“And here’s a phenomenon often true in innovation stories: The people who go to work pursuing knowledge, or because they intrinsically love writing code, sometimes end up making more money than the people who go to work pursuing money as their main purpose”—from The Moral Power of Curiosity
That twinge some feel at times like this is akin to seeing the fences go up on the frontier, the record companies signing your favorite underground band, or the parents coming down to the basement party just when it was getting good. We may be past the wild part, but there’s far more potential with this inevitable outcome.
If you do feel that way, don’t worry. This is also the week that Facebook made big investments in virtual reality and solar-powered drones that send high-speed data. A representative from Google gave a talk at the University of California, Berkeley, about Google’s experiments in quantum computing that was cautiously optimistic, but not conclusive. Some disagreed.
There’s still plenty of frontier out there for everybody.
Agree with Semil Shah’s view of Marc Andreessen here:
Marc Andreessen, the co-creator of Netscape and the VC firm which bears his name (which invested $75m into Oculus VR about four months ago), is also very close to Zuckerberg as one of the original angel investors in Facebook and a current board member. I have never met Andreessen, but based on watching many of his interviews on YouTube, enjoying his endless Twitter stream, and the bold thesis of his firm (which has correctly predicted many things — I’ll write on this aspect soon), he strikes me as a true intellectual polymath — not just conversant or convincing on a range of complex topics, but one of the earliest people to connect the dots of high technology at the highest of levels. … His firm, a16z, has recently made huge bets across a range of industries which could present platform-esque characteristics — the software layer for drones, the software for three-dimensional printing, the software for transferring value across the Bitcoin protocol, and so forth. In Oculus, they likely envisioned yet another emergent computer science platform which could rewrite how people communicated with the Internet.
Reasons why startups are a lot like driving in India:
Both require healthy disregard for established convention and rules.
Both require absolute fearlessness.
Space fills quickly — White spaces don’t stay white for long. If you identify an opportunity, you have to act fast or it will be filled by someone or something else.
Intense and varied competition — Constantly competing against all manner of man, beast and machine. Jumble of old and new. Shiny Audi A6s jockey for space against heavy trucks, old buses, auto-rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, pushcarts, pedestrians and the occasional camel.
Horn OK Please — Everyone is always making noise to let you know that they are disrupting and overtaking you.
Friends and family — Both often put friends and family at risk. Startups often risk their friends’ and family’s money. Drivers in India often risk their friends and family. Rather disconcerting seeing a family of four, including a toddler and infant clutched in Mom’s arms, atop a Hero motorcycle zipping in and out of traffic.
I love this piece about Elizabeth Spiegel, chess coach of IS 318 in Brooklyn, and her approach to teaching kids how to think without coddling or sugarcoating. Having seen Brooklyn Castle and reading more of her story, it’s clear that she was a special and driving force for that team’s success.
A few of her quotes that stood out:
"Teaching chess is really about teaching the habits that go along with thinking. Like how to understand your mistakes and how to be more aware of your thought processes."
Her writing on the 2010 girls’ national tournament:
"…most people won’t tell teenage girls (especially the together, articulate ones) that they are lazy and the quality of their work is unacceptable. And sometimes kids need to hear that, or they have no reason to step up."
Thoughtful and thought-provoking speech from Dan Geer at RSA this year. Speaks to the cyber challenges arising from our rapidly growing complexities and dependencies. Long and well worth the read. A few choice quotes:
“But from the point of view of prediction, what matters is the ratio of skill to challenge; as far as I can estimate, we are expanding the society-wide attack surface faster than we are expanding our collection of tools, practices and colleagues…..So it is with cyber risk management: Whether in detection, control, or prevention, we are notching personal bests, but all the while the opposition is setting world records.”
“Above some threshold of system complexity, it is no longer possible to test, it is only possible to react to emergent behavior.”
“For $19B, Facebook has bought a lot of user attention and neutered a potential threat to its social graph. What it hasn’t bought is the future of the consumer internet. That is being built elsewhere.”—Hamish McKenzie in $19B doesn’t make it brilliant.
“Facebook notes that WhatsApp has over 450 million MAUs, with 70 percent of those active each day. In a staggering comparison, Facebook also notes that the messaging volume of WhatsApp approaches the SMS volume of the entire global telecom industry — and that it’s adding 1 million users a day.”—
By combining the IP address of an always-on Google device with information from devices within the home that may or may not be signed into the user’s own Google account, the company finally has a solid method to associate devices that belong to a household — smart TVs, over-the-top devices, tablets, Withings scales or network-attached printers, to name a few — with Google accounts and households.
More evidence that the holy grail of the internet of things lies in the physical graph. Companies that can create the best visibility into that graph stand to win.
“The combination of anonymity and ephemerality has fostered experimentation and creativity rarely seen elsewhere. It’s incredible what people can make when they’re able to fail publicly without fear, since not only will those failures not be attributed to them, but they’ll be washed away by a waterfall of new content. Only ideas that resonate with the broader community persist…”—Chris Poole on anonymity
When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it.
The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more.
Twitch has big-league audiences watching e-Sports online. They’ve got big advertisers’ attention, too.
In October Twitch attracted over 45 million unique viewers, each watching, on average, 100 minutes of video a day. Those are outrageous numbers for a company that’s just two years old. Six-year-old Internet video service Hulu–backed by Disney, NBCUniversal and 21st Century Fox–attracts just 30 million viewers a month, who watch for 50 minutes per session.
“It is a safe bet that the highest-earning professions in the year 2050 will depend on automations and machines that have not been invented yet. That is, we can’t see these jobs from here, because we can’t yet see the machines and technologies that will make them possible. Robots create jobs that we did not even know we wanted done.”—http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/12/ff-robots-will-take-our-jobs/all/
There is and always has been a dialog between what you use to form a digital identity and what you use to maintain and express that identity. This difference — utility and formation essentially— are the two destinations when setting out to make anything that is “social” through software
"Carlsen won because he is the better athlete and not the better chess player," wrote a commentator after the Chennai match. In drawn positions the Norwegian plays on and on, sitting his opponent out, waiting for errors. That is profoundly misleading: Magnus Carlsen’s success lies in his ability to play "consistently accurate moves that also maximise the chances of inaccuracies from the opponent," writes GM Jonathan Rowson.
In 2014, Every Business Will Be Disrupted By Open Technology
Breathless tone of the article aside, I agree with the following:
Passion and Connections Trump Assets and Capabilities: In the scale economy, bigger was always better. The aim of every entrepreneur was to grow their business in order to acquire greater assets and capabilities. These, in turn, could then be leveraged for more growth, creating a virtuous circle. Success would breed more success.
Now, however, we are operating in a semantic economy where everything is connected and no one is safe. No matter what business you are in, someone can come up with an idea, access the capabilities they need—from logistics to finance, technology to talent—and be competing with you by lunchtime.
The bottom line is that the function of an enterprise is no longer to create efficiency by organizing men and material, but to create value by directing passion and purpose.
In the words of one director, “This industry is changing so rapidly that we cannot rely on what a candidate knows or even has done in their career as a predictor of future success. We need someone who is a ‘learning animal.’ That is someone who is curious, who doesn’t have all the answers, who knows how to elicit alternative perspectives, who can select the most important nuggets of insights from ‘big data,’ and who can keep learning over time as we march into the future.”
“Mathematics is a way to break the barriers of the conventional, an expression of unbounded imagination in the search for truth. Georg Cantor, creator of the theory of infinity, wrote: “The essence of mathematics lies in its freedom.” Mathematics teaches us to rigorously analyze reality, study the facts, follow them wherever they lead. It liberates us from dogmas and prejudice, nurtures the capacity for innovation.”—Love and Math, The Heart of Hidden Reality by Edward Frenkel
In startups, as in chess, the unexciting moves often make the difference
Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand have been battling it out in Chennai the last week for the 2013 FIDE World Chess Championship. After 4 straight draws, Carlsen’s opened it up with two straight decisive wins.
If you follow the games, particularly yesterday’s Game 6 (and you canhere and here), you can’t attribute Carlsen’s wins to any individual move or set of moves. At least I can’t, but I’m no grandmaster, so who knows. But it sure seems like there haven’t been any bold exchanges, daring sacrifices or cunning gambits that have carried the day for him. He’s played sound, methodical chess, building solid positions that slowly press his opponent. He’s won the last two games largely on the back of quiet moves.
Quiet moves are those that neither capture nor threaten a piece. In a sense, they’re boring. They don’t attract a lot of attention and they don’t demand a direct response. But they’re critical as they create strong positional value by deploying pieces to important squares where they can best exert influence over the course of the game.
Startups often think they need loud moves to succeed. They feel they need to make a splash, generate buzz, command attention, crush a demo day presentation, make a noise in the market, etc. That stuff does help in some cases, but it hurts in others, particularly when those companies aren’t in a position to capitalize on the attention. This is why Ken Lerer feels that most startups should just “shut up.”… I bet that in most cases it’s the quiet moves that really led to success.
Quiet startup moves are that can’t be written about in breathless headlines, blog posts or press releases. Things like building and reinforcing an internal culture that enables you to hire and retain a high-performing team. Deep and critical thinking about customer pain. Generating insightful hypotheses then creating relevant market experiments and meaningful KPIs to test those hypotheses. Success is built on these important and quiet foundations.
Like how Carlsen’s quiet moves build successful chess positions, these quiet startup moves help founders build successful companies best positioned to capture market opportunities. Ultimately, startups need to deliver products that delight users, and it’s often the quiet moves that best help them to do this.
I heard a professor once say of all the young, highly-credentialed students that cycled through the top MBA program where he taught that they have “tremendous CPUs but such little RAM.”
While the analogy doesn’t exactly hold, what he meant is that these folks could process huge amounts of information in short order but didn’t have any experience to put it into context. Basically, they were super smart but knew nothing. At least nothing as to how actual businesses were run, how ideas were conceived and turned into viable products, hows deals get done — basically how the real business world works. So much intellectual horsepower, he called it, but so little wisdom.
Related to intellectual horsepower is its sometimes misunderstood cousin, intellectual curiosity. Most folks equate curiosity with having broad interests or eclectic pursuits, as though the defining aspect of curiosity lies in diversity. Others view curiosity as always asking what-if questions and exploring the boundaries of what is possible. Both those are true to an extent, but for me it’s something deeper.
At the core, I believe intellectual curiosity is a heady mix of tenacity and lateral thinking. It’s the indomitable drive to understand why things are the way they are and not accepting them at face value. Mixed with this is the inclination to combine existing systems of thought in novel and unexpected ways to probe what’s possible, learn new things and create new ideas.
First principles type thinking (like that attributed to Elon Musk) tends to be a trait of the intellectually curious. Once you have reduced something to its most elemental conceptual building blocks, it’s so much easier then to discover new angles for attacking seemingly intractable problems or to find application in new domains. First principles thinking is a powerful intellectual design pattern and a hallmark of the curious.
Those with high horsepower, like the ones our professor was referring to, will ace their exams, get good grades and easily deliver on assignments — basically excel at whatever you ask them to do. Where the high horsepower crowd excels at answering questions, the intellectually curious excel at asking penetrating and important questions. Questions that, if answered, open up all sorts of new possibilities. Folks with high horsepower tend to exceed expectations. But the intellectually curious can truly surprise you.
The world needs more curious people. Being classically “smart” is no longer enough to meet the innovation challenges most companies now face. Horsepower alone isn’t going to identify that next category defining product. Superior analysis skills shine a light a bit further down the track, but they don’t disrupt existing markets or create new ones unless they are combined with the tenacity and lateral thinking of intellectual curiosity.
Now’s a great time for the truly curious. Never have so many powerful tools and so much information been so readily available. The curious have never been more empowered than they are today. Given a minimum threshold of capability, I will always value curiosity over horsepower. These are the folks I want to work with and invest in.
“Overall, I think it’s a good time to have a girl in the 21st century because things are changing, with more opportunities for women. But girls are still the underdog, which means they’ll work harder, and everybody loves an underdog. The next Steve Jobs will totally be a chick, because girls are No. 2—and No. 2 always wins in America.”—Louis C.K. from this piece in Fast Company