Charles Fishman

The golden age of clean, cheap, abundant water is over; what now?

Author of A Curious Mind and The Big Thirst

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Charles Fishman | Author of A Curious Mind and The Big Thirst
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Charles Fishman is the author of A Curious Mind, a bestselling collaboration with Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. Now he’s showing leaders how curiosity is the key to harnessing disruption—in business, and in life. An award-winning senior writer for Fast Company and a celebrated investigative journalist, Fishman is also the author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, the bestselling book on water in America in the past 25 years. 

In his new book, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, Charles Fishman and Academy Award-winning producer Brian Grazer take a look at the power of inquisitiveness and the ways in which it deepens and improves us. Without curiosity there is no creativity. It is curiosity that sparks the imagination. Inspired leadership and innovation start with curiosity. Grazer and Fishman have teased apart a half-dozen different kinds of curiosity, and using examples drawn from Grazer’s 40-year-career in Hollywood, and from business, science and history, A Curious Mind shows you how to use curiosity—how to ask questions, and harness disruption—to change the dynamic as an employee and a manager, at home, and in your social life.


“Investigative journalism is rarely as entertaining as it is informative, but Fishman manages both feats.”

The Washington Post

Fishman’s book The Big Thirst examines how water resources will come to define this century; it’s a popular read on college campuses and a must-have in boardrooms. In The Big Thirst, Fishman helps redefine how we look at water, our most essential but, in many ways, misunderstood resource. Fishman highlights water’s vital role in the business sector (especially to businesses who seemingly have nothing to do with water!) and points to the many contradictions of water in the developing world, leaving audiences with a hopeful vision of how current wasteful ways can be curbed through ingenuity and conscientious stewardship. Extending his coverage, Fishman now also blogs about water for National Geographic.


In his previous book, The Wal-Mart Effect—a bestseller, a catch phrase, and an Economist Book of the Year—Fishman gives us the definitive look at how Wal-Mart has become, without precedent, the most powerful and influential company in the history of the world. The stats are staggering, Fishman's writing is balanced and crisp, and the lessons for other companies are enormous. With one goal—to save its customers money—Wal-Mart, Fishman tells us, has changed the practices of its suppliers, the economic life of cities, the economies of the countries from which it buys its goods, and the buying habits of consumers—excellent take-home information for anyone in the business world.    

Speech Topics

Disruptive Curiosity The Secret That Turns Disruption into Success

In today’s economy, disruption can seem like a tremendous risk—every business, from movies to fast food, real estate to medicine, has seen the way work gets done blown up in the last ten years. They’ve also seen the way money gets made absolutely shattered. But while disruption can look like a natural force—an earthquake you can brace for, but can’t avoid, let alone harness—it’s not actually true.

Curiosity is the key to seeing disruption coming, and turning it into an asset—into a creative advantage instead of a destructive force. Investigative reporter and bestselling author Charles Fishman spent two years immersed in the science and power of curiosity. He realized that it’s the most powerful, surprising, and under-appreciated asset in business today. Using stories from across the economy—from the worlds of retail and Hollywood, from spaceflight to banking—Fishman shows how curiosity is the secret tool to consistently unleashing creativity and innovation.

Asking questions changes the course of your most important projects. It can create an entirely different kind of work culture. And creating a ‘curious workplace’ is the key to harnessing disruption instead of being held hostage by it. In other words, it’s a way to find ideas you just can’t Google. This inspiring keynote will change how you manage your staff, give you courage in the face of change, and may even change how you talk to your kids when they come home from school. Ultimately, you’ll leave with more questions than answers—and that’s the point.

Corporate Social Responsibility
There's Money in the Pipes The Urgency of Understanding the Value of Water

We are entering a new age of water— an era of risk, anxiety, and opportunity unlike any in the previous century. There is no clearer sign of the fresh importance of water than the fact that some of the world’s smartest companies—such as Coca-Cola and Intel—are re-imagining their water use, changing their priorities, and, in some cases, even changing their products. (Campbell’s, for instance, has changed the way it cooks tomato soup.) Even companies with no obvious connection are taking water seriously: GE and IBM both have started water divisions to turn water into a business. In an eye-opening and contrarian talk, Charles Fishman takes you to the frontlines of water to show you what’s at stake, what you need to know, where the innovation is happening, and how your company can benefit. Fishman has spent the last three years understanding how the relationship between corporations and water is about to change. He has circled the globe to visit the companies, and the communities, that are trying to understand their own water use, and he distills, on stage, everything he's learned from them. Those who hear this talk will never think about water, and its striking implications, the same way again.

The New Age of Water Re-imagining How We Use Water, and How We Think About It

We have been living through a 100-year-long golden age of water. We never think about water’s availability, we never hesitate to run a bath because of the water bill, and we never worry about whether our tap water will make us sick. But that golden age of water— where water is unlimited, safe, and free— is over. We are at the dawn of a new age of high-stakes water, an era in which supplies and systems are under pressure from growing populations, surging economic growth, and dramatic swings in weather. In this new age of water, we’ll pay more, but we’ll waste less. And we'll have to be much smarter about every drop. We won’t lack water— the global water crisis is mostly a scary myth. But we won’t be able to ignore our water anymore. The current generation of college students will reach adulthood with a much different view of water than the one held by their parents. In a remarkable keynote, award-winning investigative journalist Charles Fishman delivers a persuasive, fascinating, and urgent primer on the history and future of water. He takes you from a factory in Vermont with water so clean it is considered poisonous, to villages in India that have 24-hour-a-day cell phone service but no water service at all. Fishman has spent the last three years circling the globe—from Las Vegas to New Delhi— to uncover how the world of water is changing, and what the enormous implications are for each of us, no matter where we live.

Business Strategy
The Wal-Mart Effect Secrets in Economic Survival from Wal-Mart
In all the stories about the damage the economic downturn wreaked on individuals, companies, industries, even whole countries, there is one dramatic exception: Wal-Mart. While global giants like American Express struggle, Wal-Mart thrives—with growing sales, increasing profits, new customers, a new image, even a new attitude. It’s led innovation in practically every field of business and has helped the bottom line of the millions of Americans who shop there (57% of all American adults shop there every week). 

And it’s no accident. Wal-Mart was ready for the economic hard times. And Wal-Mart is innovating right through the recession. How can it succeed when everyone else is failing? In this talk, Charles Fishman goes deep inside the company to pull out the lessons that other businesses can take from the Wal-Mart way of doing business. What can you learn from Wal-Mart’s practices, successes and misfires? For companies in direct competition, he offers ways to exploit Wal-Mart's real weaknesses: you won’t—and can’t—beat them on price or on scale, but you can find other ways to win. He gives you ideas you can use now, a way of thinking about your strategy and business when stability returns, and a burst of energy for tackling tough times—all told with the vivid anecdotes and case-studies which are the hallmark of Fishman’s work.

Far from a keynote on just retailing, Fishman delivers a fascinating exploration of what it takes to do business in the global economy.