Last night, I was on the phone until 3am with an IT representative in India. I’m a little disappointed to say that I was brisk, and perhaps not the most relaxed person after spending hours on the phone debugging.
An interesting turn in the conversation happened, which went something like:
Me: “You barely have an accent.”
Her: “Accent, are you saying I have an accent?”
Me: “No, I’m saying that you have a perfect accent, or well not perfect, but it sounds like a normal person. ”
Her: “I thought you were giving me a complement, and then you insulted me! What do you think Indians sound like?”
Me: “No! It wasn’t supposed to be an insult, I promise, I just mean that I know in India everyone is tested on their English, and where they land in society depends on their fluency. ”
I’d once heard a story about a mathematician who became a janitor after failing to pass exams testing his language skills.
I apologized profusely, then there was some laughing and ultimately conversation. After quite some time, I asked her if she studied IT, she hesitated, and said, “…Yes, IT, of course.” Then silence. I responded, “So you studied computer science.” “Yes, I’m an engineer.”
She said it was her first job, she dreams about working for Google. What did I study?
Me: “I did courses in English, economics, neuroscience. I thought I would be a neuroscientist.”
Her: “That doesn’t make any sense. You can’t be using neurology skills working here? Right?”
We got into a discussion about career. When she explained her goal, it was very clear, she was confident. It was linear. When I explained my goal, it was totally nonlinear.
(? = know thyself, how to execute, how to be an effective person, a good person, a clear mind. Know How. )
I said I wanted to connect people’s brains to networks, and explained what I had done to get closer to that goal.
Me: “There are a bunch of moving parts, so it’s not straight forward.”
Her: “No it is straight forward. I don’t know what you’re saying, if you want to be a neurologist…”
Me: “Neurology is medicine. I’m interested in augmented intelligence.”
Her: “Then why are you here?”
Me: “Because I was advised to learn an industry, and banks buy technology.”
Her: “That sounds so disappointing. You’re doing all of this to sell to banks.”
Me: “Breakthrough technologies usually start with businesses buying, then they move to average consumers. Think about the car… that presented a good business case as a replacement for horse and buggy.”
I knew that wasn’t really the story of the car. It started as a high end luxury good, then the price lowered. Eventually it was affordable. It may have been sold to businesses, but that wasn’t the essence of the strategy.
The logic works something like this: to sell to general consumers, you need to have 1) a product and 2) popularity.
To develop an advanced software/hardware blend, I assume that it will require a plan giving investors a positive return on investment within 3-5 years. Most venture capitalists want to exit in that time frame, otherwise their money is wrapped up in one place too long. Popular products need to rely on Reddit fame, or a celebrity tweeting. Advanced products that satisfy a real need are helped by that, but it’s not the make or break. Microsoft isn’t sexy, it’s essential. Show the merits in industry, make some money, and then expand to consumers.
Linear and Nonlinear Thinking
It’s a highly nonlinear road. It begs the question of why finance? To which the question isn’t just, “because of product strategy”, but also “because I need to develop as a business person, watching the market gives me that development”, and also “because I need money, and this intersects with enough of the life goals to be a good way of making money and more”, and “because I was hedging, and if I failed, I knew I would survive this way.”
Linear thinking says, this is what I want, and I need to do this thing to get it. Nonlinear thinking says, this is what I want, and I want to increase the chance of it working out while hedging the risks.
The good of linear thinking is that you can be myopic and successful because of the focus characteristic of myopia. The bad is that after you’re at Google, you have to do the next logical thing for that immediate situation. It’s iterative, unpredictable in the long term. But it leads to consistent, observable results. If things don’t go according to plan the IT rep can learn a new language or programming paradigm. She can network with people. She can try to make herself as close as possible to a standard Googl-er. Eventually, it would work out.
Nonlinear thinking is good because it extends the planning horizon, and diversifies risk. It’s bad because the chances of particular successes are lower, due to effort being dispersed between the goals and the hedges. There’s no certainty of what will happen next, and it requires everything to go pretty much perfectly to hit a particular target. In my case, CEO of a big tech company that makes a brain-based distributed network. That’s got a lot going on. Everything has to go right. If everything doesn’t go right, I’ll be a CEO with no brain network, and a weak knowledge of technical details. Or an engineer with not enough business acumen to be successful.
It sucks to know there’s no straight forward best option. It’s preference. What kind of chaos do you like?