10 years, 10 lessons
By Kwame Ferreira.
The biggest aisle in an American bookshop is the self-help section. We are impregnated with the belief that we can improve. In Portugal, the biggest aisle is the children’s section. I’m more of a believer that we don’t find ourselves, we create ourselves by interacting with the world.
Here are the 10 lessons that I have learned this past decade, since founding Kwamecorp, later Impossible.com. Lessons that come from feeling my way around. From hitting walls. Falling down and getting back up. I’m not sure I am a better person than I was back then, but I am sure I am different. These lessons are personal and no substitute for a good children’s book.
“Happiness is nothing more than good health and bad memory.” — Albert Schweitzer.
I came across Albert Schweitzer’s work 10 years ago and his life served as an inspiration for mine. My jungle equivalent to his Gabon is the tech world. That has been my canvas and continues to excite me.
In the past 10 years, I’ve become clearer about the future I want. I found it important to adopt a framework to measure the future against.
Nick Tree, at one of our Impossible town halls, talked about the aboriginal way of life and summed up their core values to three: Share, care and always tell the truth. These map into circularity, repairability and transparency — the only framework for creation able to sustain and grow life on this planet.
Circularity and repairability are what enable sharing and caring. Transparency is what allows for truth. Share, care and always tell the truth. That serves as a framework for creating the future we want.
The future needs to be thought of concretely and differently from the present. If we are not clear about what future we want, we won’t get there. Innovation works backwards from where you want to get to and forwards from a value system. I’ve learned how to be clear about the future I want. The future is not what it used to be, so said my grandmother. The future I wanted as a kid is one with more biots and less robots. The future I want now is solarpunk not cyberpunk. It’s a future that is different from the one I wanted 10 years ago. That’s ok, so long as it is concrete.
Value scarcity over abundance. We have 2.5 billion heartbeats to spend. A creative mindset that looks at moments as precious is one that helps optimize our time through the very products we create. It is our job as creators to make clear in our experiences and products that nothing is infinite. If there is one thing crypto has brought to the fore in the past 10 years, it is a renewed appreciation for a finite resource.
Be consistently surprising. I have found that what moves me is not the Why, How or What, but the WOW. Our behavioral patterns are predictable. We are programmed to run routines. Surprise is what moves us from pleasure to meaning. Our work is consistently measured for surprise. Listen to this podcast.
A company is an organism designed to maximize people’s potential. Greatness lies in the agency of others. It took me a while to understand this, but these past 10 years have made this very tangible. If you run a company, make sure you write love letters to your colleagues as often as possible.
The How is the space we, product creators, inhabit and question. The Why needs to be aligned with planetary needs. The What is the product. We creators sit in the middle. Our responsibility is enormous. We create the reality that sits in between people and planet. The How is home for us. It’s where we create meaning.
Evolve empathy to compassion. Our products are the product of tech and compassion, i.e. craftsmanship with the drive to solve problems. In these past 10 years, I’ve stopped just listening to people. Instead I’m listening with the view to act, to help or to be clear that I can’t, but someone else can.
Stories are to facts as products are to tech. Our job as creators is not to create the story, but to allow the products to tell that story, unhindered. Our mastery of the product creation process is measured in the difference between the initial story we tell ourselves and the story the product ends up telling.
Design perpetuates the industrial complex of the twentieth century. Only art has the power to resist. Art is by definition, resistance. Treat your creations with the scarcity and beauty of art. This means do less, but better. This also means: be moved by your creations before you try to move others with it. Start with you, then find others like you. You’ll be surprised how many of you there are out there.
Focus on human capital. Social entrepreneurs identify resources where people only see problems. Over the last 10 years, I’ve heard the usual VC rhetoric over and over again: what problem are you solving? That’s great, but we tend to infantilize people in the process. Treat them as a monetization target. Yes, there are lots of problems to solve, but there are as many people out there with the ability to solve them. Create to empower people, why don’t we?
It is our duty as creators to be more ambitious. Our products are change agents. They change everything. Go beyond just making things cheaper and convenient for humans. It is this ambition that drives me.
We, creators, give meaning to the world. That is our job. We do so using the scientific method (you will hear all sorts of Agile Lean methodologies with sprinkles of user centric or human centric design — but at the end of the day they are all underpinned by the scientific method.) That’s the only method one needs to know inside out. Evidence based approach is the only way forward.
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