What I’m Reading: The Chessboard & the Web by Anne-Marie Slaughter
This was an interesting read in juxtaposition to Joshua Cooper Ramo’s The Seventh Sense. Ramo focuses on the power of controlling networks—gatekeeping—and how these powers will largely be centralized and benefit the gatekeepers—Facebook, China, and Airbnb, for example. Slaughter, however, proposes a more optimistic and democratic look at network dynamics. Instead of highlighting the strengths of power over networks, she argues that power with—as in the powers embedded in the connections between nodes—unlocks the true potential of networks and their utility in international affairs. She emphasizes that phenomenon such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement (I’d throw BLM and #MeToo in there as well) are demonstrations of power with networks that overthrew hierarchical power over institutions but ultimately pittered out due to a lack of guidance. Hence, sparking and directing the power with networks will become a most powerful skill set that can be wielded in the international arena. Additionally, given the decentralized nature of this power, the effectiveness and usage of this power will run closely along democratic ideals.
However, the book doesn’t offer satisfying counters to current digital networks that are gatekept such as Facebook and China. Facebook definitely has lock-in power—no one wants to rebuild their social net on a new service—and naturally has power over the network and its users. Additionally, China’s Great Firewall and the trend towards a segregated Chinese Internet seem hard to overcome with many of the network tools Slaughter proposes. Furthermore, she gives half-baked and clichéd solutions to serious policy challenges. Writing about “bolstering the UN” and “educate students about networks” is a weak ending to a very thoughtful discussion of networks and policy.
What I’m Watching: Season 5 Episode 4 of Silicon Valley: “Tech Evangelist”
This episode was brilliant in parodying tech’s animosity towards religion all the while worshipping individuals such as Zuckerburg and Jobs. The below scenes show a brilliant progression.
First, Gavin Belson—the founder and CEO of fictional tech conglomerate Hooli—gets annoyed when his hands get sticky from using a honey bear to flavor his tea.
Then, when departing for a trip to Tahoe, he addresses the senior VPs with an out of context sentence.
The senior VPs proceed to freak out and try to decipher Gavin’s biblical words.
While Silicon Valley is just a TV show, this attitude isn’t absent in the valley or any other circle (be it finance, governance, etc.) for that matter. China’s deification of Xi Jinping or Facebook’s zealousness in following Mark Zuckerburg’s mission to connect the world is emblematic of this devotion to a cause/person/place/thing. The good thing about the real world, however, is that many subordinates aren’t as cowardly as the characters in the show. Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s VP of Consumer Hardware, wrote a prescient memo (shown below in full) in 2016 about the potential dangers in Facebook’s drive for connectivity and the lack of conversations and thinking behind it.
June 18, 2016
We talk about the good and the bad of our work often. I want to talk about the ugly.
We connect people.
That can be good if they make it positive. Maybe someone finds love. Maybe it even saves the life of someone on the brink of suicide.
So we connect more people
That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.
And still we connect people.
The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good. It is perhaps the only area where the metrics do tell the true story as far as we are concerned.
That isn’t something we are doing for ourselves. Or for our stock price (ha!). It is literally just what we do. We connect people. Period.
That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in. The work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it.
The natural state of the world is not connected. It is not unified. It is fragmented by borders, languages, and increasingly by different products. The best products don’t win. The ones everyone use win.
I know a lot of people don’t want to hear this. Most of us have the luxury of working in the warm glow of building products consumers love. But make no mistake, growth tactics are how we got here. If you joined the company because it is doing great work, that’s why we get to do that great work. We do have great products but we still wouldn’t be half our size without pushing the envelope on growth. Nothing makes Facebook as valuable as having your friends on it, and no product decisions have gotten as many friends on as the ones made in growth. Not photo tagging. Not news feed. Not messenger. Nothing.
In almost all of our work, we have to answer hard questions about what we believe. We have to justify the metrics and make sure they aren’t losing out on a bigger picture. But connecting people. That’s our imperative. Because that’s what we do. We connect people.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the memo received tremendous internal backlash. But it does show that there are people who fight against theses cult-like followings. Be like Boz.
What I’m Listening To:
In light of Kanye’s announcement of two upcoming (hopefully; you never really know with him) projects, I’ve been revisiting some old favorites such as Devil In A New Dress.
Cool Thing of the Week:
In tribute to Avicii’s passing, a Dutch church played some of his tunes with the church bells.
Commonplace Book Entry of the Week:
Innovation is different from invention. You can invent something but if you fail to bring it to market, that is not innovation. Innovation is that process from inventing something and making something to bringing it to a market and mass adoption.