Skateparks are commonplace in cities all over the world. But they didn't used to be.
Local governments first attempted to rid the streets of skaters by legislating, zoning, ticketing and arresting offenders.
Then some innovators finally accepted the direction the wind was blowing and got in front of the trend to build public skateparks. They realized it was more cost effective and beneficial to everyone in the long term.
This example isn't high tech. It isn't analogous to dictators shutting down entire communication channels to stop uprisings while other countries invest heavily in tech infrastructure. And it isn't an exact parallel of battles that are happening today in tech, like these:
- Car dealers fighting Tesla over direct to consumer models that people love with Apple.
- Cab companies fighting Uber in court when people are flocking to the UberX market.
- Hotel chains fighting Airbnb through courts in New York.
- Massachusetts fighting non-competes while talent mobility is essential for growth in a knowledge economy.
- California moving to shut town learn to code schools without formal regulation.
- Aero fighting everyone in broadcast TV all the way to the supreme court...but now on Chromecast.
But skateparks are a small, local example of closed vs curious thinking. The closed way vs many new ways of doing things. The creation of platforms vs dams mentality.
Closed way: as soon as you get to a certain tipping point, the cost/benefit analysis posits that it is more effective to legislate or force away any competitive or unwanted trend than it is to innovate in the emerging landscape.
More lawyers, lobbyists and intimidators are better than more builders. More, as Steve Blank calls them, "rent seekers".
Curious way: keep building. Don't miss the future. Build, test, measure, iterate. Create, don't destroy.
This isn't a generational thing. My generation isn't the first to innovate. We're all standing on the shoulders of those innovators that came before (including the innovation of a legal system that, while not perfect, created a foundation for innovators). However, my generation can access and share more data and information than ever before in history. Tech has accelerated the pace of change so quickly, the closed way is now even more polarizing than before.
Closed thinking is short term thinking. Curious thinking is long term. Mercenaries think closed, missionaries think curiously.
In The Everything Store, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the quintessential long term thinker, rattles off the below list of what is cool and not cool:
- Rudeness is not cool.
- Defeating tiny guys is not cool.
- Close-following is not cool.
- Young is cool.
- Risk taking is cool.
- Winning is cool.
- Polite is cool.
- Defeating bigger, unsympathetic guys is cool.
- Inventing is cool.
- Explorers are cool.
- Conquerors are not cool.
- Obsessing over competitors is not cool.
- Empowering others is cool.
- Capturing all the value only for the company is not cool.
- Leadership is cool.
- Conviction is cool.
- Straightforwardness is cool.
- Pandering to the crowd is not cool.
- Hypocrisy is not cool.
- Authenticity is cool.
- Thinking big is cool.
- The unexpected is cool.
- Missionaries are cool.
- Mercenaries are not cool.
Which leads me to this recent article about what the Millennial generation trusts.
Information is cool.
Choice is cool.
Learning is cool.
Trying again after failing is cool.
Tripping the person beating you in a race vs running faster isn't cool. This is basic stuff parents teach their kids.
Unfortunately in business, those lessons are too easily forgotten. As the recent book "Flash Boys" points out, closed thinking from mercenaries fuels a system that started as innovation, but in the long term doesn't work for the sustainability of a trustworthy economy.
David Brooks eloquently reviewed the book this morning, with a poignant close:
The most rational people understand that regulation isn't an all or nothing matter, but a matter of degree, experimentation and iteration. And they also understand that because we have intrinsic values and intrinsic selfishness, regulation to stop awful pain in the lives of people sometimes can't wait generations in some cases.
So now that we are seeing the powers of technology streaming faster down the mountain, upheaving old closed ways of doing things, I hope we shift our thinking to curiosity and long term good for all.
This means learning faster, making mistakes and building platforms for people to innovate rather than dams to hold them back.
More skateparks, less dams.