Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Reel Genius?

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times makes a convincing argument that people consistently underestimate the role that luck plays in success or failure in Hollywood.

But while we may be tempted to dismiss this finding as simply a fact of life in topsy-turvy Hollywood, research shows that believing in our illusory ability to control things that are actually determined by chance is a basic human failing:

The temptation to believe that you or others are causing chance events is so strong that psychologists coined a term for it: the illusion of control. In a classic study, psychologists Ellen J. Langer and Jane Roth recruited Yale undergraduate psychology majors to watch an experimenter flip a coin 30 times. One by one, the subjects watched the coin flips and tried to guess how the coins would land. They found that, although students at an Ivy League university are surely aware that a coin toss is a random event, those who experienced the early winning streaks developed an irrational attitude of confidence that they were "good" at intuiting the coin toss. Forty percent said their results would improve with practice; 25% even reported that, if in the future they were distracted during the test, their performance would suffer.

Now here's the rub--how is Silicon Valley any different from Hollywood in this respect? Does success make you a genius, or just lucky? Are Valley Gods like Steve Jobs really that much above us all, or are they simply six sigma events?

I like to believe in the possibility of genius, but I think a healthy skepticism is a good cure for hubris.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Beating Global Warming: Focus On Changing Minds First

Al Gore's new movie, An Inconvenient Truth, has sparked a lot of activity in the VC community. My friend Don Yates notes that his daughter and son-in-law even bought out the entire theater and held a free showing for her friends and contacts.

The problem is that the debate over global warming (or, as Seth Godin recommends calling it, climate cancer) continues to be a near stalemate, which means that little is likely to happen.

Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures had a discussion with his dad about what he could do (such as buying carbon credits), which left him feeling pessimistic about the likelihood of change.

I won't get into the science of global warming. Global warming activists are right that our climate is getting warmer, and that carbon dioxide levels are higher than ever before. But global warming skeptics are also right that correlation is not causation.

What I will say is this: If you believe that global warming is a threat to mankind, the most important thing you can do is not to go out and buy carbon credits or to trade in your SUV for a Prius. The most important thing you can do is to find a way to change as many minds as possible.

If a majority of voters thought that global warming was an important issue and demanded action, democratic governments would have to do something about it, regardless of how much money the oil companies donated or how many commercials they ran.

If showing people "An Inconvenient Truth" is a good way change their minds, why not do what Paul Holland and Linda Yates did, but on a grand scale?

All you'd have to do is buy two hours of primetime airtime on all four major television networks, and do a simulcast of the movie, along with pleas for action from people all across the political spectrum (so that it didn't seem like yet another nag-a-thon from the pinko-commie/Hollywood axis of bleeding hearts and smug celebrities).

Too expensive you say? Given that the total advertising costs for the Superbowl, America's biggest television event, run in the $100-200 million range, the cost would be enormous, but well within the reach of a George Soros or John Doerr.

And once you announced the plan, it would take on a life of its own, with the attendant media coverage of this surprise tactic bringing even more attention to the issues.

If this actually happens, remember, you heard it here first!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Link Love In The Time Of Cholera

One of the fascinating aspects of blogging is link love.

The currency of blogging is the link, and used properly, it can make or break you.

For example, I read Andrew Fife's blog. Recently, Andrew posted his list of the Top 10 VC bloggers. It's a good post, but what it also has the effect of doing is attracting links to it from those same VC blogs.

I've always poked mild fun at the A-listers who link back to people who have something flattering to say. Of course, it's easy for me to do so, since like Kathy Griffin, I'm living life on the D-List.

But when the lovely and talented Jackie Danicki writes flatteringly of my conversational skills and my odor, well, as Cialdini fans know, reciprocity is one of the strongest tools of influence.

Of course, since Jackie's blog is far more widely read than this humble site, the analogy isn't quite the same. Link love freely given is the best of all.

So everyone in the Valley, Jackie will be in town from August 4th to August 13th. I know I'll make time to see her...will you?

"I’ll be in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley from August 4 - August 13. I will be hitting SES in San Jose from the 8th - 11th, and getting up to nothing but fun and trouble the whole time. Wanna hook up? Email me. I always meet so many interesting people when I come to the area, and have high hopes for this trip, too."