What needs to be done that no one else is working on? It’s such a great question to ask when thinking about what to focus on.
Personal is limitless “What needs to be done” part is, it seems to me, a well-thought intuition. We wander around, scrolling our personalized news feeds of life, and experience so many things that frustrate us. Frustrations build, sometimes for years and decades. Even if we don’t decide to step aside and sketch it on a piece of paper, thought processes run in the background of our minds. It’s personal, deeply disturbing, and continuous. “Why the f*** no one has solved this s***?!”
“What needs to be done” is a question that is always answered with our hearts and stomachs. Something is so wrong that it hurts. Think about the last seven days of your life. What about the world hurts the most? We are humans, a universal kind, so if something hurts us, there’s a high probability that it hurts others as well. Sometimes these others are massive groups of people, our fellows. Hello, WHY. WHY is grand. In business, it does fundraising and secures great hires. In politics, it fuels movements and leads to votes. All the WHYs in the world are personal and therefore emotional, so they resonate.
“What needs to be done” is urgent too, the most important aspect of any sales.
The world full of failures
The world, as it is, is always – failed. At least: unfinished. There’s always something rotten that needs to be fixed. Solving old problems always leads to new challenges and so on. That’s life. A neverending story. Camus still imagines Sisyphus as happy though. What is life without challenges and trills? This is the rational aspect of the initial question.
If a problem, a cause, (potentially) resonates with the large population, it’s a perfect combination. If the answer to the second part of the question is that no one else is working on it – it’s an immediate opportunity. It’s anchored in reality and it requires a rational assessment of the real world. It starts with the world as it is.
Where personal meets the real needs I like to think about this question as to the bridge between personal cause, even ethics, and the market. That’s good for everyone.
If no one else is working on it, and it’s spread, your work is important, and others will understand and support you, either by joining or “buying”. Working on it, whatever it might be, keeps us the most productive because we are intrinsically passionate – it’s personal. It just feels right. It’s our mission.
I was involved in organizing a conference in Paris once. It was about technology and refugees. At some point, a refugee entrepreneur on the main stage, a Syrian tech entrepreneur, tried to explain how starting a business was the act of heroic activism for both him and his companions. The audience from the Western world was first in shock, a positive, empathetic one. Contexts are so different. Building companies in societies ripped by the war is truly noble and so important and consequential for the society.
A few perspectives to think about
First, all businesses pay taxes. Taxes are then being redistributed. That’s the money that goes for homeless people, single moms etc. It’s better to have a bigger budget, which is a consequence of entrepreneurial and business activities. More money for any important cause. Second, businesses employ people. Salaries pay for new skills and homes, sports for kids, and everything in between. Also taxed and put back into the economy and society. Third, financially empowered people, both owners and employees can care about others. Close ones first, family and friends, but society at large as well.
Unintended consequences are so beautiful.
The most frightening comment section that I ever read through was one on Startit’s website, the national portal for IT entrepreneurship in Serbia. The article debated whether programmers who earn several times more money than the rest of the Serbian proletariat, choose long-term career development plans over pure cash, arguing for the former. The author was fiercely attacked in the comments section. Why? Some programmers in the heated texting arguments shared their personal stories. The situation is so awful amongst their loved ones that many (!) of them are actually funding 3-6 other people, namely old parents, unemployed brothers and sisters, aunts.. Every penny counts. Fourth, all businesses solve problems, that’s why they exist. That’s a value for society. Entrepreneurship is a problem-solving discipline. Want to get rich? Solve the problem the most people have. The more pressing the problem, the bigger the reward. That’s ok! From a macro perspective, indeed, a better economy equals better everything. Also, people tend to donate. If they can, meaning either create something or are paid well. It’s actually a pretty loved hobby. The world is horrible, but it isn’t that bad. The opposition between entrepreneurship/business and activism is false so many times.
Maybe it’s better to ask what is the game you’re playing instead of other questions when meeting a new person?
One of the coolest movie openings, “Layer Cake”:
Do not worry, this post isn’t about drugs and the drug business.
Different Games, different everything
It’s impossible to know the future, but it’s highly recommended to imagine it from time to time and base life decisions on that. The prices are too high.
Let’s play around with imaginary Jason fella for a bit. If he marries Jenny, he will become a mayor, and then Senator, and then a Presidential candidate. It’s because Jenny is understanding, supportive, and believes in him. They are both driven by meaningful societal change. If he moved to Florida with his best student mate John when he was 21, he would run a successful business at a 20 million annual run rate in just 3 years. That’s because John was his business soul mate.
If he stopped hanging out with those jerks when he was 16, he would finish university and wouldn’t overdose before he turned 30. All of the potential scenarios above – his life, actually – are the consequences of decisions he has or hasn’t made. And all of them could have happened if he had chosen differently.
I’ll do a short reflection on my 2 months long political career. It wasn’t a plan, although I was always political, in a sense that I cared and thought about society a lot. How did I end up in that game? I rented an apartment in Belgrade city center with a few friends because we wanted to experiment with different business ideas. We wanted to have a nest for it.
A little more context: a different political candidate emerges. He talks about the venture capital industry because he was a venture-backed startup CEO. He sounds and acts reasonable, has European experience, some level of success in Canada and the USA, American pragmatism. A different persona compared to the others in Serbian politics.
Anyway, the apartment we decided to rent was one of the first places where signatures for his candidacy were being collected. I didn’t know that would happen, it was so fast. A renting pal decided to help with candidacy literally the day before. I was surprised to see so many random people in the apartment that evening.
I soon realized that all the people who were there signing the necessary support documents were so decent. I had casual chats about psychedelic rock music and stuff like that. I was amazed! Look like my tribe? At some point, I was asked: “Hey, would you help with getting signatures in Pancevo?” Sure, why not.
I gathered 30 people in my hometown of Pancevo. Candidacy approved, so let’s campaign. It was such an incredible and valuable experience, but let’s leave that for some other time.
The campaign was over, so I decided to conduct some serious thinking.
First, I was sick of all the people from other political parties I ran across during the campaign. Bad people. Second, I have realized that serious politics – it’s immoral to do it any other way – is a 24/7 type of deal. No time to learn, grow or do any other meaningful things.
The main reason why I’ve decided to proactively step down and not continue was the realization that it would eventually make me a worse person and that I would need to sacrifice my whole current life for it. It’s not that I cared that much. Plus, that would keep me localized, which felt claustrophobic. Let’s take a look at an entrepreneurship example.
Nikola thinks of starting something of his own. Option #1 is starting a little cafe. It’s a small town, the market is tiny. Option #2 is a service-oriented web business conducted online, utilizing his ability to gather quality people and his decent web development skills. Option #3 is playing as a one-man band, as a premium freelancer. How might have those unfolded?
He didn’t do the math. He chose option #1 and made a mistake. He didn’t envision all the little annoyances, including constant inspections and managing so many people, and he definitely hasn’t done any substantial financial projections. Had he gone with option 3 he would have earned 5 times more a month than he made with his cafe in profits. How to think about the Game(s) (of Life)
You don’t know, as I don’t know, and as no one actually can know. We need to do the research, talk with people, learn from them, think about it deeply and experience it first-hand. Choosing which game to play, meaning where to invest time and energy is one the most important things in life.
Have in mind that the whole life, as in the number of waking hours and minutes, in most cases, is mostly two things: work and love/partnership. Would that mean that those two are the most important things in life? If you spend that much time working, then choose wisely where to work. And, first of all, the work itself.
Anyway, are there any frameworks and techniques for this?
Analyzing and proper research always go far. Think about possible options, through the lens of the people who are already there. How do their days look? How much do they earn? Talk with them. Online. Does it sound inspiring? Luckily, all of this is on the Web.
“So, instead of thinking through what we wanted our perfect day to look like, we thought about the worst day imaginable and how to avoid it. We inverted and came up with what we call Anti-Goals.”
It’s incredible how we forget to do the most logical thing in the world, which is to step back and look at the bigger picture. “Take a step back and look at the bigger picture.” Regular assessments, by all means, help. This works in career, love, any type of relationship. “Does it feel right? Why not? What should I change?”Self-awareness rocks! I often opt for rationalism and objectivism although I do not fully agree with the philosophy developed by Ayn Rand.
Imagine that you are a CEO or a hiring manager of a company named XYU. You are about to choose from two candidates. The first one is an Ivy League computer science graduate, with a recent machine learning doctorate. The second one is a random kid from Romania, a self-starter with just a high school diploma. The first spent the last five years working on the latest AI technology in MIT’s lab. The second spent the last 3 doing the same but on its own research agenda, starting from scratch while spending 8 hours every day working a random daily job to feed his family. The first was solely focused on his thesis. The second did all the advanced work while renting 8 hours of his life 5 days a week. Surprisingly, Romanian self-started has a better portfolio and demonstrates more innovative thinking in the interview. Both PhD-s. The first was stamped by the prestigious institution. The second? “Poor, hungry and determined”.
That’s the Internet.
Internet and Equality
The Internet made the world the most equal ever.
The most obvious recent big thing:
“Permanently divorcing physical location from economic opportunity gives us a real shot at radically expanding the number of good jobs in the world while also dramatically improving quality of life for millions, or billions, of people.”
The world is still insanely inequal. Thankfully, so many great people are working on it. Hopefully, the world will be a much better place soon. Technology is what makes the world more equal. AI and Equality
We are still early in the AI game. It’s interesting to think about what advanced AI can do for equality building on the top of the world wide web.
I like this theory that we already are some sort of cyborgs. We use Google in so many gorgeous ways, so extensively that it is part of our core, almost physical beings. We are always connected to the Internet and enhance our abilities by it, intuitively. Google knows what to give us, and it does it so fast. Some kind of intelligence, right, that has so deeply become part of our instincts. Let’s imagine an even brighter future.
Education. The Internet made it free. For the first time in human history, almost any knowledge is free of charge. Learning with others and mentors is more effective though. Imagine personalized AI tutors. What if we can build conversational AIs that can teach us things we would like to learn, and guide us along the whole way? What if that’s the most effective way to learn? Imagine every kid having a personalized AI mentor.
Life itself. We might extend our lifespan soon. Also, and more importantly, we might end a lot of chronic and other diseases, saving lives of millions every year, particularly of those in marginalized communities and positions. There’s a very high probability that some kind of AI will charge these breakthrough, life-saving and life extension achievements, directly or indirectly. “AI guardian angels”. I like this notion. Take for example the epidemic of loneliness and the cost of psychological help. AI beings might be there to provide help when there’s no one else.
Paths. Life used to be so confusing for the vast majority of the worldwide population, so – inequal. Access to knowledge and routes to XYZ were hidden in closed networks. Class societies. The open Internet democratized it, revolutionizing societies at scale. Now imagine an AI layer on top of it. A personal assistant that can sketch your different paths, and how and where they lead.
Language. If you know English well you are a few years ahead. Real-time translation can break down many barriers, access and learning being one of the first serious use cases.
Rule of Law. We are equal on paper, but in reality, there are racisms in this world, ethnic and other discriminations, violence, biases, corruption… All of these affect the underprivileged much more. AI might. Who’s building “AI for Justice“? Things like “algorithmic bias patrol”, ” corruption AI officers” and things like that?
Propaganda is a serious and dangerous phenomenon. It’s arguably even natural to a certain point, but engineering people’s realities, ruthlessly, at scale, is the source of so many evils.
Propaganda, dissemination of information—facts, arguments, rumours, half-truths, or lies—to influence public opinion.
Serbia in the 1990s Slobodan Milošević was in charge of Serbia in the late 20th century. Adored by contemporaries and regional leaders for his intelligence although in battles with them, his country was bleeding and suffering.
We were in wars, experienced hyperinflations, we were poor with no bread and electricity, and we were bombed when millions were dancing for freedom on the streets of Berlin, and so many other terrible things, but the vast majority of people still truly loved him. Why? How is that even possible? How deep was his propaganda?
I would argue deeper than most of the lovers connect. It’s a one on one relationship of the highest grade, for a decade. Almost impossible to break up.
Imagine having the same face and voice 10, 20, 30 times a day, relentlessly repeating the same story over and over again. All the political others are portrayed as thieves, rapists, drug dealers, national traitors.. you know what’s in that folder. Repeated millions of times. Non-stop. At some point he wasn’t a political option, that’s a separate debate. In an interesting thought experiment, and I would argue that it’s true, people would still vote for him. That’s so sad. It’s so deep and profound. It’s also interesting to think about potential moments of personal revelations of those previously brainwashed to the maximum. I believe it’s hard to admit to yourself that you were so naive. Like Fox Mulder, “you want to believe”. Egos are so fragile.
Anyway, the propaganda-intimacy connection with millions of people, especially older ones who are staring at TV screens the whole day is: forever. Yep, they would probably vote for him whatever happens. Until they die. He was so deep in their minds, hearts, unconsciousness, bones, atoms, and kidneys.
Serbia today Today, Serbia is ruled by Aleksandar Vučić who sets and controls the narrative and messes with the minds of millions of people, every day, all day. Methodology and tactics are the same. Let me brainwash you every day, meaning every morning, lunchtime, evening and before going to bed, and in between, whenever you forget about me and my heroic but intimate story.
It’s a different era, so social media is part of the operation too. Human bots are spreading the narrative. They control the news feed!
How do those bot networks work? They’re not programmed. They are people, thousands of them. Don’t want to share it? You’re fired! They coordinate and track their actions using advanced software solutions and military-style organization. I was shocked to find out that some of my random acquaintances are also part of the human bot network. Some of them would do what is requested and then delete their posts because they were ashamed. Good, some shame, and hence humanity, is still there. I accidentally spotted this several times.
Is there a way out?
Holy cow, I can’t even start to analyze North Korea for example. How to get out? Seriously, how?
Act 1: Birth and Growing Up You’re born at a very specific location, we can reasonably assume in the closest local hospital, in a random village or city. It’s random, in a sense that you haven’t chosen your parents, nor the location. Lottery. That’s how your life begins. That’s how all of us start. Hello, world! Your parents, and perhaps their parents, in some cases nannies and other close family members or parent’s dear friends, are your whole world for a while. You breathe, cry, learn to walk, always with and around them. Your life space is very tight! You first start playing in someone’s arms, then in your little crib, and then in the whole house. Then yard if your family has it. Life space increases gradually.
Your first friends are those who live nearby, a few neighborhood houses and streets. Your hood. You expand, both geographically and socially. First, it was counted in meters, but now it’s kilometers. There’s still a strong parental oversight. If you are not homeschooled, which probably isn’t the case if you’re not born in the US, or constantly moved around by hyper-traveling parents, you start to genuinely socialize in kindergarten and primary school. Usually, it’s the nearest one. Your circle grows! And then when you grow up a little more, you choose a high school. Some decisions start to emerge. Is it the general type of the school, or a more focused one? Still kilometers, maybe tens of them, with occasional visits to other cities and casual outer world impressions.
It’s not about your personality, interests, or anything about yourself. It’s about the location. The location has a colossal, crucial effect on life and acts as one of the key determinants of your being.
If wealthy or talented, or just informed early enough, this is still mostly about your parents’ thinking though, you might end up in a high school that is abroad. In most cases, however, it’s a given. Whatever the schooling system algorithm decides. It’s about location.
You slowly start to wander around.
Act 2: Expansions And then, you decide (what) to study. This is more about you, or if you are unlucky and caged by your parents’ (unfulfilled) ambitions, your parents’ choice. But still, your geography of life changes dramatically.
In this expansion phase, you encounter plenty of new people from different walks of life, cultures, diverse accents… and different geographies. You are with like-minded people, for the first time in your life, it’s about interests and passions. And geographies merge.
This is the most common scenario, it’s definitely not everybody’s route. Let’s stick with it for the sake of the argument.
Your network broadens. You might even move to another city, which is especially interesting if you are coming from a small town.
The world is made of networks. All you know, you hear from someone, either in physical reality or online. All the opportunities spread through networks as well. Also, unconscious mimicry is a serious thing. You mimic those you spend time with. Your network of people, places and experiences, continues to flourish.
It’s probably smart to start working and be as socially (pro)active as early as possible. Understanding of the world, and yourself consequently, happens earlier.
Getting out of the familiar social topology is enhancing. Act 3: Broadening the Network (and Horizons)
I was so fascinated with it a year or two ago. Let me explain.
I started analyzing some of my friends and the ways they “end”/“close” their lives at some point, too early. Nothing against it, just an observation, and how I want to go against it. People marry people from their cities, the ones they met 20 years ago, without thinking of stepping outside. The pool of possible options, if you think about it, is very small. Friendships are also closed, strong like concrete. There’s certainly some beauty in it. Life-long friends are romantic, but it’s also a cage in this context if the birth lottery isn’t ever questioned. It’s claustrophobic!
Anyway, why stop? If life is gradually unfolding in new territories, why not go further? I write “Internet” with a capital “I” because I believe it’s literally the best thing ever.
Imagine the earliest internet users for a second, when you needed to go through never-ending sound terror before connecting online. Imagine Alpha geeks. And their revelations when they figured out that space/time can be easily overcome and that they aren’t so freaky and alone after all. Word of wonders. Human beings, sharing whatever passion you might have.
Research on how the Internet is changing dating and societies blew my mind a few years ago. This is the link. I did Corona Love Stories when Covid-19 hit, a special publishing side-project for people in long-distance relationships. We published countless stories about long-distance couples, how they met, fought travel bans and anxiety, and everything in between. Some of the experiences were so fascinating.
Act 4: What do you want to do with your life? You’re kind of set up. You hopefully have at least 50 or more years to do whatever you want. Why stop? Why settle down? Why put chips down when it’s finally your turn? This is the most interesting and productive phase. You’re experienced and wise enough, independent, and all the other crucial necessities. Maybe I am hardcore here or I am just tripping, but it would be so sad not to explore every corner of the world. Or at least as much money/time allows.
I think a lot about “optimization” recently. How much (and fast) can you optimize your life and make your personal reality closer to what you desire?
Desires and formulas that work
For example, how can you optimize something like this: REMOTE (ability to be wherever you want anytime you want)
If you’re nailing your skill (any knowledge work), it actually shouldn’t be that hard. Let’s go through it together? The initial set of questions: How many skills pay more than 5k and can be sold online? How many jobs are there? Trends for the next 2, 3, and 5 years? The second set of questions:
Who are those people earning? How can they be contacted? Voila. Enough for a start. Reverse engineer the process, an approach that I am fond of recently. If X worked for thousands of Y, there’s a very high probability it might work for you too.
The case that is extremely popular these days: how can you optimize (engineer) your financial independence? Think about it: it’s a generational thing. If you have or plan to have children, this is also for them. Being truly antifragile.
The same method works for literally anything. The World Wide Web!
It’s so cool. Today we (can) have all the information we need. We can find out whatever we want and need – for free. Even if it’s not already online, people are. And people are not that bad after all. They respond to cold emails and messages. Anyone who has ever tried knows that. Google! Google makes us superhumans. It’s ridiculous how much of everything we need is a search problem. It’s so wonderful how much there is on random blogs, forums, podcasts, and all the Reddits of the world. Interested in any big tech position? Probably already told in an efficient way on some obscure Youtube channel. Search is a superskill.
If the path is easy to find, analyze and understand, and then learn from it and replicate in an authentic, remixed manner, then the main question is, “What do you want, and are you ready to get there?”
If all the paths are there, transparent as blue sky, what is the problem? Asking yourself what you want and then defining the personal route to get there based on research isn’t easy. Of course, putting in the work consistently for months and years is even harder. Want to live desired reality? That’s the price. You can always choose the ride you enjoy though.
Money is one of the most consequential inventions. It makes the world go round; It’s used to fund space exploration, do fundamental scientific research, and build brave products that change the world. Sure, it’s directly connected to so many shitstorms at the same time, being the driver of so many “instrumental evils” when people will do nasty stuff to acquire it. They would also use it as an antidote to moral rules and civil behavior, to buy themselves justice, privilege, and other exemptions. It is the instrument with the capital “i”. Like any other technology, it’s mostly about how it’s used. By having it more, you can either solve a big problem you care about deeply, or become a terrible, corrupted person.
From the government and citizens’ perspective, it enables prosperity. More money means more taxes, a more vibrant economy and dynamic markets, more innovations, better science, and countless other things. Wealthier people live longer and happier lives. Check this famous graph:
My immediate response when I first encountered it was, naturally, to think about myself and my actions and decisions. I consider myself an activist, trying to make the world a better place. Are my approaches wrong?
Let’s get hypothetical. So X decides to influence Serbian/Algerian/Korean society as much as he or she can. He/she decides to put it all on paper, to visualize it, and think it through. Let’s say that he/she cares about X the most. It doesn’t matter why X cares about Y, it’s probably very personal. After some deep thinking, X realizes that it would be the most effective to earn 7 figures, become a multi-millionaire, and put that money in the work for cause Y in this way or another. While the probability might be low, if he/she does even 20% of it, it’s still a better use of time than struggling to promote the Y cause directly. It’s just a 10-15 year-long hack. Have you ever tried to anyhow measure your impact? It’s an interesting exercise. What I truly love about this sort of thinking is that you can count a lot. You, as an individual, can influence the world directly. Some other girl, let’s call her Z, is a writer. She does more with words, touching hearts in a beautiful way than she can do with money. So she writes.
Chamath Palihapitiya is one of the most prominent people in Silicon Valley at this point. His story, in short, if I understood correctly:
A refugee (Sri Lanka) in Canada
United States of America, tech: Winamp
AOL, product (youngest VP)
The first senior person in FB in charge of growth (up to almost a billion users). Fat equity and “billion-dollar club”
Some of the investments, private + fund: Bitcoin (100 thousand pieces), Tesla (almost 10 times growth), Amazon (almost 10 times growth), Slack (10% of the company -> $2.8 billion), Golden State Warriors (4-5 x) etc.
If money is important as the instrument for < whatever >, it’s about in which direction it flows. If it’s to be made anyway, it’s much better and effective to decide on where it goes. The world is an open playground, with constant power dynamics, and money is what makes the difference. Get it. It’s OK, you as well should become the “capital allocator”. Care about refugees or homeless people? Fund the cause. Advocate for different policies, but add some money on the top. I am amazed how financially illiterate most of the population is and how financial skills are not evenly distributed. It should be taught from kindergarten. Inequality is often a consequence! I am talking from personal experience. Of course, it’s also about empowerment. No matter where you start – you can fly.
A bigger picture?
I also loved the idea of giving a certain percentage of your monthly income to what you believe needs to be done. I am considering it, although I wouldn’t say that I am rich. I am thinking of establishing this as a regular practice. Sure, you pay taxes, and that surely does a thing. But you can do much more, proactively. It doesn’t have to be much. Even 3-5 percent can work. What do you care about the most? You don’t have to volunteer for the cause and donate your time. Money is also fine. Instead of a conclusion: “get the fucking money” is a call to action to think about it as an instrument for desired change, whatever it might be.
So many evils in this world are banal. That random, short and curly blonde driver contributing to the holocaust from a far side, an ordinary husband with two kids, it’s not his fault and responsibility, he’s just another brick in the wall. He doesn’t know what is driving, he doesn’t even care. He’s in love. He’s not a killer, he doesn’t have a gun, or a knife in his pocket, he doesn’t carry a sadistic smile, he’s just driving, from point A to point B, to be able to feed his kiddies and surprise his wife with a rose. When working, he’s on autopilot. Otherwise, the whole neighborhood adores him because he’s a great pal, always there to help however he cans. If you are not already familiar with Hannah Arendt’s work on the banality of evil, I believe you should take a look. One of my favorite books, “A Philosophy of Evil” by Lars Svendsen, delves into many different kinds of evil. If you don’t want to read the whole book, which I would definitely recommend, you can read this summary article on four types of evil. He argues, for example, that there are no demonic evils, evils for their own sake. Terrorists don’t enjoy it when babies or uncles cry. It doesn’t make them horny. They do it for the cause.
I am strictly interested in evils that are banal here and now. It’s so sad that people act evil even though they’re not evil per se (whatever that might mean), not even willful in doing X. How to minimize those behaviors, and downplay evils themselves?
People too often don’t think about others, that’s obvious. For a variety of reasons. Let’s imagine an extreme case: heroin addict(s). Addiction is so strong that literally nothing else matters. “Nothing else matters”. Quite literally. Not that I have a personal experience, but that’s what I’ve managed to learn reading and listening. Mum’s TV, or fathers hearth treatment, or sisters rent, or life-long friends in need… They’re not on the radar. The whole abandonment “process” is extremely dehumanizing, on so many levels. Ego. I rewatched “Revolver” a few weeks ago, one of the most wicked, and many would argue the weakest of Guy Richie’s movies. With a movie comes a video afterthought on ego and some aspects of it.
People’s need to protect their own egos knows no boundaries. They will lie, cheat, steal, kill, do whatever it takes, to maintain what we call the “ego boundaries”.
Self-defense. Ego self-defense. Response to humiliation and shame.
Pause and think about the video for a second.
Or, take for example misinformation campaigns, which we falsely think are just today’s problem. Propaganda machines are in full speed, kind of forever, much before social media. There is obviously an intention to make a mess, but oftentimes there’s no direct orchestration. Triggering, as in the most sophisticated nudge theories, leads to violence and death. Collateral damage can be counted in thousands, hundreds, even millions of evils that spread like the Coronavirus pandemic. How to minimize banal evils in this world?
Mechanisms of evil can be quite bizarre and advanced, at the same time. Tyrants “outsource” them. They, say, spread disgusting and dangerous narratives and lies and people kill each other, or in some “more polite” cases just hurt each other, for their absolute, installed interest. They’re not doing it directly. Some other folks are on the court. They’re above it. Drinking expensive whiskeys and smoking cigars, to paint the scenery better, while people are massacring each other. Sometimes, though, they construct narratives so strong that they believe them. Or that’s always the case, as Svensen would probably argue.
Bureaucracies can be the worst instruments of evil, in both clear and “banal” ways. Their nature is neutral, they follow and execute orders, not think about them, many theories of state and governance would point out. I had so many experiences with Serbian bureaucracy that I could classify as some sort of evil, exactly the banal type. Administrators playing nonsense games, not aware of emerging stupidies, which sometimes become evil. These stupidities can sometimes even lead to death. Procedural priority, however stupid, over reason and empathy. Repeat function can go on, forever.
An “evil designer” could, thus, construct pyramids and the whole architecture of evil. They remain evil geniuses, above, others do the harm. Nasty. The sad part is that there are a lot of professionals in this area. Think of PR people, spin masters, and others who engineer psyches. So-called “dark arts”. It’s an economy.
Or playing on fear. You frighten people to death, thousands of ways to do that, and incentivize them psychologically to hurt each other. Yet again, tyrannical and despotic environments. And some sort of design. And nudge. Instrumental or cause motivations – injections – and a widespread that becomes banal when masses join.
A bit offtopic, or maybe not. I heard this sad story several months ago. A local restaurant owner, in a small rural place in Serbia, is bullied into paying mob tax every month. He’s blackmailed, they would hurt his family, unfortunately, a classical story. I mean, it’s a self-evident act of evil. Guy agrees to pay them after a while and invites them to give them the cash. Instead, he kills them both with a shotgun. Kept me wondering about the narrative playing in the minds of those mobsters? They somehow thought it was their right to take the money from the poor, unprotected guy. What’s happening in their heads? Were they afraid of their boss, prioritizing their personal debts? Were they blackmailed too? Is it just mimicking what others are doing, and is therefore OK?
How to tackle this? What are the most efficient strategies societies can take? I don’t see any approaches that aren’t centered around emphasizing personal responsibility and highlighting a set of virtues around it. Education matters, not just education that is learned in schools, but even more importantly peer-to-peer education that happens in our everyday interactions with others. Awareness also matters so much. It’s incredible how dangerously ignorant we are as a whole. Empathy is a collective superpower.
When I was a second to third-year political science student, I got this unexpected and funky idea. I forgot how I ended up there exactly, but I do remember, however, I was extremely interested in political communication and campaigning at that time – I would become a film director sometime in the future. I would study film and dramatic arts when I was done with political science studies; was a night owl then, loved learning when everyone was sleeping, at peace, no phone calls or any other distractions. Stillness, from which you can advance to truly magnificent zones of extreme focus.
So, what I did: I prepared myself a list of 60 directors to explore, a random number, everything from Kubrick to Gaspar Noe and Michale Haneke. Downloaded Blu-Ray versions of everything I could find, student works included. Went in methodologically, like a surgeon. I had this notebook in which I would keep track of all the small tricks directors used to design narratives and generate magical and transformative experiences. A few random favorite gems: Gaspar Noe’s “I stand alone” and Haneke’s “The Seventh Continent”. If you want to experience real violence on the screen, the one that shakes you existentially, not in a primitive and cheap way, trust me, check those too. I did not become a film director, and I probably won’t. A few years later, I was trying to assess the practical value of those long winter nights, a self-imposed movie hype that lasted for almost five months. Maybe I gained a unique communication skill? Or was I sharpening my analytics skill? Would it be valuable in my later life, and how? I enjoyed it though, which should be enough I guess. The latest manic attack that I am experiencing is the venture capital industry. How did I get there? I probably started asking myself about the financial roots and origins of what’s happening around. All this crazy and experimental stuff that is being built, someone needs to fund it. How does it work? All this impact costs – who funds it, why, and how? It’s like a background, a backstage of reality we encounter every day. I was interested, so I started thinking and learning.
It’s also that I want to build. I need to know the funding logic and procedures because I am still far away from serious bootstrapping capabilities. It’s also so cool: imagine, you are in your late fifties or sixties, and young brilliant folks are pitching to you? It’s like a fountain of youth. You are supporting, financially and otherwise, the creations of something wow. Something clicked, and I was hooked.
In almost a year-long journey, I have collected more than 1100 learning resources so far. Everything is there: 200 youtube/podcast videos, books, scientific papers, long reads, high-quality articles, encyclopedia-type writings, interviews etc. Legal, finance, entrepreneurship, and so on. I’ve tried to cover all the possible aspects of the industry: its roots and origins, prehistory, history, the most significant and illustrative case studies, mechanics, math, trends, uses of different technologies in the process. All that I could think of and all that I’ve stumbled upon. It’s incredible how much you can learn from Youtube videos if you listen carefully. Casual conversations are the best because friendly talks go places formal formats don’t. I watched almost all “This week in startups” videos. JCal, you’re a legend!
By the way, one of the things that I’ve figured out along the way: love reading the most because it’s the fastest knowledge acquisition technique, at least in my case. What would be interesting to share? Let’s start before it has actually started, with true silicon pioneers. Rober Noyce, Intel founder, and his fella are starting a company. At that time, the money floats from the East to the West. Noyce and his partner create a short document, a few pages, with so many typos and incorporate it soon after. That’s how it was done in the earliest days. Please watch this great documentary. You won’t regret it if you’re even remotely interested in any of this.
One of the naughtiest, Sean Parker. This is a great read. Peter Thiel now runs one of the most prestigious VC companies. He was the first Facebook investor, which made him a fortune and allowed him to continue with venturing endeavors. Sean was the one to introduce, first seeing a behemoth Facebook will become. Many claim that he saw it even before Zuckerberg himself. Facebook fundraising is very interesting, from a historical perspective. Sean had a clinch with Sequia, probably the number one all-time VC firm. So Mark did a prank showing late at the meeting and dressed funny. This surreal episode, claims JCal in this great interview, had a great impact. It will become much more about founders, hence the “Founders Fund”. A structural shift in founders <> VCs governance relations. It was so common for investors to just throw founders under the bus prior to that change. Zuckerberg’s position, thanks to Sean, was so strong that even today he rules the company, with his power not diluting, uncommon in the Valley. Speaking of Sequoia, after legendary Don Valentine, two immigrants were put in charge. What’s interesting is that one is a journalist from Wales and the second one is a salesperson, an Italian immigrant. No finance people nor even tech people, and a journalist as one of the most successful VCs in history. I would recommend these two conversations: Michel Moritz and Doug Leone. Unlike Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins, who was top of the class, losing its position. How does that happen? John Doerr is still the wealthiest VC I think. While still prestigious, Kleiner is not what it used to be.
I also liked this crazy Bulgarian guy, Delian Asparouhov, who wears sneakers of different colors. You should watch this interview, or this one. I love the people whose minds just don’t stop. Interesting reasoning. Like his space passion, and how, contrary to a classical founder route (build (decades) > cash (found/invest), as a VC he can contribute to space explorations immediatly. Many interesting points about space in both interviews. Strongly recommend them. It’s incredible how practical space is, even for what’s happening here, on planet Earth.
And then, the “Tiger phenomenon”, magnificently explained in this article. In short, private markets, and Tiger Global just pumping huge amounts of money in, in record times, say weeks, doing deals almost every other day, without requesting any control in return. Meaning, public investors moving to private markets, hot markets, and so many other things. Consequences? So many. Read the above article. And crazy, aggressive Masa Son (SoftBank/Vision Fund) playing with hundreds of billions.
I must admit that I am enjoying this journey so far!