Thank you for sharing this, Micah. I just bought the book and look forward to reading it. This idea of giving and taking has been much on my mind lately (see other comments on specific passages), and you articulated it beautifully. This goes beyond business, of course, but the idea that giving drives innovation is wonderful. It’s also natural that, once givers have been successful in any area, the takers will follow along. It’s human nature to want to mimic the success of others, and we’ve always followed the quick buck.
I saw these attitudes in SV and in Boston in the late 90s during the first dot-com boom, and I’m seeing them again in the “founders” who try to create a company looking for a quick exit or buyout. The idea that “it’s cheaper for Google/Intuit/Microsoft to buy us than to build it themselves” seems to be driving a lot of new companies who choose a tiny niche market that no one has bothered to address yet, in the hopes that, in a couple of years, they’ll help round out someone’s portfolio.
This is a natural cycle in innovation, of course, as big ideas move the market and leave room for a bunch of smaller refinements. The difference here is the amount of money at stake. When someone can cash in a year or two of work for millions of dollars, then starting a company becomes more like buying a lottery ticket than following your passion.
Large sums of money also add credibility to some fairly pedestrian ideas, offering a halo effect that can convince people that someone is a genius just because he cashed in. I think that’s at the root of a lot of the bad behavior in SV these days: boys who became millionaires (or billionaires) then decide that they’re infallible in all of their decisions rather than just lucky/good in a very narrow slice of the human experience (i.e., tech business). They forget that rich and good are two different things.
Let’s hope that the current shakeup reminds everyone of the difference, so we can get back to putting a ding in the universe again.