Net PositiveDecember 1, 2017
My TED talk came out last week. Bucket list experience.
On Tuesday I was part of an online forum at Thompson Reuters. Here are some Q&As.
Are the big four a force for good?
Net / net, yes. I think fossil fuels are net / net probably good for us. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have regulation. Big pluses — search, media, stuff for less, and greater connections — all make our lives better. Huge consumer value, incredible shareholder gains, hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs, source of national pride, healthy competition. But there are drawbacks: the Four are not held to the same standards as the rest of business. The result is an ecosystem that favors the big and reduces competition.
We’ve also become painfully aware that these companies are willing to sacrifice our privacy and security for shareholder value. Seems naive that we ever thought any different. There is an argument that it’s the world we live in. I believe the world is what we make of it, and we can have our cake and eat it too. We can have competition, and markets that aren’t failing — which they are — where a few firms have outsized power and influence.
The big four have been lightly regulated — Amazon didn’t even collect sales tax for a very long time. What changed in the environment to bring on the recent demands for regulation?
The fact that we’re debating the AT&T–Time Warner merger is insane in my view. The content and distribution of each of the Four dwarves the envisioned tie-up of AT&T and Time Warner. A few things have changed: Uber’s bad management, Amazon putting retailers out of business, light shed on tax avoidance, and then the straw that broke the camel’s back — the weaponization of Facebook, Google, and Twitter by the intelligence arm of Russia. Done with a credit card, paid in rubles. It’s clear these firms don’t allocate adequate resources around national security. They claim it’s impossible, which is Facebook-speak for unprofitable. If Reuters can figure out a way not to be weaponized by Russia with $3B in free cash flow, then why can’t Facebook with $12B in free cash flow? We’re sick of these guys lying to us.
What specifically needs to be done? Tesla offers vision and not much else, so clearly that’s not the key?
Apple will do double the profit this quarter that Amazon has done in its entire history. And Amazon’s stock, in my view, will blow by Apple and hit $1T in less than a year. Tesla, great example. Delivered 76K cars last year. Ford delivered 6M. Tesla has greater market cap. Vision and growth, not profits, is what the market values … for now.
1. We need to realize these companies are not concerned with the condition of our souls, and they’re not going to take care of us when we get older.
2. We need to elect officials who will hold these firms to the same scrutiny as the rest of business.
3. We need to break them up.
Any signs that will happen?
Good question. Yes, but it won’t come from where we think. DC doesn’t have the will or the IQ to take on big tech. Amazon had 77 full-time lobbyists in DC, and the ultimate prophylactic in the Washington Post. The threat will come from a red state where an Attorney General sees a path to the Governor’s mansion via a populist call to break one or more up. Or it will come from Brussels, more likely, because the EU registers all of the downside of big tech, and a fraction of the upside. Like the major conflicts of the 20th century, the war against big tech will break out in Europe. I’ve been on Fox News a lot lately talking about this (keep your friends close, and your enemies closer), including when Stuart Varney called me a socialist. Nope, I’m a full-throated capitalist.
Europe deals with the downsides of the Four — tax avoidance, job destruction, meddling with elections — yet there are few university buildings or hospital wings named after Google or Facebook billionaires in Europe. You asked net / net if big tech is a positive. In the US, definitely yes. In Europe, not so clear. I believe there is a non-zero probability in the next 24 months a European nation bans one or more of the Four. We’re also likely to see the first $10B+ fine come out of the EU. Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, is the only public official in the West whose testicles have descended, and is not afraid of big tech.
Who might be the first to act against big tech here?
Don’t know, but the Missouri AG has launched an investigation. If you fly to NYC from SF, any state you fly over is a decent guess. Coasts have sucked trillions of value from middle class households using these firms, and the red states are fed up … and prone to electing demagogues — another talk show.
Do you see Roy Moore as an anti-FANG champion?
Roy Moore? No, I see him championing mall neutrality. All people have equal access to malls. Sorry, couldn’t help it.
An Asymptotic Life
A line that a curve can continually approach but never meet
Successful people are cursed / blessed with an asymptotic life. The curve of your achievement never quite reaches your expectations. If you’re ambitious and lucky, they get closer and closer … but never do the lines of your aspirations and achievements become one thick line of self-actualization. Competition and the desire for more are instincts based on ecosystems where resources are insufficient to satisfy the needs of all parties. And like most instincts, the drive towards more doesn’t modulate even if we have the basics. We become addicts to “more,” as there is a sense of reward from garnering more stuff, even if it’s not a function of survival.
In my thirties I was on paper worth tens of millions of dollars. I thought I was destined to be a billionaire, and that anything else would be a disappointment. I sold my company earlier this year, and I’m economically secure again … I think. This comfort, which I’ve felt before, is fleeting, and I’m now focused on the gap between the lines. I want more. I’m not even sure what “more” would be.
Living in SF and NYC, business trips to Europe and Asia, and holidays in St. Barths … the life, right? But always a subtle, nagging feeling there was something bigger and better I wasn’t a part of. More … I want more.
We zoom out
The curve of happiness is the shape of a smile. Youth is replete with beer, college, and making out. We then graduate to job stress trying to forge our career, and someone we love gets sick and dies. In our thirties and forties we realize we won’t be a senator or have a fragrance named after us. And then something happens — our satisfaction and happiness turns upwards as we age and realize we have so much to be grateful for.
Life satisfaction is partially a function of circumstance and achievement. But mostly, satisfaction depends on perspective: our ability to zoom out and register how close the lines really are. Our competitive gene focuses on the 1% we haven’t achieved, not the 99% we have. As we age, we zoom out and focus on our achievements and blessings, instead of where the lines didn’t meet.
The gulf between the lines of the guy I want to be and who I actually am is still too broad, and I’m more focused on that. Swallowing my anger when around the people I love, and the people I don’t (not being an asshole) — think it’s called character. Acting instead of complaining. So much complaining. Being the friend to my friends they are to me. I’ve gotten more than I’ve given. And most pathetic? I still find a way, usually after being on the road for a couple weeks, to feel sorry for myself. Can’t stand this about me.
I’m working on being a parent who communicates principles of kindness, empathy, and grit instead of assuming these things will organically manifest in my boys because they wear smart uniforms to school and have good teachers. I recently had dinner with the CEO of a Fortune 500 firm, and we spent most of our time talking about our kids. His experience / advice was that kids are listening. Even if it’s a decade later, and there’s just an echo of your counsel, they are listening. This resonated, but I realized you need to be saying something for them to be listening. So, I’m coaching and reminding … a lot. After soccer, I tell my oldest I noticed him using his left foot well, and that it’s good in life to use all resources you have available. That if he burns up too much energy early in the game, he won’t push through the harder second half. Steadiness, grit, using your energy well — I hope these are life lessons.
Where the lines meet
I’d like to think that as I get near the end, I’ll be blessed with the perspective to see how close so many of the lines really are. But I have my doubts. The only assurance of a touchpoint is where the lines have already met. Any parent has seen the lines meet: our kids lost in sleep, dreaming, processing the love and security you’ve provided for them. Recognizing they look like your mom as they eat cereal. The look of wonder when they learn that hummingbirds can fly backwards. The exuberant “Did you see that, Daddy?” after they nail a headstand. When they grab your hand, as they trust you instinctively, is the lines meeting. There is no gap, infinity is brought to present. We are timeless … All “this” has meaning. The lines meet.
Life is so rich,