A very close friend recently complained to me that he found to be nothing more than a vehicle for narcissism.
I’ve been chewing on his point for a few days now as my rebuttal at the time didn’t feel particularly inspired. While I implicitly knew that Twitter was so much more than that, I was having trouble cogently explaining why.
So I was delighted to see an amazing post today by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh entitled How Twitter Can Make You A Better (and Happier) Person. In it, he points to four ways in which Twitter has helped him grow personally:
Rather than a vehicle for narcisism, Twitter is simply a window into you…whomever you may be. So, if you’re a narcisist, that’s how you’ll come across on Twitter. And if you’re real, it’ll be just that. The key to Twitter (and life incidentally) is being authentically you.
Twitter actually helps you be even more authentically you as it forces you to consider at all times how you’re perceived by others. Tony rightly and profoundly points out:
If you were always on camera, then everything you did would go towards shaping your personal brand, whether positive or negative. What are your personal values, and what values do you aspire to?
Well, today we are always on camera. And for those of us who want viewers to regard us positively, Twitter actually helps better you as an individual. That’s why I love it.
You can follow me on Twitter .
Barack Obama gave his first televison interview as president yesterday evening. And he did so to al-Arabiya, the Dubai-based satellite network that is one of the largest English-language TV outlets aimed at Arab audiences.
This is a first for an American president and a remarkable indication of Obama’s ambition. He is coming in fresh, looking to make an immediate positive impact in the seemingly intractable Arab-Israeli conflict.
In his talk, he clearly attempted to build bridges to Arab moderates stating his readiness “to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest." On the other hand, he isolated Muslim extremists and Al Qaeda specifically calling their ideas "bankrupt” and indicating that they’ve focused on “destruction rather than building." In doing so, Obama laid the framework for building a coalition with moderate Arab states around the shared goals of regional stability and deemphasizing Iran and fundamentalist fringes.
Unclear if this will work or not of course, but the attempt is incredibly impressive. And either way it lays the appropriate groundwork for future U.S. action – positive or negative. This is a great first step.
It seems every day I hear or read at least one thing about the death of the content business.
Now to be clear – there’s very good reason for this. Traditional publishing models are broken as the web continues to democratize the creation and distribution of content. Print businesses are burdened by excess cost. Expensive marketing channels give way to buzz building through influencers and the social web. Historical gatekeepers are increasingly rendered irrelevant as distribution moves towards on-demand electronic delivery.
And don’t get me wrong, these are all great things for the consumer. The web has given us infinite frictionless ways to satisfy our content needs, from aggregators to blogs to status updates to tweets.
But could you imagine a world without the WSJ or NYTimes? Philip Roth or Junot Diaz? Radiohead or Jay-Z?
The best stuff will always be the best stuff, and we consumers will always want it…no matter how it gets delivered to us. A recent study by The National Endowment for the Arts shows fiction reading for adults actually increasing 3.5% from 2002 to 2008, reminding us of just that.
But that means we have to pay for it. Creators should get paid for their hard work, like everyone else does. And they will. Just many fewer of them, through new distribution channels and with different economics.
The democratization of publishing and distribution is the equivalent of deleveraging in the financial system. The garbage previously pimped by the industry is being flushed out. But in the end, the new and improved system gets back to what it does. And the best stuff in the world gets even better – better curated, better distributed and more easily consumed. And I for one am happy to pay for it.
Lockhart Steele, And the Blog Goes On - NYTimes, 1/25/09
Humility vs. Arrogance
Above all else, humility forms the bedrock of a successful person and ultimately administration. One of the amazing things about Barack is how real and approachable he seems. He appears eager to listen and learn, in stark contrast to the rigidity of dogma.
Optimism vs. Fear
While we are facing some of the gravest challenges our country has ever faced – politically and economically, domestically and internationally – a sense of optimism was plapable in Obama’s speech. The fear-mongering of the recent past was clearly cast aside. We will only overcome our woes if we believe that we can.
Inclusionary vs. Exclusionary
Obama, unique in his ability to do so given his background, reached out to all races, religions and nations. He even offered our enemies to “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Now admittedly this felt somewhat naive and dangerous to me, but it set the right political starting tone. And I took comfort in the corollary strength of the admonition to our enemies of "you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." I guess we’ll see how this one plays out.
Responsibility vs. Entitlement
One of the more important and practical themes in his speech, Obama ushered in a "new era of responsibility." Echoing Kennedy, Obama declared, "For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies." And from what I’ve already seen already with my friends, even public service is back in vogue!
Hard Work vs. Easy Money
As the son of an immigrant father who always impressed upon me the importance of education and hard work above all else, Obama’s praise of those who "struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw” was all too familiar. And as someone in the venture capital business, the embrace of the “risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things” was music to my ears.
Pragmatism vs. Ideology
Underlying Obama’s entire address and his general approach thus far is a profound sense of pragmatism and a spirit of collaboration. This is the tone he is setting for his administration. And it is this trait that gives me the hope that he may actually be able to pull off what he’s trying to.
These themes are the basis for positive change. But as we’ve seen before, execution is always tougher than rhetoric. Yet for the first time in some time, I am hopeful. We changed history once already. Why can’t we keep doing so?
Great chart from the WSJ on how the presidents stack up.
A look at U.S. presidents’ job-approval ratings.
Sources: Gallup, AP, WSJ.com research.
It always looks good in the beginning. The trick is how you look in the end…
After a lengthy renovation (and I mean lengthy!), I finally moved back into my apartment late last week. And though I literally couldn’t wait to return home, I was actually surprised by the almost immediate positive shift in mood and demeanor it precipitated.
More than somewhere to just hang your hat, a home is a center, a jumping off point from which you engage with the rest of the world, a place you always return to. And when you have a home that feels right, even if it still needs some work (as mine of course still does), all is ok.
Which got me thinking, of course…
I’ve always been impressed by those great companies and leaders that start by defining a problem they’re trying to solve and never stray from that pursuit. The specific challenges may change, the product may evolve, the business model may shift, but the thesis stays the same. They build their home, or their brand proposition in this case, and they stick with it…improving on it as they go.
There are great examples of this in the web world, from Google (organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful) to eBay (The World’s Online Marketplace) to Facebook (helps you connect and share with the people in your life).
But too often in the recent past the desire to release a product quickly has overshadowed the important work of defining a meaningful value and brand proposition. And while I am all for fast iterative product release cycles, the lack of clearly defining the basic problem one is trying to solve first can often result in the building of features rather than businesses.
This age old discipline allows a company to clearly define and articulate its ambition. And whether it’s arrived at intuitively or through considered investigation, the best companies always have this very clear and palpable sense of purpose.
Not coincidentally, so do the best politicians. Let’s hope tomorrow continues the making of one of the great ones…
The NYTimes yesterday ran a front page story entitled China Losing Taste for Debt From the U.S. This was only a matter of time. The tremendous boom in U.S. spending over the past decade was largely financed by China pouring over a trillion dollars into U.S. debt and housing securities.
In fact, the NYTimes points out that over the past five years China has actually spent up to one-seventh of its entire annual economic output buying mostly American foreign debt. This appetite for U.S. securities allowed homeowners to spend more than they should for homes, businesses to borrow more than appropriate for their level of cash flow and ultimately the U.S. government to finance out of control spending policies.
So what does the decrease in China’s appetite for U.S. debt mean? Notwithstanding the low interest rate, flight to safety of treasuries environment we are currently living in, the U.S. is heading towards a much higher cost of borrowing from abroad given waning demand for our paper. And with our efforts to stimulate domestic growth through low interest rates running full steam, this will mean that the U.S. has no choice but to print an endless supply of money to meet it’s obligations and stimulate the economy. This has one fundamental implication: Inflation.
A devaluing of the U.S. currency is on its way. This will help all borrowes who will now be paying down expensive historical debt with cheap current dollars, most notably the U.S. government. It will hurt savers (time to think about commodities like gold, oil and inflation-adjusted fixed income instruments). But most importantly, we are laying the groundwork for a return to a much more natural rate and pace of growth in the U.S., financed with appropriate amounts of equity and debt.
The U.S. is a resilient and entrepreneurial country, and we will bounce back from our current situation with the combination of investment in real businesses and innovative technology and the tremendous drive and work ethic necessary for success. But we will do so with a return to rationality – rational amounts of debt, rational amounts of growth and rational expected returns.
This reset of expectations is fundamentally important for the entire economy. Individuals will get smarter with their savings vs. consumption patterns. Businesses will focus more on sustainable, cosistent growth. Investors will be more realistic with expectations and expected returns. All in all, unhealthy things will happen less frequently. This will make for a much more stable base upon which we can hopefully experience healthy growth and prosperity for many years to come.
I spent some time yesterday with a close friend who has been an investment banker for his entire 10+ year career. He worked at a shop he loved led by an industry superstar and advised interesting companies on complex transactions.
But one day everything changed. The markets collapsed, his firm vanished and his career was literally upended overnight…ultimately leaving him searching for a new job.
During our conversation, he made a comment that resonated with me and confirmed something I had been thinking about for some time. He said that his perspective on risk had fundamentally changed over the past three months. What he once considered the lowest risk path to the greatest financial reward had become anything but that. And for the first time in his professional career he began in earnest to think about how to prioritize the other benefits that one can derive from work beyond monetary ones.
I have been thinking and saying for some time that one potential positive (among others) that can arise from the current financial mess is a resurgence of smart, talented folks pursuing more entrepreneurial opportunities. Wall Street has for too long had a firm grip on many of the best and brightest, capturing their attention from the day they graduate and holding their wallets hostage long after that. But I have believed for some time that the tide will eventually shift, and my conversation yesterday gives me some hope that it’s starting to happen.
Entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial opportunities, in all their forms, will begin to look more rewarding and safer than that ‘sure thing’ hedge fund job previously so alluring. Building stuff rather than moving money around will be in vogue again. And especially in NYC where the work culture has been so heavily skewed towards finance, this should bode very well for the entrepreneurial and venture community.
I sure hope this proves right…
Michael Lewis and David Einhorn on credit-default swaps, The End of the Financial World As We Know It - NYTimes, ¼/09
Finally a way to explain the implicit leverage and danger in the CDS market that everyone can understand. And, yes, the whole neighborhood is on fire…
On my flight home from Israel yesterday, I caught up on some long overdue reading including a piece by Malcolm Gladwell in November 10th’s The New Yorker entitled The Uses of Adversity. In it Gladwell chronicles the life of Sidney Weinberg, the storied leader of Goldman Sachs from 1930 to 1969 who’s rags-to-riches story is the stuff of Wall Street legend. Gladwell’s larger point though is a return to the 19th century notion of adversity as key to the development of successful people and by extension institutions. Debunking today’s prevalent perspective of success as “a matter of capitalizing on socioeconomic advantage,” Gladwell makes a compelling case for the importance of the discipline and motivation learned through hardship…especially poignant in the context of the ‘clubby’ Wall Street’s current woes.
While I was in Israel, my family and I celebrated my dad’s 70th birthday. My father has a similar general backstory to Sidney Weinberg, having grown up in communist Russia and overcome tremendous obstacles to get to the United States and achieve the success he had always envisioned for himself. At my father’s birthday celebration, I spoke about his discipline, resolve and persistence as well as his unwavering integrity and compassion as pillars of his personality and ultimate success. It was a wonderful event and one that left a deep impression on me.
My resolutions for this year are two-fold. The first is practical and particularly relevant here – to begin blogging and to do so somewhat regularly. The second is to try and always remember where I come from and to have it inform my drive and actions. My father’s ability to overcome his predicament allowed him to give me much more than he ever had. As Gladwell notes:
The man who boasts of walking seven miles to school, barefoot, every morning, happily drives his own grandchildren ten blocks in an S.U.V.
I have been lucky and blessed in my life, but mostly with a father who is the best role model I could have ever hoped for. And my challenge this year and beyond is to try and live up to his incredible example.