Challenge things. Think big.15/08/2012
Doing something different is hard. Attempting to make other people believe in what you’re doing is even harder. It’s hard to recruit new people to any business. Most people opt to stay safe, to go into large organizations, to earn their salary and do their work. There is nothing wrong with this and in fact in some ways it’s totally awesome to do this. I have done this and while I liked it for a period – I just wasn’t the sort of person who remained settled easily. I wanted to try to change things and in turn change the world – somehow. That might sound corny or might even sound silly to some – “change the world ? he thinks. yeah right.”
And that’s exactly the view I wanted to purge. Gandhi said
“You must be the change you want to see in the world. As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”
The journey of the first step and all that. It’s been repeated over and over in history but seemingly constantly ignored. But there is truth in that!
Human beings are placed on this planet to challenge the status quo – to question, to be different, to fight, to stand up for inequalities and to work to make something better somehow in some tiny insignificant (or not) way so that their stamp is placed somewhere on the planet when they aren’t here anymore. Startups attempt to do that – many fail, some succeed and that’s part of the world of entrepreneurship. Mostly, at least in my mind, the desire to succeed is often the greatest correlation to success. Continuing when all is failing, when the sky is failing down and no one accept’s that what you are doing is worthwhile is often the hardest thing – it’s easier to give up, it might even bit totally right to give up – but not giving up is really what test’s the limits of your desire to do something that’s important and to change something that’s worthwhile. If you believe it’s worthwhile, then that’s all that matters – you’ll find a way to make it worthwhile. It’s not usually the belief that is wrong – it’s the implementation, the strategy and learning when to change it that is all part of the challenge. Wanting to leave a stamp when you’re no longer here is something totally amazing and while I would argue everyone leaves a stamp in their own way – with their families and friends – it’s probably the magnitude of the stamp to those you aren’t connected too that really makes it different.
Believing and implementing are two vastly different concepts – the belief that you want to invent a teleporting machine is completely antithetical to the implementation of it. But the most important aspect is that there is a belief that it’s possible – because without that, you’ve nothing. 150 years ago – flight was deemed impossible. And today we can’t imagine a world without it. Then of course when flight was first invented – it was never dreamed we could fly from Australia to London in under 1 hour – and yet in the next 20 years that will become a reality. Stephen Hawkins has already theoretically proven that time-travel is possible – by moving forward in time at great speeds and then returning back to where you started. As he describes it
“Imagine that the train left the station on January 1, 2050. It circles Earth over and over again for 100 years before finally coming to a halt on New Year’s Day, 2150. The passengers will have only lived one week because time is slowed down that much inside the train. When they got out they’d find a very different world from the one they’d left. In one week they’d have travelled 100 years into the future. Of course, building a train that could reach such a speed is quite impossible. But we have built something very like the train at the world’s largest particle accelerator at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.
Sounds crazy right ? In 200 years it won’t be crazy at all. Just like 100 years ago it was crazy to think we could fly – now we not only do it, but we’re on the verge of doing it hypersonically. 50 years ago it was deemed impossible to travel the earth anywhere within 1 hour and just when Mars seemed like some distant planet – we now have high resolution imagery of it. Big breakthroughs need big thinking, and big thinking needs belief and implementation. There’s no magic in any of this. No secret recipe and no ability to simply ask someone else to stand in your shoes and take over – it’s hard, it’s challenging and it’s a slog that many simply don’t need in their lives. The ability to question oneself and determine whether they want it or not is one of the most pivotal aspects of starting, building, continuing and remaining at a company. You challenge yourself, you challenge your values and ultimately you challenge your world and those around you. It’s not easy and it was never designed to be. The greatest thinkers of our time where shunned, persecuted and denied basic rights because of their advanced beliefs which are now mostly realities. Who are you to question teleportation ? It’s not if, but when.
Indeed, Stephen Cohen of Palantir – a company which by it’s own mission statement is enabling people
with the right technology and enough data, [to] solve hard problems and change the world for the better. For organizations addressing many of today’s most critical challenges, the necessary information is already out there, waiting to be understood.
And that’s awesome. But what’s more awesome is his comments on attracting the right people –
We tend to massively underestimate the compounding returns of intelligence. As humans, we need to solve big problems. If you graduate Stanford at 22 and Google recruits you, you’ll work a 9-to-5. It’s probably more like an 11-to-3 in terms of hard work. They’ll pay well. It’s relaxing. But what they are actually doing is paying you to accept a much lower intellectual growth rate. When you recognize that intelligence is compounding, the cost of that missing long-term compounding is enormous. They’re not giving you the best opportunity of your life. Then a scary thing can happen: You might realize one day that you’ve lost your competitive edge. You won’t be the best anymore. You won’t be able to fall in love with new stuff. Things are cushy where you are. You get complacent and stall. So, run your prospective engineering hires through that narrative. Then show them the alternative: working at your startup.
Challenging people in their environment helps to challenge the world. The adage complacency breeds contempt rings true everywhere. You’re comfortable, you don’t want to change, you’re happy in your world and perhaps that’s totally ok. But nothing changes if you don’t want too. Working on big complex problems is hard and in my view hard is good because without hard we only have easy and then what is their to challenge ? If everything was easy – we would have solved teleportation already right ? We haven’t because it’s hard, not because it’s impossible. It’s hard in the current realm of understanding, not in the entire realm of it and that’s the way it should be approached.
Indeed, the associational context of word understanding in your brain aligns you to comprehension of the word. In my mind, any problem on the planet is no different than such a simple association – we just haven’t discovered a way to do it yet. The most complex problems are simple once they’ve been solved and in many generations from now they will appear in educational literature and be taught at schools. Problems by their nature are meant to be solved – what lies in the middle – the how, the what and the why are all that’s standing between connecting the two together. The sum of the parts connects the whole and sometimes it can be the other way around.
Teleportation ? “Easy” – they will be the words uttered 300 years from now from a 16 year old physics student at school. Think big means we solve big important problems – it simply a matter of application, belief and implementation. Nothings hard, it’s only our interpretation of hard just like any of the associations you automatically make are easy. Making hard, easy, is what makes being a human being relevant.