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Unrealised Potential (brettmacfarlane.com)
25 points by mooreds 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 9 comments

"Just as most smoking prevention advertising is proven to increase smoking might many pro innovation programs prevent innovation?"

Back in the spring of 2007 I was dating a woman who worked for a mature Silicon Valley tech company. She was excited to share news of a recently-introduced program that she was certain I'd love. What was it? I asked. A rotational development program. It would produce people like me, she said: generalists, people who understood many aspects of the company's business and could go on to lead it into the future.

My response to this news was sadness. Don't you know what's going to happen? All of the High Achievers and Grade Grubbers and Brass Ring Grabbers are going to hear about this program, and they're going to compete for this Shiny Object, this Resume Enhancer, and all the people like me, the ones who quietly follow their curiosity with a borderline sense of guilt and shame, who feel like outcasts and weirdos for not fitting in, are never going to sign up for the cutthroat competition. And the company will think it has done something wonderful to promote innovation.

I remember the look on her face after I'd unloaded on this thing she was so proud of. The relationship did not survive to see the first day of summer.

This rings to me much like the stage orange human tendency to take the beauty of the natural world and commoditize and monetize it, destroying what made it beautiful in the process.

(Spiral Dynamics stage orange)

Thanks for the introduction to Spiral Dynamics; it's an interesting way of thinking about how people think about the world. Of course, in the hands of the sort of people who think rotational development programs are a boffo idea, it is perfectly suited for misuse.

Spiral Dynamics isn't named in the following article, but I'm sure some cheapened version of it is being used out in the wild by mostly-well-meaning gurus and HR people:


Which further reminds me: In 2008-9, I told a fellow entrepreneur how I thought about designing Half.com's UX, namely as an exercise in creating a game, in that people don't like to plays games that they don't think are fair, or know they're doomed to never win. (I used a former love's domination in Monopoly, and our friends' hesitancy to play with her, as an example.) This comment led the entrepreneur into an obsession with "gamification," to the point that he took me to eat lunch with a leading gamification guru, IIRC at the Second Avenue Deli.

Gamification, a precursor to everything written about by Nir Eyal in "Hooked," was the antithesis of what I cared about: not about making people want to play, but about making people feel like the cannot help but play.

If you're curious about Spiral Dynamics, and its applications in Life and in politics, this series is fantastic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23aDNBvn_2g&list=PLWq2PmY0jh...

if you just want to see where Trump and China are going, then this is a good summary


Note to moderation: I only post this to help this fellow, and promise to only post it in this context where it's appropriate, open to feedback if this is also outside the realm of acceptable behavior. :thumbs_up:

For all of Rands faults she goes into this dynamic in excruciating detail in The Fountainhead.

> Why does so much ability stay trapped as ideas or creative thoughts, rather than graduate to launch and become innovations?

It is super difficult (in my opinion and in America) to go from employed programmer to startup founder. Health insurance is tied to employers, and employers have IP assignment and COI policies. These 2 things working together heavily discourage people pursuing their own thing because it adds a ton of overhead to the cost of striking out on your own.

Long hours and the lack of (or discouragement of using) vacation time don't help either.

I think the author is also talking about the difficulty of executing innovation in medium or large corporations as well as within the entrepreneurial context.

I'll bite. This is pretty much all I think about anymore, so, after so many years of doing it, the best answer I can come up with is that necessity has been conflated with profitability.

So, if you look around you, you'll find that nearly all endeavors related to sustenance have been saturated. It's difficult to earn a living as an individual in food service, teaching, nursing, transportation, textiles, even construction (when we include downturns in average pay and job security). Or another way to say that is, if you work in a field that isn't scalable (automatable), then your income will approach the incomes of your peers.

However, endeavors which are profitable are becoming less saturated. So companies that do nothing related to sustenance are getting billion dollar exits. These endeavors include things like: statistical models to predict what users want so that relevant ads can be shown to them that lower their customer acquisition cost. Or, disruptive technologies that give us what we already had but with more convenience:



Airbnb: Both?

Beyond Meat Inc. (BYND): Necessity

Chewy (CHWY): Profitability

CrowdStrike Holdings (CRWD): Profitability

Fiverr International Ltd. (FVRR): Both?

Lyft (LYFT): Both?

Peloton (PTON): Both?

Pinterest (PINS): Profitability

Postmates: Both?

Robinhood: Profitability

Slack (WORK): Profitability

The RealReal (REAL): Profitability

The We Company (aka WeWork): Both?

Uber (UBER): Both?

Zoom (ZM): Profitability


Profitability: 7

Necessity: 1

Both?: 7

Here I'm saying that companies that produce tangible goods or an income stream for their users are necessity-based. Ones that increase efficiency or disrupt/replace an existing industry are profitability-based. For this small sample size, it looks like necessity and profitability are about 50/50.

But with ever-increasing wealth inequality, the necessity side is getting squeezed hard. As the middle class shrinks, necessity wages become grouped more strongly towards the poverty side. So if you're working out in the world trying to make rent, you'll never be able to get ahead of the curve enough to do your startup.

If you do happen to make it to the other side and become part of the top 10%, you'll have so much money and influence at your disposal that no matter how creative you think you are, you'll underperform against the other 9 entrepreneurs that never made it. Society's realized potential will be 1/10 of what it could be. And that realized potential becomes smaller and smaller as wealth inequality increases.

If we want to realize our potential, it starts with reducing the barriers to entry. We need capital for people between the necessity and profitability extremes. So banks either need to start making loans to entrepreneurs again (something between angel investors at $10,000 and venture capitalists at $1 million), or we need something like universal basic income (UBI).

This is a macroeconomic argument I'm not seeing much. The microeconomic arguments about discipline and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps are all around us. They self-evidently don't work, as reflected in the unrealized potential of so much capital and technology eating the world, and so little personal wealth (leisure time) available to the masses.

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