Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Reason The Rich & Famous Commit Suicide

The realization struck me as I was listening to Darryl "DMC" McDaniels of Run-DMC tell the story of when he sat in his hotel room while on tour and thought about killing himself.

McDaniels thought back over his life and his runaway success and realized that he still wasn't happy.

Many of us go through life dreaming about being rich and famous. Maybe we think that next company will get acquired. Maybe we're secretly practicing for the next round of American Idol tryouts. But as fruitless as those dreams might be, they still give us hope.

We believe that special something might be around the corner, might be able to change everything.

But the rich and famous don't have that luxury. They already have the worldly success that so many of us think will make us happy. And they've discovered that it doesn't.

At that point, there are only two conclusions they can draw.

One, having achieved all the worldly success they ever wanted to achieve without achieving happiness and satisfaction, they conclude that nothing will ever make them happy. In response, they seek oblivion in drugs or death.

Two, having achieved all the worldly success they ever wanted to achieve without achieving happiness and satisfaction, they conclude that worldly success doesn't bring happiness and satisfaction, and that they need to seek true happiness in other ways.

We often think that the rich and famous are lucky, and we envy them their worldly success. But that same success leaves them no excuse for being unhappy. There are many cautionary tales of celebrities, especially those who achieved their fame young, who never managed to get past their moment of truth.

But whether you're rich and famous or poor and obscure, remember one fact--extrinsic motivators like fame and fortune don't make you happy. In fact, they make you unhappy even if you achieve them. Focus instead on the things that really matter--intrinsic motivators like relationships, growth, and giving back.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Silicon Valley Posers And The Inevitable Bust

This morning, my friend Erica Douglass wrote about why Silicon Valley is broken, and why she moved away:

This conversation was a microcosm of the reason I left the Valley. No doubt, this guy had a good-looking website, and two co-founders who had signed on to the idea. That part was great.

The part I hated was the "game" he and so many others are caught up in. It's the merry-go-round of "Let's find funding first and then get tons of press (when we get funding), and then the user problem will take care of itself."

This person I talked to was just one of thousands of people caught up in that mentality. My point with this story isn't to slam him or his site, which is why I've anonymized the conversation. It's to point out the ridiculous goal misalignment in Silicon Valley–funding over revenue; short-term growth over long-term business strategy.

While I agree with Erica that emphasizing funding over revenue and short-term growth over strategy makes little sense, I disagree that this means that Silicon Valley is broken. In fact, I'm going to argue that it's a feature, not a bug, and that the Silicon Valley Posers that Erica so despises are a necessary part of what makes Silicon Valley so successful.

Every few years, Silicon Valley seems to undergo another boom. Personal computers. Biotech. The Internet. Web 2.0. Social. And during every boom, the Valley fills with posers.

There's actually much to admire about the posers. Like the original 49ers who came out to California for the original Gold Rush, they're willing to take risks and try new things. The fact that most of them will fail miserably is their problem, not yours.

The real secret behind Silicon Valley is the willingness to fail. The odds of starting a successful company are slim; even venture-backed companies have about a 1 in 10 chance. But because we don't penalize smart failure, and give people second chances, we encourage more startup activity than any other place on Earth.

We may have 10 times the failures of other cities, and some of those failures can be pretty embarrassing ( anyone?) but we also have 10 times the successes, and a single Google or Facebook can make up for an awful lot of failures.

The Silicon Valley success formula is simple: Build something great, change the world, get rich.

The posers arise because during boom times, Silicon Valley is so encouraging of startups that people who have no businesses being entrepreneurs start their own companies. These get rich quick artists forget that getting rich is merely the *consequence* of building something great and changing the world.

The very optimisim that makes Silicon Valley so successful during normal times becomes a negative during boom times as it tips over into irrational exuberance and attracts an army of posers.

But don't worry Erica, you needn't stay away from Silicon Valley forever. As the archetypal saying goes, "All this has happened before, and will happen again."

The posers will bring on an inevitable bust, and during the carnage that follows, the ecosystem will rid itself of the posers and renew itself.

And each time, the world will be a little be better off because of the great things we built along the way.