Cryptocurrencies Make Me Feel Stupid

Why we resist change, why now is the time to learn, and where to start.

After many, many months of ignoring, hiding from, and flat out rejecting anything vaguely associated with the crypto/blockchainy space, I’m giving in.

I’m finally learning about cryptocurrencies.

I have Jānis to blame. Jānis was almost my flatmmate in London two years ago. He reached out a few months ago out of the blue.

I told Jānis yes, I do still write, and I had some availability to do some work.

Jānis and his team are from Latvia. English isn’t their native language. They wanted help promoting their new product ICO Pass to a global crowd.

Token, ICO, KYC — WTF?

All gobbledygook to me.

I figured ICO Pass was either an arcade game, some empty corporate acronym, or a fried chicken joint.

I was lost in a vast ocean of my own ignorance.

Based on Donald Rumsfeld’s “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns.” Slide via Foxy Thinking.

Pretty quickly I caught glimpse of shoreline to discover my first Known-Unknowns:

  • KYC had something to do with processing identity checks for banks.
  • Token was cryptocurrency talk.
  • ICO stood for Initial Coin Offering – like an IPO, or Initial Public Offering, when a company allows the public to buy shares and invest in it – except for launching new cryptocurrencies.
Also me.

I knew nothing about cryptocurrencies, ICOs, or the problem their particular ICO was trying to solve — but this sounded like a good excuse to finally learn. I was up for the challenge. I took the job.

Usually I follow E.L. Doctorow’s advice on writing: “Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” Somehow this project was different. After trying to squeeze writing in between other projects, a couple weeks came and went and…I had nothing.

I struggled to make sense of it all. I tried to back out.

Jānis called my bluff:

1. Why We Resist The New

In her article Ten Reasons People Resist Change for Harvard Business Review, Rosabeth Moss Kanter explains why we resist change and reject the new.

For example:

  • Loss of control: “Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory.”
  • More work: “Because of the inevitable unanticipated glitches in the middle of change, per Kanter’s Law, “everything can look like a failure in the middle.”
  • Sometimes the threat is real: “Change is resisted because it can hurt. When new technologies displace old ones, jobs can be lost; prices can be cut; investments can be wiped out.”

But the reason that hit home for me was concerns about competence:

“Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid.”

I like to think of myself as a fairly intelligent guy, capable of digesting difficult topics and distilling them into ways that others like myself can understand and care about them. I also like to think of myself as a professional writer who’s dependable and can deliver on his deadlines.

The hard reality: this stuff made me feel like an incompetent dumbass.

Photo by Nick Fewings.

2. Why Now is the Time to Learn.

They say write what you know. I knew jack shit about cryptocurrencies. But I did know enough about myself and my habits with technology to know where I generally sit on the adoption curve.

I wasn’t the first of my friends to join Facebook, but my college was among the first to join, and so by default was I. I wasn’t the first to own a mobile phone, but I did have a Nokia brick phone early on. I didn’t help build the internet, but I did have a Prodigy account.

Image The Atlantic

I’m not an innovator or super early adopter. But I’m also not a laggard.

If I had to get super specific, on average I’m in the early Early Majority.

Illustration: Jurgen Appelo

When someone like me is learning and writing about something new-ish, it’s probably on the verge of becoming mainstream. When I’m becoming enlightened to something upcoming and new, it’s a sign that we’re on the early upslope of mainstream enlightenment.


Suddenly the potential of learning about this space became a lot more interesting. Maybe I’m on the cusp of something big? Maybe I could cease new opportunities if I become less ignorant? Maybe I could learn to evaluate new cryptocurrencies and technologies like ICO Pass? And maybe I could make a buck or two in the long-run by investing in something solid?

And maybe financially it’s a good time to experiment and get involved as well?

As of writing, two of the major cryptocurrencies — Ethereum and Bitcoin — are at super relative lows. Ethereum in particular is down over 70% from it’s January 2018 high.

Ethereum has dropped 70% from its Jan 2018 (Coinbase — March 30, 2018)

It was back to the lab again.

3. Where to Start Learning About Cryptocurrencies.

Over the next two weeks, I consumed everything with words crypto or blockchain in it. That journey took me deep into the black hole that is the internet. My browser became a battle zone.

I opened an ulcer-inducing number of tabs in a futile attempt to read the world’s knowledge on cryptocurrencies, ICOs, and everything in between.

I was still in an ocean of ignorance, but I saw glimpses of shoreline. More Known-Unknowns emerged. I started to chalk up a few Known-Knowns too.

Here are the resources I’ve found most useful so far:

A) This Quartz mini documentary: “Bitcoin, blockchains, and the future of money”

The future of money explained with ancient stones on a tiny Pacific island.

B) This fireside chat between Galia Benartzi, Ƀrock Pierce and Nathan Doctor

Hosted by Vicki Rox for her extremely welcoming LoveCoin Facebook group — “for curious newbies in the space”:

C) This Tim Ferriss conversation with Nick Szabo and Naval Ravikant.

Tim dares to ask the “dumb questions” most of us are afraid to.

Or read a thoroughly annotated transcript is here.

D) Kevin Rose’s Block Zero podcast.

With Mastering Bitcoin author Andreas M. Antonopoulos, ZenCash co-founder Rob Viglione, Turtlecoin founder “Rock Steady”, and Stellar Founder Jed McCaleb.

E) Getting involved and investing.

We learn best through doing. I went through the process of actually buying some cryptocurrencies…and then watched both promptly drop 35%. Welcome to the arena!

  • Coinbase seems to be the most novice-friendly place to track, buy and sell the 4 major cryptocurrencies (as of writing): Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin. (Sign up to Coinbase and you’ll get $10 to invest).

I don’t advocate day trading, but this article lists useful steps to get more involved with investing in cryptocurrencies.

F) Stay current.

FinTech Times is one place to stay current.

This is a rapidly ever-evolving and volatile space. A few good places to stay in touch are:

Like anything new — this might take a while. But we’ll get it. Eventually.

Photo by Nigel Tadyanehondo

Next: How to evaluate a good ICO from a scam?

In the middle of Tim Ferriss’s conversation with Nick Szabo and Naval Ravikant, Ravikant made an offhand remark:

“A lot of ICOs are scams.”

Which brings it back to the matter at hand: Is Jānis’s company’s ICO Pass a solid cryptocurrency investment? Solid enough to invest in? Solid enough for me to put my name behind and write an article about?

For Part 2 of this article, I’m evaluating ICO Pass’s vital signs to learn if it’s a solid ICO investment.

Get Part 2 of this article as soon as I finish it.

I’ll send it to you as soon as I finish writing it. Plus — I’ll share 4 Essential Questions I’m using to tell the difference between a solid ICO and a scam.

P.S. How to get involved with ICO Pass.

ICO Pass is making KYC (“Know Your Customer”) identity checks faster, easier, cheaper, and more secure for ICOs, banks, and governments around the globe.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 317,238+ people.

Subscribe to receive our top stories here.