I heard a great phrase from Jenna Walker at Artifact Uprising yesterday. We had a Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network Colorado meeting with her and her partner and in the middle of the discussion about their business Jenna used the phrase “digital paralysis” to describe one of the things she thinks is driving the incredible engagement of their customers.
Her example was photography. Artifact Uprising came out of her original experience with photography, the dramatic shift to digital photography on iPhones and picture storage on Dropbox and Instagram, and the massive overwhelming feeling of having zillions of digital photos. In Jenna’s case, it’s caused a slow down of her photo taking (digital paralysis) because she’s overwhelmed with the massive numbers of photos she now has, doesn’t really have the energy to deal with them, and resists taking more because they’ll just end up along with the other zillions in Dropbox.
I totally identified with this. Amy and I have a huge number of digital artifacts at this point – with our enormous photo library being just one of them. The feeling of paralysis in dealing with them is substantial. After a brief tussle the other day over “hey – just share the photo stream with me of the stuff you are going to take today” followed by a struggle to figure out how to do it the way we wanted to do it and still have the photos end up in the same place, tension ensued and digital paralysis once again set it. I sent myself an email task to “spend an hour with the fucking photos on Dropbox” this weekend which I’ll probably end up avoiding dealing with due to digital paralysis.
Yesterday, my friend Dov Seidman wrote a great article in Fast Company titled Why There’s More To Taking A Break Than Just Sitting There. It’s worth a long, slow read in the context of reacting to being overwhelmed digitally as well as in the general intense pace of life today.
As I sat and thumbed through some of the beautiful photo books that Artifact Uprising creates, I could feel my brain slowing down and being less jangly as I settled into observing and interacting with something not-digital. Try it this weekend, and ponder it while you are taking a break. Pause, and explore why you are pausing, how it feels, and what you are doing about it. And see if it impacts your digital paralysis when you end the pause and go back to the computer.
As we roll into the weekend, and I start another digital sabbath, I’ve got the question “what really matters about being human” rolling through my mind.
I spent the afternoon at the Silicon Flatirons conference SciFi and Entrepreneurship – Is Resistance Futile? I thought it was phenomenal and remarkably thought provoking. I came back to my office to find Dane and Eugene playing TitanFall on my 75″ screen. In a few minutes I’m heading out to dinner with my parents, Amy, and John Underkoffler of Oblong who was in town for the conference. The juxtaposition of another intense week rolling into the weekend and a day off the grid intrigues me.
The first panel was a fireside chat between me and William Hertling. William is one of my favorite sci-fi writers who I think has mastered the art of near term science fiction. If you haven’t read any of his three books, I encourage you to head over to William’s website or Amazon and grab them now.
At the end of our fireside chat, we were asked a question. I heard the question as about mortality so I went on a long space jam about how I’ve been struggling with my own mortality for the past 18 months since having a near fatal bike accident (one inch and it would have been lights out.) Up to that point I felt like I had come to terms with my own mortality. I would often say that I believed that when the lights go out, they go out, and it’s all over. And I’m ok with it.
But last fall I realized I wasn’t. And during my depression at the beginning of 2013 I thought often about mortality, how I thought about it, whether I was bullshitting myself for the previous 25 years about being ok with it, and what really mattered about being alive, and being human.
I then handed things over to William. He proceeded to answer the question that had been asked, which was about morality, not mortality.
When he finished and I’d realized what had just happened, I emitted a gigantic belly laugh. And then for the next couple of hours I kept applying the lens of “what really matters” to the discussion about science fiction, entrepreneurship, and the human race.
From the meditation I’ve been doing, I’m definitely exploring “listening to my thoughts” rather than obsessing over them. I’m recognizing that the narrative I’m creating in my brain is just my narrative and doesn’t necessarily have any real meaning, or importance, at all. 150 years from now, I don’t believe any of it will matter. And then, suddenly, the great John Galt quote “It’s not that I don’t suffer, but that I know the unimportance of suffering” comes to mind.
Sometime during the fireside chat, the statement popped out that “I believe the human species dramatically overvalues its importance to the universe.” I think this is going to be a radical point of conflict with the evolution of machines over the next 50 years. At this stage, it’s a part of what gives our lives meaning. There are so many complicated things that happen on a daily basis that create stress, conflict, controversy, and emotional responses. All of them theoretically generate meaning, but when I “listen to my thoughts” I recognize the unimportance of them.
And then I start searching for what really matters. Both to me, and about being human.
See you Sunday.
I’m glad it’s 2014. Last year was a difficult one for me as I hit a wall of depression that completely surprised me. I was over it by mid year and, while the second half of the year was better, I still struggled with figuring a bunch of stuff out about what I cared about as I turned 48 years old.
I discovered great relief, and happiness, from stopping doing these things.
As I start 2014, I’ve decided to continue to stop doing things that are neutral to negative utility to me, in an effort to spend more time on the things I want to do, and do them more deeply.
Some of the things I’m stopping are ones that down deep I know are unsatisfying to me. Interacting with government at any level – federal, state, or local – has been a huge negative emotional drain. I’ve put a lot of energy into two issues over the past seven years – startup visa/immigration reform and patent reform. There has been almost zero change in either of these and the experience has been deeply unsatisfying. I’ve been incredibly distressed and agitated by the NSA / Snowden revelations. The idea of municipalization in Boulder, and my interactions around it, bums me out. I’ve realized that it’s not a game I like at all and that whenever I spend time on it, I’m a less happy person. So I’m not going to engage in 2014 and see how that feels.
For the past 25 years, my week days have started at 5am. I started experimenting with that a few months ago and, even though I’ve had some stretches where I’ve gotten up at 5am, I realized the thing I didn’t like was the oppressive crush of scheduled stuff that started at 9am and didn’t end until 6pm. I’ve lived an adult life of “manager mode” with only a few stretches of true “maker mode” and I desperately need – and want – more maker mode. So I’m stopping doing anything scheduled before 11am. I’ll get up whenever I want and my mornings, until 11am MT, will be unscheduled for me to do whatever I want with them.
I’ve been deeply conflicted with alcohol in 2013. I grew up in a house with no alcohol – neither of my parents drank. I drank plenty in college, but limited myself to just booze – no drugs (my parents scared my brother and I straight at an early age.) Over the years, I’ve gone through dry phases – up to five years – where I didn’t drink. In other time periods, including around the Internet bubble and 2013, I found myself drinking more than I felt was ok as I used it to dull the edges of the stress and anxiety. In addition to the negative physical effects, I spent a lot of mental and emotional energy thinking about “am I drinking too much.” I’ve always struggled with abstaining vs. moderating, so 2014 will be a year of abstaining from alcohol.
Many of you out there provided great support, friendship, and advice in 2013. I treasure all of it, even when it’s hard to hear, something I disagree with, or when I am simply not in a head space to act on it. As 2014 begins, I look forward to another year that is an interesting one on this journey called life. And by doing less of the stuff I don’t want to do, I hope to have more time to go deep on the things I want to do.
Happy new year!
One of my favorite books of all times is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I read it every few years and recommend that every entrepreneur read it early in their journey.
While a plethora of entrepreneurship books have come out recently, including the ones I’ve written in the Startup Revolution series, there hasn’t yet been the equivalent of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for entrepreneurship.
Matt Blumberg’s new book –Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business – has elements of it and is awesome. It should be out next month and every entrepreneurial CEO should buy a copy of it right now as it’ll be an incredibly important book to read for any CEO at any experience level.
Riz Virk’s post on TechCrunch yesterday – The Zen of Entrepreneurship – also caught my eye. He’s got a book out called Zen Entrepreneurship: Walking the Path of the Career Warrior. He’s sending me a copy but I went ahead and grabbed it on Amazon to read this weekend.
I know Riz from the 1990’s in Boston – I was an advisor to his first company Brainstorm Technologies. It was long ago enough at this point that I don’t know if I was helpful or not, but I had warm feelings toward Riz and smiled when I saw his name pop up again after not seeing it for a while.
Jerry Colonna and I have talked on and off about really digging into this topic and trying to write a philosophical treatise on entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial way that will stand the test of time. I’m not ready to take this on as I’ve got enough on my plate, but I know it’s out there somewhere. In the mean time, I’m psyched to see more CEOs writing real books about entrepreneurship, rather than yet another ego testament to themselves.
Matt and Riz – thanks for putting the effort into this!
The title of this post “Work diligently, work intelligently, work patiently and persistently” is a powerful line from S.N. Goenka that is part of magnificent blog post by Ben Casnocha titled Reflections and Impressions from a 10-Day Meditation Course.
On July 18th, Ben wrote a post titled Something I Think I Could Fail At: 10 Day Silent Meditation Program , promptly went to Northern California Vipassana Meditation Center, and went off the grid for ten days. He resurfaced today. His post about his experience is awesome – go read it now.
Amy has done several ten day silent meditation retreats with Goenka. The first time she did it was the longest we had ever not communicated – an entire ten days of zero contact with each other. When she got home, she proceeded to spend five hours telling me everything that had happened over the preceding ten days. I like to tease her about it, but it was fantastic to just sit and listen to her replay her experience.
Ben’s first paragraph sets the tone for the entire post.
It was during the 8-9 PM meditation session on the 8th Day — by then I was 80 hours into the 10 day, 100 hour meditation course — when I experienced something remarkable. I was partially kneeling and partially sitting on a small bench in the meditation hall with about 45 other meditators, doing breathing techniques (anapana) and scanning my body for sensations (vipassana). Shortly after starting the session, my mind became as sharp as I’ve ever felt it in my life. I was in complete control of a lucid, concentrated mind.
I let you read it and I challenge you not to be inspired by it. Not by the amazing accomplishments of Ben during the ten days, or the magical breakthroughs he had, or the powerful new insights, but merely in the experience of how he worked diligently, worked intelligently, worked patiently and persistently at something he thought he could fail at, but he succeeded.
Powerful stuff Ben. Thanks for sharing and inspiring.
I’m in Iceland spending the day at Startup Iceland 2012. Amy and I are having a great time in this fascinating country.
At dinner last night, I got into a long conversation about what makes for a fulfilling life. My answer was:
Spend as much time as possible with PEOPLE you love in a PLACE you want to be on a THING you are passionate about.
I believe it’s that simple. What do you think?
Indulge me while I think out loud. I’m trying to decide if I like the phrase “poke people in the eye with the truth” or not. Help me by reacting to the following rant – good, bad, bullshit – and feel free to poke me in the eye with truth if you’ve got some, just give me a hug at the end.
Last week, at the Startup America Regional meeting, I got into a conversation about the role of state and local government in the development of startup communities. I went on my typical rant about how entrepreneurs have to be the leaders and government is a feeder to the startup community. I talked about a few things government can do that have a positive impact and a number of things government does that hurts startup communities. More specifically, I talked about specific types of people in government and their roles, including the people with an “economic development director” title (or something like that – who I’ve come to learn are called “ecodevos” which makes me think of Devo and the B-52s and then my brain goes somewhere completely else other than startup communities and government.)
One of the people I was talking to said “that’s all well and good, but I’m not comfortable telling my fill-in-the-blank-with-a-government-title person this stuff. I’m concerned they won’t respond positively to this. I strongly agree with you on what your saying, however. How should I approach this.”
I responded that “sometimes you just have to poke people in the eye with truth.” Be blunt. Be direct. Be firm. Don’t be an asshole – just say it like you see it. And if they think that makes you an asshole, that’s their loss. And when you are done, give them a hug so they know you care and are trying to be constructive.
I carried that line around with me for a week. I observed myself (which is deliciously meta) poking people in the eye with truth and then giving them a hug. My animal spirit, according to Amy when she’s in an earthy crunchy woowoo moment, is a giant polar bear. I like to think of this as the warm, cuddly, lovable version of a bear – the one that won’t crush you when it hugs you. Somehow these two thoughts merged together in my head and continue to circle around.
I’m at Venture Capital in the Rockies today. This is our annual Colorado VC / entrepreneur thingy. Last night I had dinner with a bunch of entrepreneurs who didn’t have dinner plans. It was last minute and a lot of fun. At the end of the dinner we got into a great conversation about the state of the local VC community and I was characteristically blunt about what I thought had happened, was going on now, and would go on in the future. While I have no idea if I’m right about the future, I made the strong assertion that it doesn’t actually really matter that much given the incredible underlying startup community and incredible entrepreneurial talent in the region.
While on the surface there’s plenty of political correctness about this conversation, and lots of “we need more VC money”, which I’m sure will be echoing in the hallways at VCIR today, I realized that I was once again simply asserting my belief that this didn’t really matter. At dinner, I wasn’t poking any VCs in the eye with the truth since there weren’t any there, but if they had been, I’m sure that’s how they would have felt I was behaving. It probably wouldn’t have been comfortable, but if they’d been willing to respond and challenge my assertions, it would have been a robust conversation.
I’ve got plenty of other examples of this from the last week, but you get the gist of this. Is “poke people in the eye with truth” a good phrase, or just nonsense?
In the “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me” category, “a Missouri federal judge ruled the FBI did not need a warrant to secretly attach a GPS monitoring device to a suspect’s car to track his public movements for two months.”
I had to read that sentence twice. I simply didn’t believe it. Fortunately this one will go to the Supreme Court. The punch line from Justice Breyer is right on the money: “If you win this case, there is nothing to prevent the police or government from monitoring 24 hours a day every citizen of the United States.”
GPS tracking. Hey – did you know that you can already track me through my cell phone without my permission? How about a little tag sewn into all clothing that uniquely identifies me. Or maybe something injected under my skin. Giving the government the right to do it without probable cause or any process, or suggesting that someone doesn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy, just feels evil to me.
The depth of the ethics of these issues are going to be significant over the next decade. It will be trivial for any of us to be tracked all the time without our knowledge. Don’t want a device – how about image recognition view the web of surveillance cameras everywhere.
I don’t have any answer for this, but I have a lot of questions and ideas. And I’m glad that I live in the US where presumably my civil liberties, privacy, and freedom of speech are sacred. I know there are plenty of people in the US that don’t agree with this, or believe that the government should have more control around this to “keep out or find the bad guys.”
Philosophically this is a hard and complex discussion and has been since the creation of the United States of America. The difference, right now, is that technology is about to take another step function leap that no one is ready for, or is thinking about, or even understands, that will create an entirely new set of dynamics in our society. Our government, especially leaders in Congress, the White House, and the Judicial System need to get much smarter – fast – about how this works. SOPA / PIPA is an example of terrible legislation that runs the risk of massively impacting innovation and individual freedom of speech. But it’s just a start – there is a lot more coming.
Denying that there is going to be a dramatic shift in how humans and computers interact is insane. Trying to hold on to incumbent business models and stifle innovation through legislation is dumb. Trying to create complex laws to contain and manage the evolution of technology, especially when it transfers power from innovators to non-innovators, or from the rights of private citizens to the government, is a mistake and will fail long term. Trying to repress free speech of any sort is wrong and won’t be sustainable.
I live in a world where you can’t anticipate or control change. It’s coming – and fast. Let’s embrace it and use it for good, not resist is and try to surpress it in the name of “protecting ourself from bad actors.” I pledge to do my best to always be thoughtful about it and be a force for good in the world. But please, don’t deny the inevitable – embrace it, and build off of it. It’s what makes America amazing and extremely durable long term.
Tonight’s book was Everything Is Obvious* which was cleverly subtitled *Once You Know The Answer with a special bonus subtitle How Common Sense Fails Us by Duncan Watts. And yes – for those of you keeping track at home, I didn’t read a book last night; I was working on mine instead.
I enjoyed this book. As I was reading it, I kept coming up with alternate titles like Everything is Bullshit, The Macro is Irrelevant, Humans Don’t Reason Well, Common Sense Fucks Us Up, Predictions are Useless, and Attributing Things To Abstract Collections of Stuff Like Crowds, Markets, Companies, etc. is Stupid.
Watts is a professor of sociology at Columbia University and a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research. For those of you who think social science is garbage, he’s also a real scientist with a PhD in theoretical and applied mechanics. Basically, he’s a smart, well educated dude who has strong reasoning skills and is an excellent writer.
This book reinforced several deeply held beliefs that I have:
- The macro doesn’t matter in the long run.
- Predictions are irrelevant.
- Most people don’t understand what they are doing or why they are doing it.
- Anything can be explained in hindsight, and the explanation is often wrong.
- The media introduces massive bias into most phenomenon so ignore the media if you really want to understand something.
- Trying things, measuring everything, and iterating aggressively is the best way to figure out what works.
There are probably others. Watts beautifully takes apart a bunch of stories that are viewed as either “common sense”, “conventional wisdom”, or “counter-intuitive truths.” It’s a beautiful thing to read him dissect the popularity of the Mona Lisa and Shakespeare in the same book that he explains why some of the nonsensical assertions of Malcolm Gladwell that are repeated as gospel (including the hilariously stupid Paul Revere / William Dawes analysis), followed by an explanation of the faulty reasoning around the spread of SARS.
The second half of the book is where the good stuff is. Part 1 is “Common Sense” and sets the stage by explaining how as humans we regularly misinterpret what’s going on for a variety of reasons, including our belief about what common sense is and how it works. Part 2 is “Uncommon Sense” and for those of you searching for tools on how to deal with the world more effectively, there is plenty of chocolately goodness here.
I have no idea how much of Watts analysis is actually correct, but his assertions about what blinds us, causes us to make crummy decisions, and results in us believing things we can’t possibly understand sang to me.
James Altucher is brilliant. Everyone on the planet should buy a copy of his new book I Was Blind But Now I See right now. You’ll likely hate some of it. Other parts will annoy you. Still others will seem simplistic, counterproductive, or just plain odd. But every page will make you think.
I met James for the first time at Defrag this year. Eric Norlin invited him. A few of my friends told me I had to see his talk. It was awesome. Now – a bunch of the Defrag talks were superb but James was early in the first day and he set the tone. I can’t remember whether he was before or after Tim Bray but they were back to back and all I remember after they were both done was exhaling a deep breath and saying to myself “fuck – that was great!”
James’ book was in my Defrag swag bag (legendary – one of the best anywhere) and I finally emptied it out the other day. I’m reading a book a day over the next two weeks and this was my book today.
It was perfect timing. On my 90 minute run today alone (no humans at all) in the mountains behind my house in Keystone, I kept thinking about SOPA. I’ve been incredibly agitated the last few days by SOPA after watching three hours of the House Judicial Committee hearing on Friday. SOPA is such an evil thing at so many levels and the people in the House that want it to happen appear to refuse to listen to facts or logic, and – when they talk about what they are confronted with – claim the facts and logic aren’t actually factual or logical. The noise in my brain about this kept drifting away as I thought to myself “how strange that there is snow only on the left side of the trail” or “I wonder if there will be any good movies next weekend since all the ones this weekend are shit” or “how awesome is it that there are no other humans out here” but then would be interrupted by angry thoughts about the chairman of the house judiciary committee who is the sponsor of this bill, the people on the house judiciary committee that are clearly “the henchman”, the absurd process that is unfolding – and then I’d start thinking about my breathing again and the fact that my heart rate was above 160 and that felt good.
James takes us through his chaotic mind, his successes and failures, his struggles and depressions, as he gets to the point where he very clearly tells us that only one thing really matters – one’s own happiness. He proceeds to describe a series of completely fucked up things that get in the way of it. He prescribes a very simple way to be happy, which includes a number of things I do and often suggest such as don’t watch TV, don’t read newspapers, exercise daily, get plenty of sleep, stretch your mind every day, ignore all the crappy people in the world, don’t worry about things you can’t impact, recognize that many parts of the macro (government, banks, education) are irrelevant to your well being, and don’t roll around in the mud with a pig.
But most of all he reminds us to just be honest all the time about everything. In my experience, this is the most liberating thing of all on the quest for happiness. Anyone who spends time with me knows I try to always do this regardless of the implications.
Be honest. Be happy. We all die eventually.