300 posts

I started to jot down my morning notes 300 days ago. It was right after Labor Day, when the world is energized and set to blossom. I didn’t know what I would write about, although I set myself some ground rules in the masthead, to limit the endlessly potential subject matter with enough diversity to keep it interesting. The interest was mainly for my own part, to be honest, which is to say, I used the vehicle to take notes, to learn, to force myself to think about the meaning(s) of events and patterns that I saw or lived or read about.

It started brief and barely richer than a tweet in the initial weeks. Like this one here, for instance, The miracle of blocks, from a Boulder hotel room; and this other the next day, The bridge, hanging at the Denver airport. As time went on, and somewhat to my own chagrin, the posts got longer and more verbose; in part, I guess, because I felt encouraged by a growing readership, in part because I got more comfortable with my posting voice, but also, to be fair, because the world became more complicated and amazing into the new year and after.

So, lately, what started as a series of brief morning notes has turned into a daily blog of standard form and length (e.g., Convergence, platforms and new market color, The consequence and its intentions, New verticals and horizontals, The truth, which isn’t linear, The market standard-bearers), examples from just the past ten days or so. And I don’t think I can keep this up.

The time it takes each morning is far longer now than it once was, and, what is much more problematic, I’m falling behind as a result in reading that I used to do during these same early hours. The writing itself, I think, suffers, as the subject of these notes and of my learning starts to get repetitive and stagnant.

In other words, I think, the time has come. 300 posts, including this, is a handy milestone number on which to end. I’ll probably return (I say this to myself) to speculate and write about some favorite subjects (if I had to guess), but perhaps it won’t be daily and it may not be for a while. On the other hand, when it does happen, I will likely have some new material, having caught up by that time with so much reading I would like to do. By then as well, perhaps, the world will also settle into a new normal, which hopefully will be a good thing and provide a new and interesting area of study.

Until then, the posts are all here for the browsing, categorized by subject and pull-down menu reference, each with links to others at the bottom, suggested by the platform based on some tagging reference, I imagine, which makes the bounce-around even more of an adventure. As well, there is a drop-down menu organized by month, which may at some point be another reference, a document of sorts as we progressively evolved from one world to another.

I guess, in ways, this may have been a book. Maybe sometime in the future, and maybe we’re already there, such interactive and dynamic books will be a whole new category. Like fiction, history, biography, business, mystery and etc., but converging all of these and more, like markets do, and other networks.

The truth, which isn’t linear

My friend Dave just published a new book, and it’s become my favorite entrepreneurship reading in a while. The one that previously held the distinction had been Ben Horowitz’s Hard Thing About Hard Things, which told of the experiences of the “wartime CEO”, drawing contrast to the “peacetime” variety.

Dave Balter’s book, resembling the other in its honesty, transparency, and attention to the human factor, may be understood as the perspective of the CEO in hybrid state – which is perhaps to say, peacetime on the surface while war is raging down below. And maybe that is after all the truth behind all startups. Nowadays, perhaps, this relevance extends much farther out than that.

The title grabs you right away – it grabbed me in any case – with its refreshing candor. Both the title and the book could only be the product of one who’s been there, many times.

Between the front page and final sentences that relate the author’s encounter with a prospective hire, “[w]ith so much thankfulness for [a near-death] experience [that he described] – and so much humility – that he was hired on the spot”, the essay collection brings together a series of reflections from the trenches, from the road, from the office and the home, alone and in the company of assorted others: teammates, investors, board members, competitors, customers, distantly back or in a recent moment, always right there in the thick of it.

In a post ahead of the book’s publication – Why My New Book is Destined to Fail – the author explains his intention and guards against an anticipated reaction from some readers. Many will wonder about the scope of an essay collection that doesn’t run a conventional narrative thread. “Often times that thread is thin,” he says. “Only upon reflection does the silk shed its translucence, becoming visible in the light of day. Sometimes it takes years for that to happen. Sometimes it never does. But, taken as a whole,” he says, “[such] books convey countless meanings.”

Taken as a whole, the seemingly unthreaded mix is truer, by far, to the entrepreneurial experience than any linearly standard version can convey. With a beginning, a middle, and an end, a book about entrepreneurship might in fact miss the point entirely; or, if not the point, then certainly the truth.

The Humility Imperative.

Summer reading

Among the list that’s shrinking, a new short story collection from the prize winner…

The Atlantic

I’ll take the Scarface Pacino and The Godfather Brando
Mix it up in a tank and get a robot commando
If I do it upright and put the head on straight
I’ll be saved by the creature that I create

“… do it with decency and common sense.”

I’ll pick a number between a-one and two
And I ask myself, “What would Julius Caesar do?”
I will bring someone to life in more ways than one
Don’t matter how long it takes, it’ll be done when it’s done

Complete lyrics here for all ten short stories.

After midnight, if you still wanna meet
I’ll be at the Black Horse Tavern on Armageddon Street
Two doors down, not that far a walk
I’ll hear your footsteps, you won’t have to knock

Remembering the finance guy

Yesterday marked almost 100 years since Franz Kafka‘s passing. Most of his writings were published subsequently, and have been broadly understood to represent the struggle with the system, with bureaucracy, with control. The term Kafkaesque in popular culture signifies a dark and oppressive quality, rooted in this conventional interpretation.

If that’s what popular culture believes, who are we to argue? But it’s worth point out, I think, that the author considered his writings to be more comical than that in nature, reading from his notes out loud to friends and others in bohemian cafés, joining in the laughter that ensued.

According to Google and Wikipedia, the author was a novelist, which is another misconception on two counts. To begin with, almost everything he wrote was short, and even the three so-called novels were more or less collections of such shorter pieces posthumously assembled by his publishers, or otherwise unfinished in the author’s lifetime.

Secondly, and I think more importantly, Kafka was by profession a finance executive… and quite successful and respected at the large insurance firm where he plied his trade.

As for his writing on the side, he specifically left instruction for these to be destroyed after his death, wishes that were summarily ignored, and worse, proactively disregarded. Frankly, as a practiced finance guy, he should have anticipated that, and very likely did.

Here is a sample from his private journal, now obviously public, which captures the Kafkaesque spirit best, in my professional opinion.

Many people assume that besides the great primal deception there is also in every individual case a little special deception provided for their benefit, in other words that when a drama of love is performed on the stage, the actress has, apart from the hypocritical smile for her lover, also an especially insidious smile for the quite particular spectator in the top balcony. This is going too far.

Clearly, the man was not a stranger to markets.

All the difference

In remembrance of the smallest thing well done, because it isn’t trivial.

“… [it] may make all the difference. One thing well done can make – “

Don’t ask for whom.

The journey back

Many stories are odysseys, even some that aren’t. The truest definition, I believe, is not a journey into the unknown, but a long return from it. Neal Stephenson recounts an odyssey 5,000 years in the making. But you can’t go home again, not really.


Imagine our world if the moon – which has been a sort of anchor since long before we existed, which has populated our images and songs and mathematical equations, and which we all distantly consider ours – were to break. Worse still, this steady object among our belongings turns against us.

It isn’t an eclipse but a shattering, which at first splits the moon into a few large pieces that in a two-year span divide and subdivide as they knock against each other. As the pieces become smaller and more numerous, they fall upon the earth like a “hard rain,” lasting millennia and rendering the world uninhabitable in its wake.

In this story about change, the world unites to engineer a colony in orbit where the species may survive. The plan is to wait – 5,000 years according to forecast – until it’s safe again to land. But the thing is complicated, because only some can escape in time, and because in orbit the living environment requires adaptation.

A new society of orbit dwellers will be in some ways similar and in some ways very different from the society we know. It is a new civilization of women and men on a long, long journey home. The distances are vast, the path is circular, and the destination is always in sight.

Some readers have complained about the enormity of the book’s technical detail — the physics, the mechanics, the small descriptions of the gadgets — filling the large space between plot points in a speculative fiction 900 pages long. These qualities, and the length, serve a melodic purpose. The rhythm is slow, and the song is beautiful and strange, like its title, which is a palindrome…

You can’t go home again, it says, because you are already there.

A lovely view of heaven but I’d rather be with you…

Technology as culture’s artifact

In Blair Jackson’s biography there is this observation from the artist: “[The Bay Area vibe of the mid- and late-60s] has also gained enough momentum over the years that it’s partly responsible for all the things that have happened historically since then… it’s part of the gain in consciousness that the last half of [the 20th] century has represented. And that includes all the technology that goes with it.” (Emphasis added.)

The idea that culture drives directions in technology, as much as technology shapes culture, is interesting to consider. We might ascribe expansions in perspective to the printing press, or in economics to industrial, locomotion and communication advances. These innovations however did not take place in isolation, these did not happen like a gift or a discovery. These conscious acts occurred in context shaped by circumstance, by stepping stones laid out by predecessors, by inspiration. The inspiration may or may not have been rooted in the invention’s special field, though the world’s civilization was all around it.

“Perceptually,” Garcia says, “an idea that’s been very important to me in playing has been the whole ‘odyssey’ idea — journeys, voyages and adventures along the way.” The association of travel with adventure in his commentary suggests notions about change and the unknown. But where he and others may find romance in the mystery, some anxiously shy away. Change, or its perception, has that effect. Sometimes the storyteller’s role is to comfort.

My name is August West…

“The important changes,” Garcia once observed, “have already happened.”

The transitional year

There is the impetus to look to the 2007-2009 period as a model of the last big set of new directions and effects from a big economic shock. Countless disruptive forces that turned major sectors upside down were born more or less during that time. We all know the off-hand examples – Twitter, Uber, Airbnb, Square, Bitcoin – and can think of many others, in other segments, or with comparable impact, or that sequentially followed the trend or evolved out of the new directions that were set.

There is the impetus to look to that early period and draw a parallel to the present time, anticipating the formation of new products, business models, investment themes, social norms, and so on. Healthcare, retail, travel, real estate, all come to mind, and the anticipation is probably correct. Or at least it’s possible enough to warrant serious attention.

With the benefit of hindsight, the forces that came up in that earlier time seem obvious now, but everything seems that way with hindsight. Though, what seems turns less obvious on scrutiny, and the debates ensue. For instance, it wasn’t only the economic shock that drove some new directions or that shaped the environment for these to take root. There was another big event, the introduction of a new mass market product and its underlying platform: the iPhone and the mobile app store that came with it.

This time around, there isn’t that, at least not yet, and the shock is much more universal, deeper, and with consequences that are therefore even more unknown without the benefit of hindsight. The post-virus environment is a general restart, which is to say, a startup in many ways, where the directional catalyst is not [yet, perhaps] a new technology but the possibility of new social norms, which may in turn have impact on geographical, economic, competitive, and financial risks and opportunities, escalated to the nth degree as a result.

It’s possible that many things will continue as before, it’s possible that many won’t. It’s possible that those that will are those we currently expect, but it’s also possible that those we don’t also will, or won’t. And the degrees of possibility are more evenly distributed than typical because behavior is multifaceted, let alone on a global scale.

The thing to watch, as we analyze and try to estimate the economics of it all, will be the coming months into year-end. At least that will provide some clues as the world transitions from 2019 to 2021, and a sense of reality develops from a sense of possibility.