media, in particular, on this project, because Bloomberg connects with an audience of those who have the ability to respond and act in a way that begins to solve some of these big problems that are set forth by these big thinkers.

Finally, the interviewees had one wish for us as individuals. For Ted Turner it’s “Be smarter.”  For Warren Buffett it’s “Reach your potential.”  The Dalai Lama – no surprise here – urges happiness, a happy humanity.

Echoing Steven Soderbergh, my wish is for all of us to stay open, stay curious, keep asking the questions that matter. If we’re serious about creating solutions, that’s where change has to begin.

– September 14, 2016