Overcoming Miami’s Main Weakness
If Miami could change its culture — if the citizens here could learn complete honesty and exercise intellectual discipline — Miami could well live up to its incredible potential as an epicenter for technological innovation in healthcare (our industrial advantage); as ‘ground zero’ for climate change research and experimentation (our geographic advantage); as an international logistics hub for the Western hemisphere, enhancing (rather than just harboring) the best Latin America and the Caribbean have to offer to international markets (our Hemispheric advantage); and as America’s symbolic guide for how to best promote the benefits of diversity, strengthening and enriching social understanding and economic production in the process (our demographic advantage).
The problem is this: the Miami startup community has no central focus, no north star, no agenda, no foundational catalyst for a substantive — and real — technological movement. Whereas in the Northeast advances in electrical engineering represented meaningful industrial innovation — philosophically, in how one approached thinking about the practice of business, and commercially in how one approached the new essence of competition; whereas in the West Coast and parts of Asia the semiconductor revolution ushered in an economic tidal wave of new possibilities (one can point to the creation of the ‘digital sharing-economy’ as the contemporary equivalent), Miami points to…Emerge. In short, nothing of relevance matching the scale or significance of that of its predecessors. Instead its makes a practice of representing itself as America’s new hub for “techie things” by citing the rise of local co-working spaces, innovation programs and a handful of B list resident entrepreneurs as support in main for that proposition; this is somehow to be interpreted as our particular brand of industrial advancement.
I think we can do better.
My first goal in writing this is to explore the following possibility: could integrating ‘honesty’ and ‘transparency’ as bedrock principles to Miami’s startup culture lead it down a better path, similar to what occurred in Silicon Valley once ‘failure’ was integrated as part of the working culture there?
My second goal will explore what such a community would entail, grounding our current station in history and taking care to detail the sorts of values our members must hold in order for the sense of community to grow. In essence, the structure of the logic is that investing in creating trust, recognizing and removing old sources of social tension (with time, not only money) is a necessary component for our movement to take form and flight.
This second task is much, much broader. It explores a way in which that imagined community can take shape, and how if at all, Miami can became an experiment of first impression, establishing a model our sister cities could scrutinize and learn from. This section is the most exploratory and is meant to invite debate on the issue. It does not presume to layout a truth, merely a perspective. It’s mostly a project — a probative experiment — but one that I consider deeply relevant to our unfolding narrative.
A seeming lack of thorough public critique, debate and consideration positing a more comprehensive picture of our ‘movement’ inspired this writing.
These are of course my personal views and not representative of any organization I’m involved or associated with.
I’ve written previously that we need to be more faithful to the definition of words, how issues affecting us are characterized and assessed, how we diagnose our current affairs, how we take our own pulse — especially when in our present context, the dominant (and public) narrative is deliberately framed to suggest our business community is prospering, that it is on the right track, on any kind of “track.” That, if we are to seriously meet our duty of ushering in a new economic mode in Miami, we need to establish a baseline level of thoroughness and analysis in matters relating to shared trajectories.
Talk of “innovation” and “startup density” and “ecosystem activity” is plentiful, but only mysteriously so. We are never told exactly what is meant when those terms are deployed, often with a seemingly cavalier disposition. (“Just repeat the buzzwords, Manny, con confianza, and the people will clap.”) As an example of what I consider totally unacceptable and characteristic of current standards adopted by members of our public, I remember now, in writing this, a report by the Kauffman Foundation that designated Miami as the No. 1 city for such and such start-up meaninglessness, how it was adopted, incorporated, then circulated with gusto by the people entrusted with championing the startup cause. Initially thinking it was some kind of morbid, inside joke, I didn’t make much of it.
“We all know better…right?”
With time, the realization — and the accompanying horror — that many, if not all, of my counterparts took those findings seriously (at least in public) set in, and so I nudged these same folks to undertake a transparent self-assessment, reasoning that people who cared about science and technology and engineering would certainly care about ‘truth’ (if you need a working definition, see here), and relatedly would care about practicing self-honesty.
“Evidently, cleanses are only acceptable if you take them in juice form.”
Three Months Later, Where Are We?
With impeccable regularity, those holding the microphone and standing on center stage imply and, through the practiced deployment of bullshit, inch us toward the belief that “we are on the right track.” Whatever that means. Their preferred arguments are some permutation of this basic form: progress happens day by day, in increments; something is better than nothing; time is truly the last factor we cannot control, so be patient because the rocket ship has to take off eventually.
To which I often find myself thinking in reply: “Incremental progress is nice, but step-by-step is how walking off the plank happens. No trapdoor necessary. Crash and burn guaranteed. Death on the other side. More mediocrity. Etc.”
In Miami, the bulk of the startup culture seems to be based on delusion, not discipline. And this is, I think, the main reason talent escapes us; the principle behind why we tend to attract the fleas of humanity who are unflinchingly, uncompromisingly the advocates of conformity and consensus.
The main reason why we find ourselves here, now, and are fated to return to this point in the cycle before another glittering concept distracts the masses.
(Maybe we should ‘innovate transportation’ next?)
Background: Why Knowledge Communities Are Important
Let’s start with a rather simple assumption I don’t think many people will find objectionable: community is important. The reason it’s important is because it lays out a collective sense of direction, fencing off a group identity in principles and values that, in a broader sense, incentivize desirable action at the aggregate level. Its value is in allowing people to jointly “knit the social fabric” — so to speak — and thereby benefit through a feeling of connectedness, reciprocity, social awareness and collective gain.
Most importantly, the values and principles that undergird a healthy community police against private actors extracting rents from the public under the pretense of public benefit. In other words, there’s a very important honesty component built into the concept of community.
We are encouraged to put up with these “rules” because lives are enriched; as individuals we are supported in our endeavors; an especially salient feature within the context of industries dominated by risky decision making. Communities function as sponsors and guarantors of otherwise individually risky actions, on the explicit understanding the exploration of a select few may lead to gains benefitting the many. The commercial analogue is of course the insurance industry. Furthermore, discrete communities create expectations and then take care to protect and police those expectations so that the degree and extent of opportunistic behavior stifling social progress is minimized. As a result, social experiences are enriched. You weed out the free riders. We can keep going stronger, which leads to a virtuous cycle of productivity.
Communities work to embrace interests, even those that may not be directly and presently salient to all of its members, because members subject themselves to the understanding that through the ebb and flow of the bargaining process, the give and take, the “trade-offs,” our lives are all enriched because we avoid competition by brute force, but avail ourselves of the strength of numbers. We can’t get all that we want all the time, in an economy with scarce resources and distinct consumption preferences, that much is clear, so it’s better to trade and pick your battles. This reality forces members to explicitly rank their preferences. And in turn, that exercise encourages a kind of collective mindfulness about what’s important.
In their purest form, communities recognize that “social is significance.” Community means engendering bonds fellowship, rather than merely empty means useful for co-existence. It means care, connectedness, genuine affinity and trust. Not just a competition for attention. (Or what has been more eloquently described as the “meaninglessly over quantified” pursuit of the same).
Business communities fare much the same.
With respect to industry, communities are even more important because they set competency standards (so as to justify risk taking rather than recklessness). Weak communities promote weak standards and thus invite mediocrity into the mix, and as a consequence lives are less rich because the quality of ideas, and thus experience, we are all exposed to (and made to consume) are second rate by definition. Strong standards create measures to ensure only the best ideas survive.
The idea of community I have defined, as is true of the technology industry, is very concerned with the idea of progress. It is essentially distilled to better lives for as many people as possible.
The bulk of the definitional work therefore is in giving content to the term “better.”
What do we mean by better lives?
A little history detour.
This same concern — “what do we mean by ‘better’?”- unsurprisingly, has preoccupied technologists (scientists, engineers, some academics, etc.) for ages. A fact we pretend to forget at times is that the point of technology and innovation has, traditionally, been to solve social problems that were once unsolved, so that as a social collective we could live happier and more fruitful lives by exerting a tighter degree of control on our environment before reaching somatic death. And while, of course, what is regarded as “better” depends highly on context, it can be summed up as the collective maximization of people reaching their most preferred ends by methods they maximally agree with.
There are many ways to go about this, but for practical reasons, let’s say it used to be that “better” meant outsmarting the Germans during WWII. Then the Koreans. Then the Vietnamese. It meant, thereafter, outsmarting the Soviets during the Cold War. So an explicit decision was made to invests in technology that could do achieve that end-goal.
After the military industrial complex secured the security goal for the American society of the time the goals started to evolve a little, the agenda required a little tweaking. Industry began contemplating that private individuals may be able to profit through the same kind of technological deployment the military had previously monopolized. While the military wasn’t aggressively involved any longer, venture capitalist and universities sprang up in its place (see slide no. 177). Embedded in that move was the trade-off that everyone may not be able to profit in the same sense, or to the same extent, but that the majority of American people would experience a net benefit through the creation of products and services that commercialized scientific advancements, a theory we are seeing tested today.
The most proximate and recognizable (though intangible) analogue is today’s sharing-economy. The reason it’s largely considered “innovative” is because digital technologies have drastically lowered the cost of reaching economies of scale for producers. An indirect consequence being the invitation of more competition in the market and, at least in theory, an increase in consumer enrichment due to the surplus of choice. There is more desired gradation. More personalization. Less waiting time. You get the point.
Widely experienced social problem + acutely addressed solution (in the form of product/service) = traditional concerns of tech.
Technology = Knowledge Advancement (Not Fancy Trinket)
It’s painful for me to write — because I wish it were differently — but in Miami, these concerns do not dominate the majority of the startup community.
Actually, it’s even hard to precisely peg what dominates the concern of the general community here, when people seem to be more taken up with petty distractions over substantive progress, and those who have any kind of intuition toward the better, the connectedness, a better future either self-marginalize or pack their bags.
When Delusion Trumps Discipline
Here are some relevant facts. The entire state of Florida — the third most populous state in the Nation, mind you — is responsible for a meager one-eighth of one percent of all U.S. venture capital deployment. Read that sentence again. It’s clear Miami hasn’t crossed the density threshold necessary to justify claims of growth or maturation, yet the “people in charge” continue on like ostriches, sinking their heads deep into the ground when the threat of inconvenient news appears, raising them again, surely, to receive some meaningless award. And though we are “coming together,” when evaluated against conventional growth and cluster standards (what city isn’t, though?), our current trajectory does not pass muster on any significant dimension. We are not clearing any of the meaningful hurdles, with the exception perhaps of Magic Leap’s commitment “to clone the brain’s GPU”, and even there, skepticism on that end mounts daily.
The Past is Never Dead
Where do we go from here?
Our people need to stand together, rather than let themselves be split by the typical procession of sophists clamoring for the limelight.
If we continue on the same way, we will not and cannot work as a tech movement, because we have no robust sense of social community in Miami — one that intentionally creates greater trust and respect opportunities among members so as to facilitate valuable knowledge transfers. Specifically, in Miami this concept of community (indeed, its primary value) is diluted by a number of different factors: (i) a prevalence of ethnic diversity — a general social virtue that has been coopted here — creating high levels of distrust among members, (ii) a tendency of chasing pseudo value (think 99% of communication, e-commerce and SaaS companies) rather than transformative ideas; (iii) suburban crawl and lack of tech anchor (getting around this place is a nightmare and disincentives investments and informal information sharing, universities could serve as a stop gap to this problem); and (iv) a lack of “munificent venture capitalists,” i.e. government actors, who preference long term investment and require little in exchange for their participation. See below.
This framework of community is important because it drives collaboration. When people are made to work together in a manner that posits community values (rather than direct financial gain, paywalls, tolls, quid pro quos…) people can work together more freely, more closely, which is to say that the distractions often accompanying human intimacy (strife, jealousy, resentment, conflict) are eliminated and substituted by a shared direction. Disjointed parts in the production line trust each other more, and thus begin to integrate and condense. The rate of information flow is quicker (more informal, richer and denser) so that wide learning accrues.
When collaboration is facilitated by a shared sense of community, people have the potential of reaping even larger profits down the line. Remember the sharing economy analogy of above. Trust is a form of currency. Trust between individuals means trust between strangers means more economic opportunity for everyone. And so is community. A group of people working side by side, when they should be working face to face (so to speak) will always be at a disadvantage in the marketplace. The relevant examples here are Uber and AirBnB but others exist in different verticals, like eBay and Amazon.
How to Defeat Akrasia
Here are some of my proposals for how to realize a better tomorrow. They are admittedly of a small scale, but my view is that sometimes these “simple lessons” are the most difficult to internalize and live out. In that sense, the most transformative idea for Miami as a whole may one that places a moral burden on the individuals themselves, meaning the adoption of moral obligations at the unit level so that real gains are netted in the economic sphere.
Stop Celebrating Emptiness
First, can we benchmark “community oriented” events? Judging from April — June event sample (eMerge being the capstone) it would be more proper to say that, in Miami, people like to shoot the shit while imagining themselves as tech entrepreneurs and enjoy the company of others similarly situated and similarly disposed. These types of seasonal charades need to end and be replaced with more technical conferences on larger scale problems that present opportunities for industry to tackle. (A friend of mine asked once whether eMerge was the second coming of MTV’s VMAs in disguise. “The cult of celebrity is ridiculous. It has nothing to do with building great companies.”)
Do More Than Just Show Up
Second, it should be noted, merely populating events does not constitute “community building.” If the standard is just showing up (surprise, it is), we should call these events “gatherings” instead, since nothing eventful or important happens at them. (Unless you consider perpetual cheerleading a community building activity and are under the impression progress is absolutely correlated with wishful thinking, in which case, carry on, you cannot be saved.)
Why “Events” Can Be Harmful
That said, we shouldn’t celebrate fault lines. A string of events meant to celebrate the local technology landscape, conducted without more, does not guarantee closer relations, freer information flows, or engender higher degrees of trust among the members units of the industry here. Frequency of engagement without proper calibration can actually serve to amplify disjunction, like when people who greatly dislike each other are forced to coexist in close quarters. Another example here is that of a radio perpetually receiving white noise and the operator mistakenly raising the volume thinking amplification would stand to solve problems of cognition. In an ideal state, the role of events is to connect members to a broader agenda (“How do we measure growth?”), to facilitate a more intimate embrace between a people and a set of ideas by organizing both around a public timeline (“In January, we’ll meet to discuss whether and the extent to which we can better address climate change.”), even if only during an artificially constructed occasion. Events propose and celebrate a common goal everyone can interpret as their own and subsequently aspire to reach. When conducted properly events work to revitalize. Their agenda is to make sure that past and present progress does not atrophy to the demands of the future. That there are no relapses.
These can include the usual suspects: considering the future of artificial intelligence and the attendant risk-reward calculus; the future change brought by self-driving automobiles; the changes labor intensive firms will need to undertake as more jobs shift overseas; how we can make new jobs here in the US by increasing access to technical education; how to better train labor.
But cheerleading for that sake alone needs to stop.
Unshackling Miami — Understanding Our Specific Ailments
The argument that “diversity is good for us” presupposes that there is an existing social unit, a city wide collective, a formidable Miami-specific identity, a recognizable “us”, enhanced and extended by ethnic and economic diversity.
This assessment blatantly disregards the facts.
My argument is that we have no Miami specific identity precisely because of all the ethnic diversity and consequential splintering brought on by its prevalence. Everyone still lies in wait in their respective cultural camps, living off the spoils that pattern of behavior creates.
Diversity, like most medicines, is not always good in large doses or in all contexts, and in this one, where unity of value and vision is fundamental, it can be a major liability. If the diversity banner is continuously thrown about so carelessly — unless we seriously understand the ways in which diversity of culture and values can produce a stronger community so that we can protect and spread those elements — we may also be at risk of sponsoring a backlash against diversity, splinter our own community in the process by provoking wide reaching distrust, and ultimately undermine our own agenda of becoming a cohesive Miami strengthened by diversity, rather than destroyed by it.
Despite popular opinion, this is a real risk.
And in Miami particularly, where intellectual cages are plenty, ethnic diversity can cause the hardening of nationalistic dispositions. These ‘cages’ often take the shape of the firm, the family, and your friends, with all three social entities sharing mutually reinforcing linkages. They are truly all encompassing in the cultural sense. The stress of social acceptance takes precedence over individual emancipation and eccentricity. To survive, the pressure to be well liked is felt more than the pressure to achieve, to accomplish. Attention is the highest form of currency and respect. This significance placed on beliefs and appearances, perception over fact, undoubtedly traces its history to Caribbean and Latin America cultures, a people whose main agenda has been in the sophisticated annihilation of their own history, with any telling references also undergoing a similar censoring exercise. A culture of secrecy and public lying is standardized. (For instance, in Hispanic and Caribbean culture generally one is more likely to find strangers behaving amongst themselves and treating each other kindly. But within families one is likely to find disrepair; a fractured constellation of questionable loyalties.)
And in this same way, we can expect the same kind of ‘public support’ for the diversity initiative, but little private support for its potential transformative effect on our social fabric. We witness a lot of talk, but little else.
Is this the ‘diversity’ we champion? A publicly acceptable, barely adequate working definition that provides zero of consequence to the process of creation?
This arrangement of social value is not likely to change overnight, but its influence on individual capacities needs to be flagged openly. Otherwise our public lives will take on a certain character, but the private influences one is subjected to will predominate any other possibility. My suggestion here is also conservative, but it is one that calls for the open recognition of the conflict. Otherwise what we will be left with is inconsistency. Dissonance. What I’ve previously called an attention to form rather than results. More mist and less clarity.
“Because our goals are not lofty but illusory, our problems are not difficult but nonsensical.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein
This idea of “spin” — we all whirl around but advance nowhere — has gotten recent attention, because other markets deal with the issue. It’s a fundamental human reality not necessarily tied down to the singular lens of ethnicity. (See, here, and here, e.g.)
But it’s one that takes on a heightened dimension in Miami given the prevalence of ethnic diversity and the lack of a central locus serving as repository for communal values (it is not education, or achievement, or virtue, but various forms of public ostentatious that still dominate the general community, and that aspect certainly bleeds over into the more technical communities).
And to “twist the knife” so to speak — if you’d like a specific example of the general cognitive dissonance, the private public split, it’s rather impressive that, because the diversity issue I mentioned above is so frequently brought up in public conversations about our supposed competitive advantage as a geomarket, its potential effects on community building (again — it can wreak havoc on feelings of unity), and by extension on industrial collaboration, is so infrequently discussed as an obstacle in need of explicit resolution, a barrier we need to overcome. It’s even more impressive because it’s an extensively open secret. (A chatty Venezuelan uber driver of mine, for instance, once described Miami’s as the “last battlefront for the Latins,” the last frontier of where “they come to practice war amongst themselves.”)
What we need, is not simply greater social interaction.
It’s great social intimacy, as well.
Diversity is great when it stands for the proposition that we can grow larger than the sum of our parts. What another friend of mine refers to often as the milking the “wisdom of the beehive,” the stimulation of new ideas, the fostering of genuine inclusiveness and openness (and not just across ethnicity but economic classes, too); a representative form of creativity.
But in Miami that is not our general reality as of yet: our particular form of diversity promotes — rather than inhibits — groupthink; it creates strife and discord rather than social cohesiveness.
We need to be openly honest about this issue, especially when considering obstacles in need of clearing. We cannot afford to regard a patent social infirmity as a social and/or economic utility constituting a regional marketplace advantage — — when that is not the reality of things, when that means taking facts and turning them upside down to fit an idealistic (and expressly false) self-portrait.
Mining Social Capital
Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to the connections among individuals — social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individual is not necessarily rich in social capital. — Robert Putnam
We know that generally, as interactions across people and classes grows deeper and richer, the likelihood of technical information sharing grows as well (once the baseline ‘connection threshold’ is crossed, there is no way to go but down, deeper into the virtue of friendship), and so do standards on how to process and then act on that information. This is the blossoming of a culture (shared beliefs, expectations, tastes, trajetctory) rather than a fractal and torn culture suffering from lack of unified direction. We can celebrate ethnic, socio-economic, political and philosophical diversity. But at least there is a basis for “we”. There is a meaningful connection to the geography, to our specific place and time. To a shared desired, assuming one exists. Rather than just addressing each other as neighbors because we happen to occupy the same plot of land, we address each other first as friends, willing to assist one another through the course of our own development. We acknowledge that “1+1” can indeed equal “3”.We discuss our wants, we agree on standards, and then enact them make our labor and production capability consistent with our own expectations, so that the quality of work product and service grow relative to time. The community thus promotes a higher delivery of services and product, rather than serving only as a forum for the pretense of “events”.
“I believe it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than to be ignorant.” — H.L. Mencken
These issues are important because of where we are situated, both in terms direction and in terms of time. In no other country is our collective identity even possible.
III. The Value of a Port City — Welcoming Better Ideas
We need to change what we believe about ourselves so that we aspire to more, and aspire in a way that is rooted in reality but is nonetheless growth oriented. Unless we concede that we are resigned to believe that we live in a zero-sum state, that “growth for me” means “less for everyone else”, that we are teetering already at the edge, then we are obliged to hold the reigns ourselves and chart a happier course. We need to invest in our people and be more welcoming of others who embody that same philosophy.
We need to be quicker about dispensing of those who do not.
If Silicon Valley condensed when failure was accepted as part of the culture, my own view is that Miami will begin to rise when honesty becomes embedded in our everyday lives. When we can speak to one another without having to skirt around important issues.
As social animals we have a tendency toward eliding the difficult — especially when faced with the delicate task of having to deliver what can be received as unpleasantness. And our social standing — what is most coveted here — can suffer as a result. But honesty with respect to our own standards, in the context of protecting our own community, should always be considered more paramount than purely social considerations.
Within technological communities, the social preference cannot hold water. If we are to care about the progress of the whole rather than the feeling of a few, we must all accept the burden associated with delivering reality checks. While this duty should not be interpreted as a license to demean or to destroy without warrant, it should still be undertaken with seriousness.
The idea is to strengthen our own resolution.
Committing to this position can have transformative effects for the city, particularly when considering that three of the most important industries of our era are also the industries Miami can play in and defend. These are industries that frame relevant value trade-offs and raise plainly difficult questions as to resource sharing and distribution. Industries that force us to define our particularly brand of capitalism. These are areas Miami is uniquely positioned to address were we to unite our collective effort, our collective willpower.
Healthcare is one of the few well developed industries in Miami. Political, corporate, social and economic interests are well represented and relatively well organized when compared to other industries (say, financial services). More than that, healthcare is a robust industry in Florida. So the city is far from an anomaly in the state market. (Which is important because startup density correlates with corporate activity generally, more than any other indicator, and the movement is quite fluid so talent can navigate a larger sandbox.) As things stand currently, there’s a lot of per capita spend and our bet is that the market could accommodate more digital innovation, a necessity for long term success. Furthermore, given the dynamics of the market, there is an opportunity to post the kinds of “hard conversations” — admittedly of an explicitly economic nature — as to how to provide care for those who cannot routinely afford it. This is what I consider to be truly innovative as a matter of social and economic policy.
My belief is that Miami can be the heart of this change, and inspire workable solutions that create scalable, profit- oriented businesses. I imagine everyday as a testament of Rebecca Herzlinger’s doing good (for ourselves) by doing well (for others).This could happen in a variety of ways but, to list one, the crux of our work at Startupbootcamp consists in developing local talent (and recruiting external talent) and connecting these entrepreneurs with relevant, Miami based, healthcare executives (that we’ve brought into our network) so that we can match make as necessary.
This matchmaking shortens sales cycles, is paired with an aggressive curriculum so that digital health entrepreneurs learn how to continuously build their business in the smartest way and then, rather than throw the talent to the proverbial wolves, we present a line of healthcare providers willing to pilot (or buy) their product/service directly.
“Start locally, expand regionally, and then compete nationally,” is what we say to digital health entrepreneurs evaluating building from Miami. In the meantime enjoy relevant connections, beautiful weather and a massive market with around 33,000 hospital beds.
And — the big reveal — we do all of this while emphatically advocating that the relevant players consider how to extend their technologies to those others who are often marginalized. And the program explicitly contemplates, through exposure to those neighborhoods and those people we like to pretend don’t exist, how this can be done.
Again, this may not seem transformative, but it is substantive addition to the culture of building companies that addresses meaningful problems that can lead to something drastic. And in a very important industry at that, if you count the moral and financial stakes. If we’re to take the promise of Miami, of digital seriously, it should start with healthcare. And it should be undertaken in a way that helps all people, not just those that can already afford top quality care.
Moving goods is difficult. Finding the most efficient way to move good is tricker still. I know from experience because, not only do I have to move goods across countries, I deal in perishables, which increase the stakes dramatically. For my own business, we had to spend approximately eight months building a supply chain. And while some of that gestation period was due to inexperience, a lot of it was directly due to the state of the industry itself. Imagine healthcare before EHRs, before Meaningful Use, transportation before the engine. That’s what supply chains largely are — to this day.
“Fine,” you say, “what’s the big deal?”
This is important because a substantial percentage of people in other parts of the world (especially so in Latam and the Caribbean) make a living off of working their land, with no meaningful access to export markets. I’ve already shared how the genesis of Caribé was helping Dominican farmers, and how we decided to manage the brand from Miami due to the city’s intimate relationship with the Caribbean.
And while we’ve learned a lot doing so, we’re hopeful the industry can continue growing smarter. And I’m hopeful that can continue to happen from Miami.
The issue where the idea of community is most directly and most frequently challenged. My own sense is that for this issue we will have to pioneer whatever the less costly sacrifice but formally acceptable alternative. People don’t like to lose, and so the specific question will undoubtedly concern the extent to which we can amend our current energy consumption without unduly burdening our sense of convenience.
The “solution” to the problem can be more Nest-y than coast-line or energy-plant focused, but the issue, I think, will have to be one of how to move people to consume less and to care more.
I don’t think Miami has a direct response to this issue yet, but at least Ted Caplow at the Miami Science Barge is not one to give up hope, and for that I tip my hat to him. If we can agree that educating the next generation of Miami’s resident on how to avoid our mistakes of akrasia weighs heavy with practical importance (and symbolic value) then we can begin acknowledging the terms under which we will have to learn to co-exist with our planet, help teach our sister cities how to do the same, and be willing to meet head on the skepticism that will be invariably deployed as a response.
We need to be able to meet this skepticism with courage. This is why I continue to harp on value of honesty and transparency — why I am loathe to mindlessly follow today’s fiction, when yesterday’s transgressions of pretense play out on our streets with unparalleled viciousness. Our planet is literally dying, because we are killing it, so is our sense of community (if we’ve ever had one, but if this election cycle teaches anything is that our politics has certainly leveled a new nadir in the national consciousness, and millions of people still can’t afford routine healthcare, an issue every other industrialized nation in the world has settled) but the headlines that influence cocktail conversations for the influential concerns…what exactly?
The Place of Intellectual Honesty and Courage Within STEM
We have a choice, to continue along the same path as before but attributing to that path another name. This is called pretending to grow. Or we can begin, through our public discourse, to attend to the deep fractures that disallow frankness and honesty. We can choose to copy the work coming out of New York and Boston and San Francisco and whenever it’s done in Miami, label this “innovation.” Or we can truly chart our course. I see no reason for why this can’t happen on the condition that we speak honestly, do honestly, perceive honestly, and can be disciplined enough to stay our course when our own convictions are challenged. Can a city change? Can culture change? Can Miami become one of the few cities in the world to actually inspire a deep technological awakening without leaning on the resources of those that came before.
Our disposition toward the never-ending performances serves only to reinforce the fact that as a species, we place value in the semiotics, in the theatre of our affairs. I’m actually ok with that — there’s a fine reason people still read Machiavelli’s The Prince500 years after it was first published. But the benefits of such a strategic component will go to waste unless combined with foresight and shrewdness to make investments in the kind of mechanisms that foster knowledge industries. Unless we want to continue considering ourselves “mere trousered apes” deploying (the illusion) of technology as a sham substitute for a bastardized conception of social and economic progress, it’s very important we police our speech and action and subject them to the oldest sanitation standards known to man: (intellectual) honesty and (intellectual) courage. Two devices, incidentally, noticeably lacking in our very own “community.” In their place we have (intellectual) censorship on our best days, (intellectual) confusion on our worst. And in between, a seemingly endless procession of well intentioned fools championing the agenda of mediocrity.
I’ve been in Miami consecutively for more the better part of a year now, operating a business in a culture seemingly at war with itself, helping others already here navigate its eclectic ecosystem, inviting others to come “build tomorrow” from here. And for that year I’ve questioned myself over whether we can really become more “honest”, or whether that’s just a question I entertain as a means to coping with my reality, my self imposed sentence. Despite the cynicism that I often display, my genuine guess is that yes, we can grow more honest; that it will be vastly difficult (in every definable way) and because of that, worthy of pursuit. If “grief is the one pain that heals all others” then, to me, honesty is the one trait that unlocks all forms of meaningful growth. Whether Miami will see a future of “city-wide honesty”, of city-wide transformational growth is an open question that will likely remain unsettled for a time. My view, and my hope, is that if we can ever resolve the conflicts currently affecting our constitution as a people, then and only then will we be worthy of the assuming the title of “The Magic City.”