- 2. How Carnegie Mellon SV helped my transition to entrepreneurship
- 5. How Venture Capitalists Miss the Fastest Growing Startups
- 7. Does a society with economic inequality need technology entrepreneurs?
- 10. Science in Software Management and its entrepreneurial spirit
- 36. In Praise of Idleness (by Bertrand Russell, 1932)
1. Why am I still at a big company?
Not everyone is born free and in the wild. Sometimes you're born in a zoo, and before you know it you're older and dependent on the lifestyle. It takes time and discipline to emulate the life outside, to finally make the leap. Everyone inside the zoo thinks you're irrational. Everyone outside thinks you don't have what it takes. Your mission is to pick up all the necessary skills for escape, and to turn off the need for external validation. The aha moment is not a moment. It takes a few years to overcome. Unless you attempt escape several times, you won't know where the plan is broken.
2. How did the courses prepare me?
Compass. Make sense in retrospect.
3. What does the degree get you?
Keep your currency. It's a compass.
4. Is the cost financially justified?
One year of time and money - compare to the impending sense of mortality and the meaninglessness of income
5. What was the aha moment for my leap?
Ten years of mastery: my first five years were mistakes and learning that team matters and learning (from CMU) what to say no to.
Excerpts from the talk to class:
1. My work / personal background
2. The evolution of my definition of success
3. CMU as a compass
Despite the growing knowledge-base around the methodology popularized under the names "Lean Startup” , “Pretotyping” and several others, many new founding teams continue to underestimate the level of self-reliance that they're going to need. In my observations, about 80% of the teams that pitch to a prospectiveTechnical Cofounder or Advisor are still operating under the following old methodology:
- Draft a believable Business Plan with safe assumptions borrowed from large companies
- Spend time and money to execute enough of that plan to look credible to investors
- Raise anywhere from a $500K angel round to $2MM in a VC seed round
- “?" (We'll figure out step 4 if we ever make it that far)
This pattern of execution demonstrates a lack of intimate experience with past failure. Only a minority of new founders, despite having failed at least once to the mediocrity of customer indifference in step four, choose to persevere. These more resilient learners quickly realize that the Venture Capitalists, prospective advisors, new hires, and most importantly customers, are too prudent to confuse “market risk" with "feasibility”.
The trouble is that half-built products feel like tangible assets, whereas half-tested ideas don't.
For a VC, educated in the predictable world of finance instead of the chaotic world of entrepreneurship, there is safety in betting on an inefficient business as long as it's large enough to attract attention. The main weakness of a VC is that he has too much money to know how to invest efficiently, and very little time to have a seat on too many Boards of Directors. How do you invest $70MM without having to attend more than seven board meetings per period? Write seven big checks worth $10MM each. And what happens if efficient startups don't need that much money? Invest in big but inefficient ones that do; then budget some of the money for PR firms that will revise history and make the latter look like the big overnight success.
Welcome to Silicon Valley.
That “execution trumps ideas” is a poorly understood notion in the minds of those who blindly repeat it. The true spirit of this statement speaks to the passive arm-chair speculator who jumps up at hearing the new story of each notable success, announcing “That was my idea! Only if you had taken me seriously when I talked about it, we'd both be millionaires!”. But that spirit of the advice is lost in this decade.
Today, entrepreneurs take “execution” to mean “building things”, and “ideas” to mean “not building things”. They hear the wise words, but interpret them as “building things trump not building things.” And that’s how mediocrity becomes currency.
In contrast, in The Hobbit, Gandalf says "It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”. The live dragon near which all founders live is called the Indifferent Customer. And the calculations are all done in the idea phase, not execution. Ideas, when validated, indeed trump execution.
For the enlightened founders, the startup life starts on step four and ends in step five; often to the exclusion of all the previous steps. This is not conventional wisdom. But truly successful startups are not started by the convention-minded.
Pioneers get slaughtered, and settlers prosper.
Daymond John, Entrepreneur and Investor
Founders should spend 80% of their time determining which 20% of their concept is desirable to target customers, using the cheapest means possible. Contrary to the myth, this does not necessarily equal prototyping a working model. It means going out there and selling your best case scenario on paper (or a landing page), then measuring the conversion of your prospect to paid customer.
Henry Ford, the legend ushering in the industrial age, ignored this lesson at first and almost drove himself bankrupt. If you're Ford, about to build a "Model A" assembly line of automobiles for the masses, first go out there and test the desirability for it. Ford failed several times, very expensively, before landing on the right model. Most of today's startups would be permanently financially crippled by the time they've made so many expensive "build stage" mistakes, simply because cheaper methods exist and smarter founders are taking advantage of these methods:
The Henry Ford of today is Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors. Most of us celebrate entrepreneurs like Elon for taking bold risks. But you may now recall that Tesla Motors sold the idea of an Electric Car on paper to prospective customers for a $5,000.00 deposit per customer when it first started. Tesla actually had both (1) customer-funded working capital and (2) a validated market before they started making Model S feasible. It's amazing that when I argue this with friends, their internalized fallacies about how innovation works makes them fail to see facts before their eyes, so I will quote a 2010 historic article directly, titled "Crazy for Teslas":
(In 2010, led by Steve Jurvetson (VC) ) ... More than 2,200 people - starting with Musk in the No. 2 spot - have lined up behind him, laying down deposits ($5,000 for a regular Model S that will go for $49,000, or $40,000 for an as-yet-unpriced super-loaded Signature Edition), and settling in for the long wait until the cars come out in 2012.
Crazy for Teslas , By Patrick May, San Jose Mercury News, July 29 2010
Observers continue to be surprised by the courage behind imaginary ideas that successful entrepreneurs publish on paper: The California Hyperloop that Elon proposed; The Space Elevator; and Google's Star Trek Computer obsession. What they don't realize is that entrepreneurs become successful by using publishing as a means to test the market demand for these ideas.
It's certainly much cheaper to publish an article about Hyperloop than to prototype it. You get feedback, criticism and perhaps at some point even State support (or at least social narrative) immediately without spending more than a few days on the entire academic idea.
Those very assumptions that come to light during the desirability-testing process are the hypotheses that kill the majority of startups: those that jump into prototype implementation right away.
The best of the breed of entrepreneurs are not pioneers or risk-takers. They are risk-mitigators, settling into the roadways pioneered by those who paid the price of enduring indifference. Nikola Tesla, after whom the company is named, was a pioneer, not an entrepreneur. In January 1943, almost 70 years before a company in his name shook the world, he died alone in his hotel room impoverished and in debt, despite all the unimaginable products that he had made feasible.
Founders of successful companies start with customer desire.
At this very moment, many small teams of founders on working with customers who will make the founders millionaires. And you will never hear of them.
News is not produced by journalists these days. It is manipulated by media corporations for popular consumption, or bought by sales and PR consultancies as a customer acquisition strategy. What you read in the news about most startups has zero bearing on how you should start one.
The best of small businesses are too busy optimizing their cash-flow from hungry customers to worry about picking up the phone and fueling the media frenzy. The way you find these startups, which are ready for hyper-acceleration, is through very niche channels.
I've been asked numerous times by surprised friends how I find these amazing startups to work with. It's simple really. If you have a unique value proposition, they find you. Startups that I work with are usually bootstrapped, because the founding person happened to strike gold and find market desirability while focusing on some other main activity. The startup has almost always been an idea in their periphery until the customers proceeded to twist the arms of the founder and ask him to build something "better".
The product is almost always made of proverbial wires and cloth hangers. And the founder suddenly finds himself like a deer in the success headlight, unequipped to deal with its scale. The day I learned to put the "my idea not yours" ego aside and help marketing founders scale and grow as a partner, I realized my own optimal value proposition. It's especially satisfying because most other engineers run away from shoddy work. They like to extend brilliantly architected solutions. On the other hand, I evaluate startups for the level of desirability they command in the market-place.
VCs, advisors and talented individuals are just different flavors of the Investor persona: some invest money, some invest time. But all want a multiple times return on investment. When I invest my time as a CTO in a startup, the first questions I ask are:
- Have the marketing founders created value by measuring exact answers to questions about customer desirability?
- Are the early customers paying for a broken or promissory product?
- Is the created value offset by a lot of liability or dilution, as opposed to a few growth hacks with a tiny amount of bootstrapped investment?
- If I bring my technical expertise to the table at this point, will I make them 10X more valuable?
There’s a majority voice whose voice of criticism I frequently hear at this stage of my thought process: “You cannot be serious. Customers don’t flock behind a product that doesn’t exist. One must build a visible and usable product before early adopters sign on.
I’m lucky because I disagree. And I don’t need critics to approve of my way of thinking. As a technical entrepreneur, I maneuver from one startup gem to another with ease, simply because my competition dismisses the possibility that such gems exists out of pure lack of imagination.
I had just spent two years working on a couple of my own concepts, and another four months looking for my next venture. Our of the last ten startups that seriously approached me in the last month:
- Six had grand, conceptually well-analyzed, plans to dominate multi-billion dollar industries, with a credible business team. They wanted a tech co-founder to build the engine.
- three had built out the team and had products backed by top VCs. They wanted a VP of Engineering to take over execution so that they could focus on understanding the customer.
- one had a single founder bootstrapping a hacked-together product limping along, with multiple well-defined customers knocking on the door, check in hand. No funding, no team, no significant revenue.
Guess which I partnered up with to accelerate?
Let’s look at how a multi-disciplined person would evaluate these opportunities. Conventional investor wisdom says that the three indicators of future success are:
- a united team,
- an urgent need, and
- a unique product
Founders take this to mean the following: “I’ll check as many of those three boxes as I can. If I’m weak in one of the three, I’ll come off as strong in the other two.” Soon enough, the founder will realize that the team and product are the two of the three checkboxes that are in his control. You “build” a team, and you “build” a product. But you have to “discover” an urgent need.
The first nine of the ten startups above were too focused on building things:
The first six had a vague idea of who the customer was exactly. Your customers need to have names. You can’t solve a problem for an industry. Industries exist because they’re viable. Your solution will most likely change (i.e. annoy, disturb, or disrupt) those industries. If you’re lucky, you get to shove your well-analyzed plan down the industry’s throat, because they caught the right fever in time! If you’re unlucky, they keep behaving their merry way and you wake up having spent two years in a solitary room coding. Two years of your youth that you will never get back.
The next three seemed like unbelievably amazing deals to the recruiters who were pitching them. I tend to prefer cash-based consulting with VC-backed startups, which turns most recruiters off because they wouldn’t make commission on an independent engineer. The truth about VC-backed startups is that they’re more likely to fail. But you need to define failure for yourself. To me, failure is when the company exits, but all you get as a reward is a job at the acquiring (or IPO) company. Success is when your equity is worth something. From that perspective, joining most VC-backed startups leads to failure, unless you’re getting exactly the right value out for what you’re investing: liquidity for expertise. Nearly all VC-backed startups I have come across so far have been escalations of commitment: they had to work because they were the only funded game in their industry’s town: broken businesses that somehow get acquired because there is no better solution available.
Lastly, there is that 10% minority that has discovered a market. They need a team and a product. Technical founders are fortunate partners, in that they can supply both.
The Lean Startup is a label for a methodology that has existed in nature for billions of years:
Start with an analog that has been viable. Mutate it. Assume that the mutation will fail in nature, but test it anyway. Learn why it failed; mutate the original more intelligently and test again. Do this over and over, 50+ times, until failure becomes increasingly difficult.
It's hard to know who does a lean job of entrepreneurship. Certainly, you should plan for more than 50 experiments given your current runway and without counting on financial investors. But it's really easy to spot the "fat" ones who will fail:
They think the first Business Plan is the final one. Sadly, they're often right.
Dan, an MBA graduate with a few years of marketing and advertising experience, wonders whether he’s experiencing crazy thoughts or the entrepreneurial bug. And in case of the latter, he asks whether he’s repeating the risky mistakes of his parents and wonders if he needs technology in his skill set. There’s a golden rule in engineering: generalize a solution only when you see at least three places where it had to be reinvented. Dan’s question is one that I’ve heard more than three times now, so it merits a generalized solution.
Let’s put first things first: entrepreneurs are not born with a special badge on their forehead. Entrepreneurship is a quixotic quest to live life to its fullest, by embarking on adventures, creating value for society, and collaborating with innovators, as opposed to repeating the same job every year for the rest of your life. The moment you realize you have that desire, you’re beholding the entrance to the hidden path of entrepreneurship. What you do with it is your choice.
I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.
Don Quixote de La Mancha
- The times are a-changin'
- More wealth than all of history combined, and more income disparity
- Wealth creation vs. wealth preservation
- The antidote to the power gap is entrepreneurship
- Criticisms of entrepreneurs and technologists
- Society is technology’s ball in chain
- So where does this all leave you?
You are living a different story than that of your parents. There may have been a transition in the generational dynamics, or your place of living, or both, that make for a very difficult learning experience if you’re modeling their behavior for your own future. These are not the decades and centuries when you did the same thing your grandfather did. Some of this generation’s grandfathers never lived long enough to see the first computer; and today, we have more computers than human-beings.
The most scaled out advisors in society are family and friends. So it’s naturally a confusing time: parents don’t understand the opportunities; and advice from a friend is often like blind leading the blind. Now if I had you close your eyes, hold your breath, flip into the deep end of a pool of water and count to three before opening your eyes, how would you figure out which way to swim for air without external advice? You’d exhale a little bit; create a few air bubbles and follow them to the surface. In other words, instead of inquiring about pre-digested feedback, you’d manipulate your environment directly and acquire fresh feedback. The truth is in the air.
So if you’ve observed a generation work itself to the bone day in and day out for long stretches of hours just to support themselves independently, and you’re thinking to yourself “I want independence, but not at that cost”, think again. The times have sufficiently changed that the stability of a corporate job vs. the instability of having your own small business no longer fall under the same risk categories they used to. The accelerated pace of technology may in fact create a not-so-distant future in which corporations are unstable places and the only stability is the stability of rapid change. It’s already happening.
We have Uber, a mobile app for Taxi drivers to find their customers and manage their fare. And we have Google’s self-driving car. Put those two things together, and in a few years, we’re going to have an army of robotic taxis driving around the city by themselves and picking up passengers. The taxi driver job, along with many other blue-collar, jobs are disappearing. White-collar jobs have already been disappearing slowly but for a long time from the bottom up: Turbo-tax has been eating accounting; Zenefits has been eating HR and LegalZoom has been eating the small business legal office. And yet, the wealth of the world has grown ten-fold because of the increased productivity. So when there’s much more wealth per capita, but the medium of wealth re-distribution, namely a job, disappears, where does the wealth actually go?
Corporations like Microsoft, Apple and Exxon have accumulated so many hundreds of billions of dollars that they no longer know how to invest it efficiently. A comfortable part of their investment portfolio is north of $100B in US bonds . In simpler terms, instead of the corporation paying Uncle Sam taxes, Uncle Sam pays corporations interest on its own money sitting in their vaults.
The tax legal loopholes are not likely to be corrected because the accumulation of that much wealth in one place buys lobby, leverage and power. Shouldering the cost of maintaining a country between individuals and large corporations is like sharing expenses on a sports stadium. The two teams have split the expenses to stay fair for generations, until the exponential power of technology kicks in. Corporations are designed to extract productivity out of new processes; and in this sport, their proverbial overnight increase in productivity can offset so much of the stadium’s expenses that it can extend to putting the referee on the payroll. But the moment that happens, the rules of the game can be re-written in such a way that despite the imbalance of productivity and power, the large corporation can pull back from its responsibilities without penalty. And at that point, the weight of the costs of the sport are left squarely on the shoulders of the individual; a sense of unfairness creeps in; the pressure brings the individual to its knees; and the sport federation standing in for the capitalist empire begins to slowly collapse from within.
Unchecked wealth preservation leads to social responsibility asymmetry and a deepened gap in wealth distribution. There is more wealth in the world than all of history combined; but because it’s concentrated, there are also more poor people on the streets.
An article I wrote on Quora recently, about the process of wealth creation, enjoyed so much unexpected support that it was published in Forbes. The simple analogy, between an individual’s effort to automate water-delivery for a village and a startup’s effort to scale value-creation for a customer-base, struck a chord with the core entrepreneurial audience. But as soon as the article made it beyond the borders of Silicon Valley, critical comments about the evils of wealth started pouring in. At that moment, the article had stumbled upon a new subject, that made the motivation behind this article:
The employed majority in our society do not make (or perhaps understand) the distinction between wealth-preservation and wealth-creation, because they haven’t needed to. And most of our political discourse, policies, laws and ways of educating our children suffer for it.
Wealth creation, in its most basic definition, is ownership through risk-taking. When you liberate a large number of people from a problem they used to have and charge them for it, you’ve created wealth. They are wealthier because they are now free to do more things. And you are wealthier because they pay you for the service, whether you’ve made a job of it or you’ve automated it. The ultimate form of wealth creation is one in which you free up other people, and eventually, yourself. Digging a water stream to a village liberates its citizens from sweating over carrying buckets of water. They can go plant apples instead. And it liberates you from working the rest of your life once you’re done widening it enough to suffice everyone. Everyone is better off, or in other words, more wealthy. This is wealth creation.
Through the activity of wealth-creation, the individual responsible for taking the initial risk is allowed an ownership position. This is the foundation of capitalism and the reason United States made out better than USSR, which collapsed after the cold war. The code of corporate ownership is one that supports the “big risk, big reward” necessity for risk-taking. Without the prospect of the reward of ownership, the expected outcome of risk-taking would always be worse-off than “not rocking the boat and just collecting a paycheck”. The ideology of absolute social equality fails to address the issue that not all work is created with equal risk. The moral code of paying everyone equally, in one homogenous community, is what communism prescribed. And half the world, mostly living outside of its iron curtains, believed this to be the promised way of living; until in 1991 when it collapsed internally: the “equal” republics under the USSR wanted independence and ownership (self-rule) more than equality.
Wealth preservation is what happens many years after wealth is created and accumulated. It has little to do with taking major risks to create value for everyone in the village. Instead, it has to do with growing, and at least not losing, all the tolls already collected.
There are hundreds of billions of dollars stockpiled in some secure warehouse at this very moment. It’s so much money that unless you manage it in truck-loads, you’re guilty of wasted interest through micro-management. Each small pile of cash sitting in this stockpile can do miracles. It may find a cure for cancer, a way to terraform the planet Mars, bring water to a village, give an African family a cow, employ a hundred new graduates, educate a generation of poor children, or build affordable houses for the needy. But of course, it’s not doing any of that. It’s just sitting there, letting most of these opportunities go to waste.
Once in a while, a genius manager comes along and says “We have all this money and the government is so cash poor. Let’s lend it to them to manage, and we’ll just collect the interest.” The government, with its similarly large and wasteful scale, borrows the money in truck-loads to maintain and possibly improve infrastructure. At the end of the day, it needs to pay the money back with interest, so it charges all of us taxes and tolls. Ultimately, as long as this money is sitting there for wealth-preservation, we as employees are paying wasteful interest on it. And it’s not even ours!
Or is it?
Unlike what the majority may think, entrepreneurship and wealth-creation is not only not evil, it’s actually the antidote to this corruption. We already discussed that wealth-creation is the lesser of two evils, compared to absolute equality. But how can wealth-creation be the antidote to wealth-preservation?
We’re finally getting close to answering Dan the MBA graduate’s question.
Imagine yourself with a vision for a better world around you. Are there people becoming homeless? How about a plan for affordable housing! Are there many people with terrible credit who can’t buy a car despite having an income? How about creating a way for them to improve their credit! Is education too unaffordable for most people these days? How about hiring a group of teachers to produce quality online courses! The world is full of problems. Just imagine a single vision you care about.
Now imagine, after proving on a preliminary basis that your plan is not totally crazy, that you walk up to the person managing this stockpile of money. For simplicity’s sake, let’s pretend that you can convince him to buy a stake in the ownership of your company for a car-trunk full of cash.
He’s interested, because he’s looking for hands-free ways to grow this massive wealth, otherwise inflation rots it from within. You’re interested, because your world will get better if your plan works, and for your risk, you’ll be rewarded with newly created wealth. And your community is interested, because, say, they’re not only getting affordable housing, but also many jobs building those houses.
Who loses? If your plan fails, the investor preserving his wealth loses; but he can afford to lose, because he can diversify across many versions of you. And you lose the time you invested; so plan well! No risk, no reward. If your plan succeeds, everyone wins. And new wealth is created in a non-zero-sum game. With enough entrepreneurs like you keeping that warehouse of cash empty, wealth becomes redistributed.
Ironically the long term antidote to concentration of power and wealth is encouraging wealth-creation.
Not all entrepreneurship, like building affordable housing, distributes wealth equally. Some forms of entrepreneurship, like building the future Robotic Taxi, actually concentrates wealth away from blue-collar workers and into a single new corporation. While this is still considered wealth-creation, it is of a disruptive nature.
Disruptive innovation is one that deals with a new type of customer that didn’t exist before. Most of us are used to hailing a taxi when we need one. We’re not used to close our eyes, use our will-power and spawn a taxi without a driver at 3:30am within 2 minutes of thinking it. But that future is coming, thanks to wearable technology, artificial intelligence and driverless cars. And almost all of us will change our thinking and shift to adopt that behavior. This slow behavior shift to go where a market didn’t exist before is called a disruptive change.
While corporations are terrible at absorbing disruptive change — recall Blackberry’s collapse when iPhone was invented — societies fare even worse. The productivity surge in the industrial age, thanks to electrification, mass production and motorized farm machinery caused a reduction in the work-week of the 20th-century individual and is cited as one of the reasons for the Great Depression.
According to one popular theory (Catchings and Foster), the “economy produced more than it consumed, because the consumer did not have enough income”. To put this into perspective, imagine being able to hail a taxi with your mind, but not have an income to be able to afford to pay the fare because you used to be a taxi driver. This is bad news not just for you, but for the company running the robotic taxi as well: No matter how cheap and convenient an automated taxi is, who will ride it without an income?
The critics are right to be concerned about this. While re-investing warehouses full of cash is critical for maintaining the momentum of wealth-creation and its timely distribution, over-investing it in technology comes with social problems.
From the society’s perspective, technology sucks. It’s like the perfect pear: it doesn’t exist. It’s either too hard to eat (clunky to use) or mush (too easy to use). Back in the 90s you had to wait for a dial-up modem to connect to your friend’s house phone number, directly, so that you could send them an ASCII art of a cat you took 2 days to draw. Sharing was too hard. And today it takes a single click to end up on Facebook and see fifty thousand posts by five hundred friends you didn’t know you had. Sharing has become too easy. There was a perfect moment of harmony somewhere along the way, but it probably lasted just for a moment.
The reason is actually quite simple, and was articulated best by Clayton Christensen of Harvard:
New technology often comes from pathetically useless beginnings, but its rate of improvement is faster than society’s rate of growing needs. As long as it’s still useless, like the dial-up modem was for sharing, the society ignores it. And as soon as it reaches the moment of meeting society’s needs, the last thing (in this case the home telephone number) is thrown away for the new technology. And for much of its future, like Facebook, it’s just a mushy over-indulgence until the next thing from the land of pathetic useless beginnings replaces it overnight.
That was all from the society’s perspective. But let’s look at society from technology’s perspective:
You wake up starving in the land of pathetic useless beginnings. Nobody gives a crap about you, and you’re risking your entire existence and years of your life on becoming “good enough”. After a few hopeless years when most of your friends have already given in and packed up, maybe you get there. There’s one night of honeymoon, followed by being bashed for the rest of your life for being too successful.
No wonder society and tech don’t see eye-to-eye.
But they can’t go on without each other. To give birth to a better future, both need each other; ball in chain and all.
If you have the desire to become an entrepreneur, you need to respect the first step. And that is to take a deep breath, look at the landscape, and decide where the problems lie that you might want to solve.
It has become too commonplace, especially for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs (the author included), to become myopic. When you’re looking for social problems to solve, it’s human nature to look immediately around you. And in an enclave of preserved wealth like this one, where the pains and voices of the mainstream society are absent, it’s easy to confuse the local minima for the absolute minima: the headache of finding your next espresso drink for the worst problems in the country.
What can you do about it?
One way is to get out of your own head. Don’t take for granted how your adoption of (a probably new) local culture can dramatically overshadow your understanding of humbler beginnings. Get out of town and spend time with friends and family. Let yourself remember what it’s like to spend time at the pace of the ball in chain, and remind yourself of the everyday pains and sufferings that could be solved at that pace. The last time I myself did this, I switched from a bottom-line oriented retail startup idea that (surprise!) wasn’t going anywhere to a school fundraising idea that customers seem to love. For me, in the pathetically useless land of beginnings, this was a difficult transition, and would not have happened if I hadn’t stepped outside the bubble (on a Thanksgiving) to take a good look at what I was doing.
Another way is to learn to not put the cart before the horse: stop looking for a business model. It’s the curse of knowledge to take for granted that as an entrepreneur, you need a business model. You slowly forget that you’re in the business of solving people’s problems. Instead, wherever you see an opportunity for a potential positive bottom-line, you trace that back to the problem. You see the potential for automated taxis and think to yourself “That’s going to have economies of scale. Who can I find that has a problem with taxis? I know! All of my friends complain about the price. What if I could lower the price with this method?” — This backtracking method from the solution to the problem works, and is often how we end up “investing” our entire lives. It’s often an over-investment in technology.
Think instead about the following:
Our schools are underfunded and our jails are too full. Our community is underemployed and our bureaucrats are too busy. Our healthcare is too ineffective while we borrow money to have the most costly facilities in the world. Our medicine is too expensive, with a third of the population heading towards diabetes, and our sugar junk food too cheap. And yet, the best brains of the world still choose to live here and there are stockpiles of resources being allocated to the next best alternative to total idleness.
Do you see a technology problem? Or do you see problems that technology, too, can solve?
Do you see a failure of morality, or a failure in leadership?
Do you think that these problems will solve themselves, or an individual can make a difference?
Not everyone will hear an argument like the foregoing, and find the appetite in himself to rise up for a world-changing adventure; especially when to criticize others for their risk-taking initiatives, and to complain about the world affairs, comes with the certain air of righteousness. But should you work up the appetite to pick up where your parents may have left off, to make this world just a little better for another generation to come, remember what Don Quixote learned along the long journey named in his honor:
Hunger is the best sauce in the world. - Don Quixote
Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley Master of Science in Software Management and its entrepreneurial spirit
I'm excited to report that my CMU teammates and I completed the first course in the Software Management program , the "Elements of Software Management" (ESM).
If you are interested enough to be reading this post, you are probably already familiar with the general overview of the program and are rather looking for insider information. I will try to break down that information from the following perspectives:
1. What you will learn inside your ESM class
Summarized in two words, the ESM course is about "Business characterization". In your first course ever in this program, your goal is to analyze the vitality of a randomly-assigned, publicly-traded software company. You have all the publicly accessible information on the Internet as research material, 4 books and 1 course reader as the means of learning the mechanics of how to research, three other partners in crime to collaborate with (who each are assigned their individual companies), 45 minutes per week of your coach's time to share among your team for seeking guidance, and weekly lectures to discuss readings with the class.
Although you have a team, the work is team-ish. This is only a warm-up course in terms of collaboration, so you are responsible for your own individual research. The team is there to discuss the learning process on a high level, but you produce results individually about your own target companies. The two months for this course are divided across different aspects of business characterization: An executive overview of the company, market analysis and business strategy, financial analysis and business prognosis. Most of those concepts were foreign to me before I had to dive into them. I found myself reading an average of 1.5 hours a day, writing 1 hour a day (mostly deferred till the end of the week) and spending 3 hours a week on collaboration.
Every week, or sometimes every two weeks, an analysis paper is due. The very last assignment was an 8-minute oral presentation of the researched company to imaginary executives, that is, the class instructors.
2. How your roles outside school might cope with the new load
Let me begin this subject by mentioning that I started writing this post 15 days ago. Balancing your family role, your job or career and your role as a part time student are not easy feats. In the last two months I have at times had to switch to damage-control gear and concretely demonstrate to those both at work and at home that I am still fully committed to them. I've had to skim chapter summaries instead of reading them in detail. I've traded some of my sleep for a well-researched late analysis submission on a Sunday night, a four hour commute on Monday morning from my girlfriend's place and showing up to work at 8:30am to show my team at work that they can still count on me.
Despite those moments of pressure, and without incentives, I like to write. I write because, to recite an anonymous quote framed on my girlfriend's wall, "life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain." I signed up for this program not to trade jobs, but to trade confusion for leadership. For two years I've contemplated that there must be a more direct and powerful way to make a change along the path I have chosen. I chose management because it would give me a leverage from a higher level to effect that change. A part of my commitment is to lead, and I know that there are hundreds of people like me out there who feel confused about what to do with their engineering careers. I write despite the pressure for time, because I chose to follow the passion for freedom of personal and social expression. I'm seeking my passion through learning to direct software development; and I know there are leaders out there without their wings. My fourth role is one that I have assumed individually: to be the seductive call, in the ears of the undiscovered software leaders of tomorrow, to the fulfillment of their true purpose.
Those are big words two months into a program, but I have thought them for 10 years. You know how sometimes you look at your agenda and there isn't much there besides work, yet you feel a huge burden? That's the burden of not meeting your potential. I still have as much free time as before the program. How? I learned to cut loose some of the heavy weights holding me down in the middle of this course. Instead of trying to fulfill my dreams in solitude, I now include my family and coworkers in my progress. Pointy-haired bosses call this finding "synergy". I call it becoming whole again. I distinctly remember the similar pleasure I experienced as a child when I discovered that, when painting with water-color, the yellow rays of the sun and the blue horizon of your ocean form a green color when they finally meet. My set didn't come with the color green, so discovering how colors reacted to each other opened up my eyes to new possibilities of painting endless forests and leaves. When you mix up the few colors you have, you get a whole set to paint with. To read more about the mysterious way software engineers relate to paint in particular, read "Hackers and Painters" by Paul Graham.
3. Whether you need to reconcile your identity
My typical week right now is very different from what it was in the past few years. I used to work for 8 hours, then come home and work up to another 8 hours on a start-up prototype. Nowadays I work up to 9 hours a day, reserve 3 hours for school work, and spend the rest of the time with my girlfriend. The main difference is that at school I try to learn about what might help my work, at work I pay attention to what might be a good case study at school, and at home I share most of my experiences with my girlfriend. You don't realize how fractured your identity is until its incompatible parts start to compete with each other for time. One reason I left Seattle for the Bay Area was to leave behind a lifestyle built around a fractured sense of identity and start a new one as a whole person. So far I feel I've been successful at that.
As an engineer, nowadays I look at my company from a new perspective. I used to look at my sphere of influence from a short-sighted point of view. I used to either want to integrate against cool platforms, optimize things that were functioning terribly but were not broken, and generally make life better for engineers. Since understanding the concept of branding, market segmentation and market-driven development, I have completely revised my system of "importance" evaluation. In my career so far I have never seen someone on the engineering side of a software company reason based on the impact of a decision on the balance sheet, income statement or cash. I have never heard of a developer point out how a cool project doesn't fall within the current strategy of the company, or suggest that a new application is too generic to be branded as something purposeful.
I now understand why several of my boot-strapped startup attempts have ended in failure: The first one attempted to compete with a large company (Facebook) in their own turf without hiding in a niche spot; and the second idea had no customer, purpose or branding strategy in mind - it was just a very cool idea waiting to be recognized. I now understand what turns off a VC and whether to run away when I hear "we want to become the next API consolidating XYZ data and we're launching our first app in two weeks. We're just looking for a rock-star engineer to scale it." (read: nobody recognizes us, but we want to become the standard that the currently recognized companies should follow, and we want you to spend 4% of your life time on this idea.) I kindly declined one such flattering invitation thanks to my new learnings just from this course, and several weeks later I'm helping some of the founders find work.
If I sound like my entrepreneurial spirit is defecting to the managerial world of conservatism and pessimism, it isn't. On one end of the spectrum, I look at people such as Dr. Stuart Evans, my coach this semester. As part of his research area, he studies the behavior of software companies of various sizes in different environments. While he has been involved with several software start-ups, he has not focused on the actual writing of software. On the other end, there are people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Peter Norton, Mark Zuckerberg, Jimmy Wales and Craig Newmark, who knew most things about writing software and very little about business when they ventured to change the world.
There is no knowledge or merit you can acquire that will make you a wise Wizard or an experienced King overnight. Most good engineers I know have a similar personality to Aragorn, the lone ranger of the Middle Earth: anonymous, wise enough to listen and potent enough to move the world. And yet, they wait for the day when a higher power restores their confidence, the broken Sword of Elendil. As long as there are dark forces in this world , there is a place for those who embrace ingenuity: those who are neither all-wise nor all-knowing, but both ambitious and sympathetic , to put meritocracy aside and become a leader. There are problems to be solved , while the status quo of the world are solving problems that don't need solving . I call doing the right thing, in its technological contexts such as in this one, the "entrepreneurial spirit of software management".
Sometimes the only evidence that you are is what you feel when you stand against the wind.
Unpublish due to SEO redundancy: 2013-10-08 00:00:00
Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: 'Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.' Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. Everyone knows the story of the traveler in Naples who saw twelve beggars lying in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the twelfth. this traveler was on the right lines. But in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it. I hope that, after reading the following pages, the leaders of the YMCA will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.
Before advancing my own arguments for laziness, I must dispose of one which I cannot accept. Whenever a person who already has enough to live on proposes to engage in some everyday kind of job, such as school-teaching or typing, he or she is told that such conduct takes the bread out of other people's mouths, and is therefore wicked. If this argument were valid, it would only be necessary for us all to be idle in order that we should all have our mouths full of bread. What people who say such things forget is that what a man earns he usually spends, and in spending he gives employment. As long as a man spends his income, he puts just as much bread into people's mouths in spending as he takes out of other people's mouths in earning. The real villain, from this point of view, is the man who saves. If he merely puts his savings in a stocking, like the proverbial French peasant, it is obvious that they do not give employment. If he invests his savings, the matter is less obvious, and different cases arise.
One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some Government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man's economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it in drink or gambling.
But, I shall be told, the case is quite different when savings are invested in industrial enterprises. When such enterprises succeed, and produce something useful, this may be conceded. In these days, however, no one will deny that most enterprises fail. That means that a large amount of human labor, which might have been devoted to producing something that could be enjoyed, was expended on producing machines which, when produced, lay idle and did no good to anyone. The man who invests his savings in a concern that goes bankrupt is therefore injuring others as well as himself. If he spent his money, say, in giving parties for his friends, they (we may hope) would get pleasure, and so would all those upon whom he spent money, such as the butcher, the baker, and the bootlegger. But if he spends it (let us say) upon laying down rails for surface card in some place where surface cars turn out not to be wanted, he has diverted a mass of labor into channels where it gives pleasure to no one. Nevertheless, when he becomes poor through failure of his investment he will be regarded as a victim of undeserved misfortune, whereas the gay spendthrift, who has spent his money philanthropically, will be despised as a fool and a frivolous person.
All this is only preliminary. I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.
First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising.
Throughout Europe, though not in America, there is a third class of men, more respected than either of the classes of workers. There are men who, through ownership of land, are able to make others pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and to work. These landowners are idle, and I might therefore be expected to praise them. Unfortunately, their idleness is only rendered possible by the industry of others; indeed their desire for comfortable idleness is historically the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing they have ever wished is that others should follow their example.
From the beginning of civilization until the Industrial Revolution, a man could, as a rule, produce by hard work little more than was required for the subsistence of himself and his family, although his wife worked at least as hard as he did, and his children added their labor as soon as they were old enough to do so. The small surplus above bare necessaries was not left to those who produced it, but was appropriated by warriors and priests. In times of famine there was no surplus; the warriors and priests, however, still secured as much as at other times, with the result that many of the workers died of hunger. This system persisted in Russia until 1917 1 , and still persists in the East; in England, in spite of the Industrial Revolution, it remained in full force throughout the Napoleonic wars, and until a hundred years ago, when the new class of manufacturers acquired power. In America, the system came to an end with the Revolution, except in the South, where it persisted until the Civil War. A system which lasted so long and ended so recently has naturally left a profound impress upon men's thoughts and opinions. Much that we take for granted about the desirability of work is derived from this system, and, being pre-industrial, is not adapted to the modern world. Modern technique has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the community. The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.
It is obvious that, in primitive communities, peasants, left to themselves, would not have parted with the slender surplus upon which the warriors and priests subsisted, but would have either produced less or consumed more. At first, sheer force compelled them to produce and part with the surplus. Gradually, however, it was found possible to induce many of them to accept an ethic according to which it was their duty to work hard, although part of their work went to support others in idleness. By this means the amount of compulsion required was lessened, and the expenses of government were diminished. To this day, 99 per cent of British wage-earners would be genuinely shocked if it were proposed that the King should not have a larger income than a working man. The conception of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own. Of course the holders of power conceal this fact from themselves by managing to believe that their interests are identical with the larger interests of humanity. Sometimes this is true; Athenian slave-owners, for instance, employed part of their leisure in making a permanent contribution to civilization which would have been impossible under a just economic system. Leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labors of the many. But their labors were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good. And with modern technique it would be possible to distribute leisure justly without injury to civilization.
Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organization, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed. Why? Because work is a duty, and a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry.
This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?
The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich. In England, in the early nineteenth century, fifteen hours was the ordinary day's work for a man; children sometimes did as much, and very commonly did twelve hours a day. When meddlesome busybodies suggested that perhaps these hours were rather long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief. When I was a child, shortly after urban working men had acquired the vote, certain public holidays were established by law, to the great indignation of the upper classes. I remember hearing an old Duchess say: 'What do the poor want with holidays? They ought to work.' People nowadays are less frank, but the sentiment persists, and is the source of much of our economic confusion.
Let us, for a moment, consider the ethics of work frankly, without superstition. Every human being, of necessity, consumes, in the course of his life, a certain amount of the produce of human labor. Assuming, as we may, that labor is on the whole disagreeable, it is unjust that a man should consume more than he produces. Of course he may provide services rather than commodities, like a medical man, for example; but he should provide something in return for his board and lodging. to this extent, the duty of work must be admitted, but to this extent only.
I shall not dwell upon the fact that, in all modern societies outside the USSR, many people escape even this minimum amount of work, namely all those who inherit money and all those who marry money. I do not think the fact that these people are allowed to be idle is nearly so harmful as the fact that wage-earners are expected to overwork or starve.
If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment -- assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization. This idea shocks the well-to-do, because they are convinced that the poor would not know how to use so much leisure. In America men often work long hours even when they are well off; such men, naturally, are indignant at the idea of leisure for wage-earners, except as the grim punishment of unemployment; in fact, they dislike leisure even for their sons. Oddly enough, while they wish their sons to work so hard as to have no time to be civilized, they do not mind their wives and daughters having no work at all. the snobbish admiration of uselessness, which, in an aristocratic society, extends to both sexes, is, under a plutocracy, confined to women; this, however, does not make it any more in agreement with common sense.
The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.
In the new creed which controls the government of Russia, while there is much that is very different from the traditional teaching of the West, there are some things that are quite unchanged. The attitude of the governing classes, and especially of those who conduct educational propaganda, on the subject of the dignity of labor, is almost exactly that which the governing classes of the world have always preached to what were called the 'honest poor'. Industry, sobriety, willingness to work long hours for distant advantages, even submissiveness to authority, all these reappear; moreover authority still represents the will of the Ruler of the Universe, Who, however, is now called by a new name, Dialectical Materialism.
The victory of the proletariat in Russia has some points in common with the victory of the feminists in some other countries. For ages, men had conceded the superior saintliness of women, and had consoled women for their inferiority by maintaining that saintliness is more desirable than power. At last the feminists decided that they would have both, since the pioneers among them believed all that the men had told them about the desirability of virtue, but not what they had told them about the worthlessness of political power. A similar thing has happened in Russia as regards manual work. For ages, the rich and their sycophants have written in praise of 'honest toil', have praised the simple life, have professed a religion which teaches that the poor are much more likely to go to heaven than the rich, and in general have tried to make manual workers believe that there is some special nobility about altering the position of matter in space, just as men tried to make women believe that they derived some special nobility from their sexual enslavement. In Russia, all this teaching about the excellence of manual work has been taken seriously, with the result that the manual worker is more honored than anyone else. What are, in essence, revivalist appeals are made, but not for the old purposes: they are made to secure shock workers for special tasks. Manual work is the ideal which is held before the young, and is the basis of all ethical teaching.
For the present, possibly, this is all to the good. A large country, full of natural resources, awaits development, and has has to be developed with very little use of credit. In these circumstances, hard work is necessary, and is likely to bring a great reward. But what will happen when the point has been reached where everybody could be comfortable without working long hours?
In the West, we have various ways of dealing with this problem. We have no attempt at economic justice, so that a large proportion of the total produce goes to a small minority of the population, many of whom do no work at all. Owing to the absence of any central control over production, we produce hosts of things that are not wanted. We keep a large percentage of the working population idle, because we can dispense with their labor by making the others overwork. When all these methods prove inadequate, we have a war: we cause a number of people to manufacture high explosives, and a number of others to explode them, as if we were children who had just discovered fireworks. By a combination of all these devices we manage, though with difficulty, to keep alive the notion that a great deal of severe manual work must be the lot of the average man.
In Russia, owing to more economic justice and central control over production, the problem will have to be differently solved. the rational solution would be, as soon as the necessaries and elementary comforts can be provided for all, to reduce the hours of labor gradually, allowing a popular vote to decide, at each stage, whether more leisure or more goods were to be preferred. But, having taught the supreme virtue of hard work, it is difficult to see how the authorities can aim at a paradise in which there will be much leisure and little work. It seems more likely that they will find continually fresh schemes, by which present leisure is to be sacrificed to future productivity. I read recently of an ingenious plan put forward by Russian engineers, for making the White Sea and the northern coasts of Siberia warm, by putting a dam across the Kara Sea. An admirable project, but liable to postpone proletarian comfort for a generation, while the nobility of toil is being displayed amid the ice-fields and snowstorms of the Arctic Ocean. This sort of thing, if it happens, will be the result of regarding the virtue of hard work as an end in itself, rather than as a means to a state of affairs in which it is no longer needed.
The fact is that moving matter about, while a certain amount of it is necessary to our existence, is emphatically not one of the ends of human life. If it were, we should have to consider every navvy superior to Shakespeare. We have been misled in this matter by two causes. One is the necessity of keeping the poor contented, which has led the rich, for thousands of years, to preach the dignity of labor, while taking care themselves to remain undignified in this respect. The other is the new pleasure in mechanism, which makes us delight in the astonishingly clever changes that we can produce on the earth's surface. Neither of these motives makes any great appeal to the actual worker. If you ask him what he thinks the best part of his life, he is not likely to say: 'I enjoy manual work because it makes me feel that I am fulfilling man's noblest task, and because I like to think how much man can transform his planet. It is true that my body demands periods of rest, which I have to fill in as best I may, but I am never so happy as when the morning comes and I can return to the toil from which my contentment springs.' I have never heard working men say this sort of thing. They consider work, as it should be considered, a necessary means to a livelihood, and it is from their leisure that they derive whatever happiness they may enjoy.
It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake. Serious-minded persons, for example, are continually condemning the habit of going to the cinema, and telling us that it leads the young into crime. But all the work that goes to producing a cinema is respectable, because it is work, and because it brings a money profit. The notion that the desirable activities are those that bring a profit has made everything topsy-turvy. The butcher who provides you with meat and the baker who provides you with bread are praiseworthy, because they are making money; but when you enjoy the food they have provided, you are merely frivolous, unless you eat only to get strength for your work. Broadly speaking, it is held that getting money is good and spending money is bad. Seeing that they are two sides of one transaction, this is absurd; one might as well maintain that keys are good, but keyholes are bad. Whatever merit there may be in the production of goods must be entirely derivative from the advantage to be obtained by consuming them. The individual, in our society, works for profit; but the social purpose of his work lies in the consumption of what he produces. It is this divorce between the individual and the social purpose of production that makes it so difficult for men to think clearly in a world in which profit-making is the incentive to industry. We think too much of production, and too little of consumption. One result is that we attach too little importance to enjoyment and simple happiness, and that we do not judge production by the pleasure that it gives to the consumer.
When I suggest that working hours should be reduced to four, I am not meaning to imply that all the remaining time should necessarily be spent in pure frivolity. I mean that four hours' work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit. It is an essential part of any such social system that education should be carried further than it usually is at present, and should aim, in part, at providing tastes which would enable a man to use leisure intelligently. I am not thinking mainly of the sort of things that would be considered 'highbrow'. Peasant dances have died out except in remote rural areas, but the impulses which caused them to be cultivated must still exist in human nature. The pleasures of urban populations have become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on. This results from the fact that their active energies are fully taken up with work; if they had more leisure, they would again enjoy pleasures in which they took an active part.
In the past, there was a small leisure class and a larger working class. The leisure class enjoyed advantages for which there was no basis in social justice; this necessarily made it oppressive, limited its sympathies, and caused it to invent theories by which to justify its privileges. These facts greatly diminished its excellence, but in spite of this drawback it contributed nearly the whole of what we call civilization. It cultivated the arts and discovered the sciences; it wrote the books, invented the philosophies, and refined social relations. Even the liberation of the oppressed has usually been inaugurated from above. Without the leisure class, mankind would never have emerged from barbarism.
The method of a leisure class without duties was, however, extraordinarily wasteful. None of the members of the class had to be taught to be industrious, and the class as a whole was not exceptionally intelligent. The class might produce one Darwin, but against him had to be set tens of thousands of country gentlemen who never thought of anything more intelligent than fox-hunting and punishing poachers. At present, the universities are supposed to provide, in a more systematic way, what the leisure class provided accidentally and as a by-product. This is a great improvement, but it has certain drawbacks. University life is so different from life in the world at large that men who live in academic milieu tend to be unaware of the preoccupations and problems of ordinary men and women; moreover their ways of expressing themselves are usually such as to rob their opinions of the influence that they ought to have upon the general public. Another disadvantage is that in universities studies are organized, and the man who thinks of some original line of research is likely to be discouraged. Academic institutions, therefore, useful as they are, are not adequate guardians of the interests of civilization in a world where everyone outside their walls is too busy for unutilitarian pursuits.
In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint without starving, however excellent his pictures may be. Young writers will not be obliged to draw attention to themselves by sensational pot-boilers, with a view to acquiring the economic independence needed for monumental works, for which, when the time at last comes, they will have lost the taste and capacity. Men who, in their professional work, have become interested in some phase of economics or government, will be able to develop their ideas without the academic detachment that makes the work of university economists often seem lacking in reality. Medical men will have the time to learn about the progress of medicine, teachers will not be exasperatedly struggling to teach by routine methods things which they learnt in their youth, which may, in the interval, have been proved to be untrue.
Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion. Since men will not be tired in their spare time, they will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid. At least one per cent will probably devote the time not spent in professional work to pursuits of some public importance, and, since they will not depend upon these pursuits for their livelihood, their originality will be unhampered, and there will be no need to conform to the standards set by elderly pundits. But it is not only in these exceptional cases that the advantages of leisure will appear. Ordinary men and women, having the opportunity of a happy life, will become more kindly and less persecuting and less inclined to view others with suspicion. The taste for war will die out, partly for this reason, and partly because it will involve long and severe work for all. Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle. Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.
- Since then, members of the Communist Party have succeeded to this privilege of the warriors and priests.
This text was first provided by the Massachusetts Green Party.