How the breaking apart of traditional, rigid structures is creating a personalized, on-demand future and changing the everyday interactions of people, politics, and profit.
About this post
This post is based on a theory and a book outline I’ve been chipping away at since 2010. Since I’m probably going to be too busy to ever finish the full thing, I figured I would massively truncate and post it here so that it’s finally out in the world in some form. In the six years I’ve been thinking about this subject, it’s only become clearer with the advent of the on-demand economy, 3D printing etc. Please excuse the length!
In Silicon Valley we’ve used the term “Unbundling” to describe the phenomena of mobile apps breaking apart into multiple separate apps, each essentially providing more focused, single purpose features. Think of the Facebook app being separated into Facebook + Messenger.
I believe this Unbundling phenomena is happening almost universally across all aspects of life. It’s a meta-trend that has been happening for decades (or more) and will continue for decades to come. It’s a common process affecting many of the things happening in the world today. In fact most of the major disruptions we see (loss of traditional jobs, failing record companies, terrorism, divorce rates, the rise of fringe/underdog political candidates etc) are all, in at least some way, connected to this fundamental transition.
At the end of last year I wrote a post about the downside of Hyper Expectations and Ambitions (HEA). I guess living in silicon valley it’s easy to get jaded with the negative effects of our fast paced journey to change the world. It also didn't help that I hadn't had a holiday for 3 years. Since then, however, I’ve visited my hometown in Brisbane Australia for 3 weeks. The truth is they live a very different lifestyle there. The government and other institutions help provide a powerful safety net for those who are sick or unable to find work, the environment is beautiful, warm and welcoming and the people expect (or in some cases demand) less from each other. Those that stand out or show off can even be shunned (a phenomenon we call Tall Poppy Syndrome).
The result is that things there are more laid back, the lifestyle is more comfortable and people suffer the downsides of HEA far more infrequently.
This can be a very fulfilling way to live and many people there are (rightly) happy and healthy.
It was, however, a cold splash in the face having just written about the negative aspects of our Silicon Valley ambition to be confronted with the opposite. It reminded me in stark ways how different our lives are and what some of the advantages to living with HEA are.
So in counterbalance to my previous post, let me try to summarize some of the advantages of HEA.
Fulfilling your potential
If there's one thing that upsets me the most and keeps me up at night it's the concern that I or someone I know is not living up to their potential. One of my defining characteristics is a thirst (some may some lust) for the potential in things. I am far more interested in what could be than what is. A great example of this, in fact, is my very poor relationship with times, dates, orders of magnitude or 'rules'.
The great thing about HEA is that it vacuums out most of the reasons/excuses for someone to not live up to their potential. All of us here are insisting to ourselves and each other that we do the next great thing we know we can do; Or better yet, to do something that scares us.
Remove the roadblocks and put aside the excuses. We attempt to extract every last drop of potential and turn it into outcomes.
Extraordinary and Surreal Experiences
While there's great value in routine and tradition, we with HEA are far more interested in doing things that are extra ordinary. I split those two words on purpose. Things that are outside the realm of an ordinary life.
Backstage at a concern. VIP at a party. Hanging with a personal hero. Writing a line of code that affects millions of people. Writing that blog post that might influence the influencers. Living in beautiful places. Meeting with smart people. Disrupting that tired business model. Changing the way people live.
There is no patience for the mundane here. Instead there's a strong hunger and appreciation (and for me, real-time nostalgia) for doing things that are out of the ordinary.
These moments are priceless. And if you're lucky, they happen often in Silicon Valley.
Changing the World
People with HEA get to change the world. With a line of code, a great piece of UI, a new business model or a conversation with the right person.
Through our skills, ambitions, ideas and access we have the smallest possible gap between our intention and their manifestation into reality and this is not only the ultimate super power (think Neo/Matrix) it's also a precious gift. We use this super power to make a real dent in the universe (#namethatreference).
The heading here might be fairly grandiose but in many ways it's true. In San Francisco this town has thrown out most notions of 'right and wrong' and embraced philosophies that are radically different than most of the rest of the world. From Gay Rights to massive temporary communities in the desert based on the sharing economy, we are forcing open the definition of what it means to live, love and be human.
Almost every day here I have conversations that vacillate from short term tactical business concerns to wide sweeping philosophical quandaries - and back again. Relationships here are just as likely 'non traditional' (open, polly, casual, gay, bi, whatever) as they are traditional.
These are all related attempts to leave dogma in the past and explore what the future might look like.
For some of us with HEA we're not just trying to ship software or make millions of dollars, we are trying to better ourselves.
Leverage and scale.
Through all of the above, and much more, we get to live high leverage lives. In some ways our work is no harder or easier than the work of coal minors or brick layers (in other ways its obviously very different, but go with me here). We work long hours in back breaking postures and rarely see our families or have enough emotional capacity to invest in some of our relationships. We get to invest similar energy and sacrifices yet touch more lives than most and, for some, make a lasting impact. That's the gift of leverage and scale.
So there we have it. Like with all things there are both upsides and downsides. The trick is moderation in all things (my mother taught me that - hi mom!).
Disclaimer: I’ve personally flirted with much of what I've written about below. This isn’t about anyone else, but rather about what I’ve seen in myself and how some of it could have played out if left unchecked. Thankfully I feel pretty happy and comfortable most of the time - but I find that it helps to write this stuff down to keep myself in check.
Silicon Valley is a place where people come to change the world. They seek it out and travel great distances to be in the place where entrepreneurial dreams come true.
Even those who first arrive looking for love or lifestyle soon realize that most of the people here have their sights set pretty high and it can be easy to catch the 'change the world' attitude through osmosis.
It's easy to start feeling a sense of Hyper Expectations and Ambition (let’s call it HEA for short).
The challenge with HEA is that it can drive the ill-equipped, mad. By "ill-equipped" I mean those that lack a strong personal identity and emotional maturity. And aren't we all guilty of that at various points in our lives?
The landscape here is dotted with people who have something to prove to their past tormentors, their personal ambitions, their peers or some vision of their future selves. If they are not careful, it leaves them no breathing room for cognitive or emotional rest. And as we discovered in Star Trek the Next Generation’s episode “Night Terrors” - without REM Sleep one can have all sorts of nasty outcomes (yes I’m a geek).
HEA is further exasperated by constant streams of social media updates that tend to vacillate from the trite motivational quote to the well curated highlight reel of best parts of ones life. These only serve to make us feel inferior to our friends who always seem to be having a better, easier time.
There are many symptoms of HEA - let me try to share some of them. You might recognize them in yourself or others around you.
FOMO - “Fear of Missing Out’
This is when people are maniacally trying to turn up to every party or meet every ‘right’ person in case this is the one that’s going to change their life or give them the next emotional high.
I’ve been to my share of parties - in fact most of the time I host or co-host them - but for me they are usually an opportunity to spend time with my core group of friends. For some, however, party hopping can become almost an addiction trying to chase the next surreal or successful moment.
The truth is this town is full of amazing moments all the time. They come and go on a daily and weekly basis. When I feel a little FOMO coming on, I try to remember the last scene from American Beauty.
“there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday."
FOMO is very real and can be exhausting on the body and the mind.
Because it seems like everyone around here is ‘doing something amazing’ it's easy to develop or trigger an inferiority complex.
Once in that position, the next thing most people do is (consciously or subconsciously) overcompensate in one of two ways...
1. With overconfidence and bluster:
Puffing out one's chest, speaking loudly and confidently about stuff that is ill-understood, constructing a success narrative and telling people only exaggerated versions of the truth - these are all examples of what I call Overconfidence and Bluster. The most obvious example of this is the Shirley Hornstein incident, but much more subtle and pervasive versions of this go on everyday in almost every conversation.
Some of the confidence and exaggeration is ok, of course. Speaking prospectively and helping people see your vision for how it could be vs. how it actually is, can help build momentum and positivity. But it can easily get out of control.
2. With drama:
In a disturbing number of cases, however, rather than a success narrative, some use drama to get and hold attention. They always have a story of who and how they were wronged by some other person or company.
The truth is getting anywhere will require countless hours and countless setbacks. This is the cost of doing business and part of the hard work of building something valuable. The more efficiently you process and learn from negative interactions (ideally within hours) the better off you are. Ideally you can optimize your own communication and work style to avoid negative interactions all together.
Being honest (and balanced) about this with yourself and others (without going to either extreme) is critical if you're going to survive the marathon. Ultimately the only way to really succeed with your work and your personal life is to do the hard, slow and methodical work it takes to win a little ground every day.
Relationship musical chairs
As a natural extension of the first two symptoms, relationships (romantic or otherwise) often suffer. There’s a tendency to get into relationships with one or more of the following undermining thoughts playing in ones mind.
1. Is this the best I can do (FOMO)
2. Could this ruin my reputation (FOMO)
3. I want to focus on my career first (FOMO)
4. They better put in the effort I deserve (Overconfidence and bluster)
5. I need to figure out who I am first (Lack a strong personal identity and emotional maturity)
As I’ve written in the past, relationships are hard work. But if worked on with the right person they can create enormous value by laying a foundation that frees up so much emotional and cognitive baggage.
How? Well if root cause for all of these issues is a lack of strong identity or confidence, then relationships are the answer, not the problem. We are how we act consistently - and especially how we treat others we love and care about. There’s no better way to bolster your identity and confidence than to define and declare yourself as someone who treats others well, and demands the same in return.
In fact, the loving (and authentic) embrace of your 'found family' is perhaps the best cure to all of the issues discussed in this post.
Depression and Anxiety
As a natural extension to the first three symptoms listed above (and many more I’m sure) we can each experience depression and anxiety in ways that non-entrepreneurs might never be able to appreciate.
Even those of us who are lucky to have great jobs, great apartments and great friends and even while experiencing great joy can find ourselves feeling down.
I know that personally I’ve felt guilty or unproductive when that feeling of contentment creeps in. It freaks me out because I wonder if I'm content, then maybe I'm not aiming high enough. I feel like I need to be striving for something - moving from here to there - to be achieving my next highest potential.
The result of all this can be a battle with depression and/or anxiety. What's worse, because one might be going through FOMO and Overconfidence facades, we often can’t share our battle with anyone else.
Unfortunately I don’t have any answers for all of this.
For myself I try to focus on building better, deeper relationships, attending only those parties and gatherings I find meaningful and remembering that contentment and happiness is part of the point (and reward) of having worked hard for the life I want.
This is, of course, easier said than done.
It’s hard, methodical work and discipline that I imagine will never end. It’s part of my routine just like brushing my teeth or having a shower.
One more thing...
I was going to end this post there, basically with 'no answers', however I now realize that somewhere in the middle I hit upon the most useful tool I've found this year...
In fact, the loving (and authentic) embrace of your 'found family' is perhaps the best cure to all of the issues discussed in this post.
Loving (despite flaws) and allowing one self to be loved (by revealing my flaws) has been my principle lesson of this year - it has made the year not just bearable, but successful.
Do you have any other examples of HEA or any other techniques for dealing with it? I’d love to hear your stories below in the comments.
Lately a number of my friends seem to be having great wins and making their mark on the industry in awesome ways.
When I first moved out to Silicon Valley (starting with a short trip in 2006) I already knew (by reputation) many of the names and personalities that made up the ecosystem. I read them on blogs, listened to them on podcasts and generally admired their work and learned from their ideas.
Once coming out here, I got to know many of them personally. Some let me down, others surprised me with their generosity and still others became wonderful friends.
I'd like to highlight just a couple of those today because they've been on my mind.
Jeremiah Owyang (and his new partners Deb Schultz & Charlene Li) has/have always struck me as one of the hardest working and smartest people in the valley.
Most recently I've had the pleasure to get to know Jeremiah on a personal level but had never actually worked with him 1:1 on anything serious before.
That changed last week when we sat down for a real 'business meeting'. He blew my mind. That doesn't happen often. His blog posts only show a fraction of the mans thinking. Not only does he think 5 steps ahead, he manages to find a way to package it on his blog in a way that even laymen can understand.
I am so happy for his collaboration at Altimeter. Jeremiah, Debs and Charlene are the nicest people and are all wicked smart.
Those that have been around me in the last 12 months have probably heard me talk about the need for an Altimeter group style firm and I'm glad that they are the ones to pull it off. They've done it with grace, style and stunning execution.
Can't wait to see what they do next.
Stephanie Agrestais another of the people that I got to know as a friend once moving out here. For some reason and on some level we connected as kindred spirits who love to smile.
I've always felt like she had an undeserved level of faith and affection for me - but I accepted it gladly because it meant she wanted to hang out!
She too has recently made a move that not only befits her stature as a connector and thinker, but also rewards her kind spirit and positive attitude.
She gave me her new card at her birthday the other day - it says EVP of Social Media, Global - Porter Novelli (or something like that hah). EVP, Global, Porter Novelli. Are you serious!?
This is such wonderful news for our community because it means that someone who not only gets it, but loves it and is one of us, is in a position to help the brands we all know and love.
These are just two of my friends who have gotten what they deserve lately - in the best meaning of the phrase possible.
If I can help any of you reading this to achieve your goals, please let me know. This whole ecosystem, worldwide, is built on pay-it-forward. And I have a lot to pay forward.
1. You don't need a boom to grow.
2. Better access to great people.
3. A slump doesn't stop spending, and it increases in some areas.
4. There is still money available if you look hard, and you deserve it.
5. The community is still here to support you.
6. The big guys cut back on R&D letting you do the innovating.
The economic situation is apparently so grim that some experts fear we may be in for a stretch as bad as the mid seventies.
When Microsoft and Apple were founded.
If we've learned one thing from funding so many startups, it's that they succeed or fail based on the qualities of the founders. The economy has some effect, certainly, but as a predictor of success it's rounding error compared to the founders.
So maybe a recession is a good time to start a startup. It's hard to say whether advantages like lack of competition outweigh disadvantages like reluctant investors. But it doesn't matter much either way. It's the people that matter. And for a given set of people working on a given technology, the time to act is always now.
For entrepreneurs, they need to forget about the craziness around and just focus on the business and market. The stuff that's happening has little or no impact on the business of most early stage companies — in most cases, their revenue base is too small to see any negative impact from "market conditions." So, any sales person giving market slowdown as a reason for not meeting targets needs to be given a talking to!
I also think this is a great time to get alternative / disruptive ideas to consumers and businesses. Everyone is much more receptive to discussions about solutions which provide better ROI. (And without a simpler, cheaper solution, entrepreneurs don't really have much of a chance anyways.)
Getting started today with the right idea is indeed an attractive prospect. If, however, you are two years in to your company and looking for extra funding without real traction or poof points, times are going to get very tough.
For startups in this category, I would suggest taking a long hard look at the value you bring to the table, and finding a partner who can absorb and propel your assets through these tough times.
I was interviewed fo the NYT on Friday on this very subject. I suggested the same thing to the reporter.
Anthill is the leading entrepreneurial magazine in Australia. They have released a list of the top 30 entrepreneurs under 30. Somehow, someone hacked the list and added my name!
From the magazine:
They collectively turnover hundreds of millions of dollars each year, yet some are barely out of university. They are proud to be Australian but see their home-grown success as little more than a stepping stone. They have never known serious recession, political instability or significant global conflict, yet they are better educated and better informed than new business owners of any generation preceding them. Meet the future of business in Australia.
Company/Role: Faraday Media
At 26, Chris Saad is one of Australia’s most impressive young web entrepreneurs. His theory and practice around web standards – specifically “DataPortability” and “Attention Management” – have gained significant traction and are set to have a profound impact on the evolution of media in the digital age. Saad has co-founded several web-related companies and organisations, most prominently Faraday Media in 2006, of which he is CEO. Faraday Media is developing Particls, a technology that learns user habit and taste and delivers relevant information to them via news crawler, SMS, email, flash visualisations, etc. He also co-founded the Media 2.0 Workgroup with 14 industry “commentators, agitators and innovators”. There’s no shortage of ideas or energy in this digitally-minded entrepreneur. One to watch in the years to come.
Of course, singling out 30 'front men' does not really do justice to the real people who work tirelessly to make successful business happen. People like my business partner and co-founder who actually builds our Faraday Media products Ashley Angell. Like our investors, our team, our advisors and supporters who make everything possible.
To all of them and to our customers and partners - thank you for making this sort of thing possible.
I also look forward to clicking through to the other profiles and learning more about the other people listed - seems like a great group of Aussies!
In the past few months I have been reminded by many that hoping for a thing does not make it true. Watching the US Presidential Election I have heard the same theme emerge as Hilliary Clinton attempts to question Barack Obama's ability to convert lofty and eloquent speeches into real change. I even posted a Seesmic video about it recently.
The question I have, though, is if hope does not make something happen, then what does?
Doesn't all action involve hope? Is not hope a key ingredient for change?
Before one can achieve a thing, they must first imagine it. Before they act on their imagining they must first dare to hope that they could actually have some impact on the outcome.
Even decisions made based on fear involve a hope to avoid that which we fear.
Hope is a powerful driving force. It enables us to act. Without hope, we are often paralyzed.
Most people I talk to who 'wish' they could do something better, or more ambitious, have a common refrain. They dare not hope that their more lofty goals are attainable. They therefore do not act.
Imagine if you could gather a large enough group of people to hope for the same outcome. If you had the right mix of participants and the right critical mass, is there anything that hope, followed by action, can not achieve?
Criticizing hope is actually a thinly veiled claim of naivety or unjustified idealism. If one's hopes are too big, too ambitious or too lofty, then surely they must be too naive to understand the complexity of the issue and the magnitude of the challenge ahead.
Maybe that's true. Maybe those who start with hope and push for change have not yet been sufficiently jaded by a broken system or violent resistance to their ideas.
Maybe, though, if those idealistic and naive people (if in fact they are those things) can somehow encourage others to hope, and then still others; maybe, just maybe, hope will turn into action, and action will turn into real change.
To paraphrase the West Wing... "Do you think a small group of dedicated people can change the world" "Of course, it's the only thing that ever has".
Hope is not empty. It can never be false. Hope, well expressed and shared, is the beginning of something new.
Happy new year to everyone!
Random thoughts for 1.1.08.
I got asked for my resume the other day and it occurred to me that I've never actually ever made one for myself. People usually just know who I am or come to me through word-of-mouth. More recently, I figured my LinkedIn profile provided plenty of resume style information for anyone who was interested.
So my question is, do you have a resume? What are your thoughts on resumes in a Media 2.0 world? Are our digital footprints and LinkedIn profile pages enough information for Resume 2.0?
I also deal with some of these questions in my book outline.
Just came across this great post on the Kiva Blog. I know the feeling of both isolation, connectedness and lack of sleep!
"Entrepreneurialism can be incredibly isolating. On my worst days, it is me against the world. It's Matt versus the naysayers. It's Kiva versus the competitors. It's me against anyone who doesn't see the world as I see it. It's the biggest trap."
"Your challenge as an Entrepreneur comes in tapping into that which is transcendent, that which is infinite about a particular enterprise you might be undertaking. At the end of a day, at the end of a particular lifetime, what can you take with you?"
One of the reasons I felt that consulting/custom solutions was no longer for me was because I felt like I spent most of my time convincing or training customers about and on stuff that I already knew. It was not fun and did not let me move forward with my big ideas.
I just found a similar sentiment on 'We Break Stuff'