Startups and Cultural Optimism

I make a lot of fun of the startup culture. And to be sure, there is a lot to make fun of.

However, I have a secret to share. I am actually enthusiastic that this is what young people today are so enthusiastic about.

Sure, the idiosyncracies of the “startup scene” leave a tremendous lot to be desired. But by and large, that is offset by the great fact so many people are so keen about doing something big.

And unlike the young people of the fifties-through-eighties, doing something big that is actually good.

There is an impulse in every young person to change the world.

Only a few decades ago, “changing the world” meant being a communist arsonist and chaining yourself to various public buildings to protest whatever imaginary problem was “in” at the moment.

Today, “changing the world” means coming up with revolutionary (truly revolutionary!) ideas (inbetween the mediocre but viable ones, and the vast sea of wishful nonsense), persuading others the venture is worth backing, putting together a team, leading, building and benefitting other people in substantial and real ways.

I am ready to argue publicly that there is a tremendous undercurrent of latent optimism bubbling beneath the surface of the developed world, muted perhaps by circumstance and bombardment by negative journalism, but a reservoir of vitality that looks forward to the future and believes itself (and in itself) in order to have an enfranchised stake in the future is tangibly in the air.

It is strenghtened by every success story, by every PayPal, Facebook or WhatsApp. Of every college kid realising the tools to genuinely change the world are in fact readily available in ways absolutely unprecedented in human history. That great success is possible.

It doesn’t even have to be launching the next Facebook. Doing mundane things properly is, in itself, subtly revolutionary.

In fact, doing things properly, for a change, is the only secret to the epochal success of Apple, Google, Facebook and any number of other examples.

Today, installing a bathtub properly, on time and at a justifiable price is a revolutionary act. This will probably only resonate with people who already fitted out a home, but then, it will resonate all the more strongly.

An irreverently subversive entrepreneurship has become the channel of expression of youthful idealism and revolt.

This is great. I am genuinely thrilled.

It represents a tremendous civilisational shift towards optimism, towards constructivity, towards a healthy direction of vital dynamism.

I argue that the subversive, “punk” and piratelike thing to do today is to make and bring something amazing to the market (i.e. other people), instead of sulking that the world is unfair. It isn’t. The world is better than it ever was, with success being within the reach of essentially everybody (lucky enough to be born in a reasonably free country).

This is amazing.