Part of my misspent youth involved a fascination with dinosaurs and astronomy. The vastness of space was unfathomable, the millennia across which the dinosaurs ruled unimaginable. At least, until I learned exponential functions in algebra, which gives you a framework for dealing with all those zeros.
Hence, one learns to think in different time frames, including very long geological epochs and astronomical eons. The Triassic period is replaced by the Jurassic, which in turn is replaced by the Cretacious, and so on. This is important, not just because it helps to understand the long cycles, but also because it helps to grasp crowd psychology.
You see, there is a natural order of things, with the old replaced by the new, the more efficient displacing the less. The steam engine lost out to the internal combustion engine; dinosaurs were replaced by the smaller, more adaptive mammals; and you, old man, are going to have your sorry behind replaced by kids brimming with ideas and energy.
This is a good thing.
Creative destruction can be wrenching — whether in technology, economics or evolutionary biology.
The economic upheaval of recent years has led people to feel oppressed and frightened about the future. And the public has plenty of legitimate concerns: People are fearful of losing their jobs, not interested in buying homes, uneasy about their long-term security.
The fools in our midst are those who make a living scaring the bejesus out of the rest of us. Nothing is ever a mere problem, it is imminent catastrophe. There are no simple issues, only Armageddon. Debating taxes is not about revenue and spending, it is about class warfare. Even a cyclical recession, something we have had nearly 20 times over the past century is sure to slide into a depression. It’s as if we now live in an ALL CAPS WORLD.
No wonder the crowd is suffering a malaise. In addition to the real fears, they have lots of fake ones hanging over their heads. After a Great Recession, this is to be expected. We had the rise of the End of Worlders and the Zombie Bears. They are best ignored.
I bring all of this up because I spent last weekend at a conference in San Diego checking out a run of start-ups. I had lunches and dinners with young entrepreneurs and techies and their angel funders.
The companies were impressive. Some were good, some were great, and more than a few were stunning. But this was not about any new hardware or app or gee-whiz technology. Beyond all that, I was truly taken with the entrepreneurs. Their ideas, energy, passion, competencies — all were just astounding. After seeing that, it’s impossible to be negative about our long-term prospects — and, yes, I see the valley ahead of us.