I have been vexed the past few years by my entrepreneurial community here in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Most places I go I turn and hear the magnanimous proclamations of everyone working to change the world. Every time I hear this proclamation I stop the speaker and ask:
What kind of world are you working on changing it to?
*the echoes of crickets*
It seems that in the rush to create the next great business or app we tend to attach an air of self-importance to ourselves and think we are ‘changing the world’. How can we be changing the world when we have no idea what kind of world we are working towards changing it to? What is the bigger vision? I’m sure some would argue that simply working on innovative ideas are good enough. Random change for the sake of random change. Most point at the recent innovative mechanism of social media and say: “See?” Sure, social media has changed the way we communicate and transfer information between each other. However, I point back and say: “Your point being?”
Random innovation is wonderful. I don’t advocate against it. What I am advocating for is more intentional innovation based on an understanding of compassion. How do you envision the product you are building will affect the current world and subsequent generations positively? Are you helping to create a world where all can flourish in abundance and equality? or Does your product only benefit the few and hurts the many? Just take a look at the electronics industry, cellphones specifically. We currently have more active cellphones in use than there are people on the planet and we replace them on an average of every 6 – 8 months. We have rapid communication and carry mini computers in our pockets, but have created an unsustainable level of electronic waste, poor labor conditions, child labor trafficking, negative consumer behavior, etc. Is the next new innovative cellphone really worth it? This is just one example of, to put it bluntly, a shit ton of wasteful innovation.
I was recently afforded the opportunity to yet again ask someone: What kind of world are you working on changing it to?
I was at a party and talking with someone when we were interrupted by someone I can only describe as acting quite smug and self-important. I had the sense that he was more interested in talking about himself than taking part in our existing conversation. When I asked him what he does, he replied with how he works in consulting (no specific field given) and changing the world. He was about to go on to something else when I abruptly stopped him and asked the 1 billion dollar question: What kind of world are you working on changing it to? There was an awkward pause. He clearly had never been asked this question before or even thought about it. After a few silent seconds, he said equality. Ok. I asked him to elaborate. Specifically, I asked him what he was working on that contributed to making the world more equal. This is where everything unraveled into a stream of consciousness of utter and pure bullshit. He avoided the question by spewing something about needing political reform at the top and how we are all sheep and should lower our expectations of each other. I’m not kidding. This was said to me. He pontificated on and on for several minutes. I had the feeling he liked hearing himself sound smart. I had to stop him and get him back on track to actually answering the question. I pointed outside the window of the apartment we were in and said: Look outside. What are you doing to equalize the immediate issues in SF?
Again *the resounding echoes of crickets*
It was at this point that I think he understood that I simply don’t suffer fools. He tried his best to put me up against a wall and asked me back what I’m doing to benefit the world. Weeeeeell, I told him I have dedicated my life to advocate for the homeless, fight human sex trafficking, live a compassionate and non-judgmental life [ongoing life lesson], sold off most of my belongings to travel the world and live a more simple life of sustainability and lowered consumption, and work to teach others on how to create platforms for each other to draw out our innate value and worth.
He looked at me and cast his eyes down.
Understand that I wasn’t trying to put him down or put him in his place, but he asked and that is my answer to anyone who asks. He looked back up and made some backhanded compliment of how ‘noble’ I was, but that society would never be able to learn to be more compassionate unless some major event forced us to be. He clearly held a cynical view of humanity and we weren’t going to see eye to eye. I tried very hard not to shake my head and let the conversation taper off. My only hope is that this person will actually think about the question of changing the world now that he has been posed the question.
I give this example because, more often than not, I run into similar interactions when I ask the question. Simply not enough people actually think about it. Whenever I mentor new entrepreneurs, this is one of the first questions I pose (along with other business sense related questions). It is my hope that we can create a culture of intentional and compassionate innovation that is well thought out. We don’t need to create perfect product systems, but we should at least be striving to do so at a global scale to benefit each other and create a more holistic world.
I pose the question to the world:
What kind of world are we working on changing it to?
– Intentional Rabbit