No. 183: 1 Thought: Historical Thinking

American Democracy: Conversation between Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Peter Thiel, and Cornel West

This is a fascinating conversation that covers a range of topics that impact our form of government – technology, creativity, and economics to name a few. I’m not the biggest fan of Peter Thiel’s world view. I struggle with his mix of contrarianism and libertarianism, but I do appreciate that he doesn’t make many points without taking a long view of history to support his arguments. This is one of my biggest concerns with the health of our form of government. I just don’t think we’ve equipped our minds to go back far enough to connect the dots for how we got to where we are today. That sets us up to rinse and repeat history.

An early point that stood out is we’ve narrowed the definition of technology to information technology. I agree. This connects to my mention yesterday of the potential of African countries investing in R&D. Considering the continent’s challenges, there’s all sorts of white space for developing technologies around pipeline safety, transportation, solar capture, and more. The continent’s working age population is set to grow 14% every five years through 2050, according to Brookings. Consumer facing startups won’t create the jobs needed to put folks to work.The trajectory of economic inequality

This conversation is entertaining for another reason – the manner in which West and Unger physically close in on Thiel is hilarious.

No. 67: Pay Attention to the Air Through Which You Walk

Chinedu Echeruo gave a talk at Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series on the value that creativity unleashes into the world. In it, he shared a parable David Foster told in a speech to Kenyon College’s 2005 graduating class.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

I found this to be a really compelling commentary on the power of how one thinks. We see that power all around us. Political parties. Marriage. Entrepreneurship.

While thinking on this parable further, I remembered an interview angel investor Jason Calacanis did with Peter Thiel, the contrarian billionaire co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook. He made a point about how one should pay attention to things that don’t work as well as one would like. What comes to mind now is the difficulty I have getting my daughter in and out of her car seat. His argument was that opportunities for a solution lie in those instances of discomfort.

For the past few months, I have tried to document ideas that come to mind during the course of a day. After hearing Mr. Thiel’s argument, I have tried to look a little closer at the everyday things with which I engage on a normal basis. My daughter’s car seat. The rectangular shape of my laptop and iPhone. To apply the language of Mr. Foster’s parable, I am trying to shift my thinking to be aware of the water in which I am swimming, rather the air through which I am walking.

For example, I remember that I heard Mr. Thiel make this comment about paying attention to the discomforts around you while I was sitting at a red light at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and K Street. I can remember this now, but with all the head shots I delivered playing football, I probably won’t remember this experience 50 years from now.

What if I could take a snapshot of that moment in time – the image of the intersection, the two-minute portion of the conversation, the day and time, how the conversation made me feel? Imagine being able to recall that experience 50 years from now as a form of treatment for my dementia.

You’ve seen the joy on the man’s face as he listens to jazz music he’d enjoyed decades prior. Imagine creating a playlist of sorts for your older self to enjoy pivotal moments of your life.

This may or may not be a good idea (I kind of like it and will mention it to my mom who works on dementia issues). That aside, the thought exercise of paying attention to something as routine as a memory unlocks a creativity that I look forward to experiencing more.