Was it?

“How do you abandon deeply held beliefs about character, personal responsibility, foreign policy, and the national debt in a matter of months?

You don’t.

~Stuart Stevens, It Was All A Lie

In his book It Was All A Lie, long-time GOP political campaigner Stuart Stevens poses the question: how can the conservative right abandon “deeply held beliefs about character, personal responsibility, foreign policy, and the national debt in a matter of months” to follow Donald Trump?

And his conclusion is that it didn’t abandon these beliefs because they were never real in the first place; they were merely messaging tools for opportunistic gain, shielding a bald quest for power. In short, It Was All A Lie.

Outside politics, “Silicon Valley” was born and bred in the US West with a Manifest Destiny-like optimism. The moonshots, expansive mission statements and promises of exponential impact border on the religious, jarring for their places at the top of Maslow’s infamous pyramid.

John Doerr’s OKR method revered by SV companies

Amidst all the techno-utopianism, then, it seemed that this whole thing from Coinbase was a bit, well, off industry-brand?

That expansive-sounding tweet doesn’t really convey the actual post’s message. While putting forth some lofty goals (including enabling “belonging for everyone”), the linked post was actually written in order to define what Coinbase won’t do.

The post asks us to consider Coinbase’s mission “to create an open financial system for the world. An open financial system is one that is not controlled by any one country or company (just like the internet did for distributing information).” (source).

Well that is certainly lofty, too! In fact, their website goes on to say, “We think this is the highest leverage way to bring about more economic freedom, innovation, efficiency, and equality of opportunity in the world.”

And doing this massively significant, important work requires them to avoid certain things.

So Brian’s saying that, in order to bring about economic freedom, innovation, efficiency, and equality of opportunity in the world, it’s best to avoid broader societal issues and political causes.

Let’s set aside the myriad of issues with this and just say we think that Laszlo got it right. The world is different. It’s 2020 (and not 1970), people.

And shouldn’t that present those Silicon Valley Big Dreamer types with an exciting opportunity?

Absolutely. Unless, of course, it was all a lie.

The innovation continuum

My deep curiosity has led to what I like to call an “unlinear” career path. But at last I’ve been able to identify a common thread: helping technical people build cool stuff. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that innovation isn’t restricted to startups. And, that being a startup hardly guarantees you’ll do something innovative.

Also (per my previous post) I’m the weird outlier that gets a high degree of energy when I get to public speak (see? I even say “get to”). Recently I had the privilege to share about ways I’ve helped technical people thrive.

First was the Lean Startup Conference in SF this October. I had shared Mozilla’s cultural transformation story as part of our submission to Fast Company’s Best Workplaces for Innovators (spoiler: we got it!), and was keen to share this story elsewhere, too. I pulled in my colleague Matt who has led our Culture of Experiments program to tell our story of how we evolved from a culture that avoided data at all costs out of respect for user privacy, to one that embraced data in ways to deliver that privacy more effectively (deck).

Then earlier this month I had the enormous pleasure to spend time with with our team in Taipei to do a bunch of things. Admittedly helping the first-ever Firefox Run for Internet Health was a top-contender for memorable stuff I did (really, it was); but relevant to this post is the fun time I spent with the team at TechStars’ Taipei Startup Week. It was a great excuse to reflect on my own career to convey all the different ways that startups need “other” companies, and vice versa (deck). In short, I didn’t want the audience (entrepreneurs) to sell their value short simply because they are trying to survive (easier said than done).

ok not gonna lie, helping with the race was super fun

It was also great to learn from the folks there more about the local markets; in my case, I hung out with the breakout group to get up-to-date on Korea’s startup markets — certainly a revisiting of my roots from my first gig at Asia Pacific Ventures so long ago. Turns out their landscape is now not dissimilar from the U.S. in that a few central entities swallow up most of the smaller companies (in this case, the chaebol). But the funnel to acquisition is financed not by VCs and pension funds as in the States but rather primarily through governmental entities. From what I could glean, this could democratize things a bit more at the earlier phases. But, I’d love to dig in more.

Corporate Surveillance

“So every purchase initiated or prompted by a recommendation you make raises your Conversion Rate. If your purchase or recommendation spurs fifty others to take the same action, then your CR is x50. There are Circlers with a conversion rate of x1,200. That means an average of 1,200 people buy whatever they buy. They’ve accumulated enough credibility that their followers trust their recommendations implicitly, and are deeply thankful for the surety in their shopping. Annie, of course, has one of the highest CRs in the Circle.

The Circle, p. 252

In May 2017 I invited Adrian Hon, entrepreneur, author and futurist, to our speaker series at Mozilla. I’d read his book, A History of The Future in 100 Objects, after hearing him read from it at The Long Now, and I fell in love with the approach of giving retrospectives from an imagined (and well-informed) future vantage point. As we discussed what scenarios could be most relevant and meaningful for us at Mozilla, we decided to arrive on surveillance as a focus.

Specifically, Adrian presented from the perspective of someone in 2027 looking at us then (in 2017), in awe of how readily everyone accepted ongoing, intimate surveillance in the home through devices from Amazon and Google, after buckling so strongly in response to CCTVs in the 1990s.

It’s two years later and nothing freaky has happened with Siris or Alexas (yet). But we have gotten less trusting of surveillance in the home as we continue to learn more about the implications of our data; surveillance capitalism is emerging from academia to the mainstream.

That is, we’re more aware and (legitimately) wary of how our personal data can easily be misused in consumer free and commercial services. But what about surveillance in the workplace?

This screenshot is not from the Circle. It’s an enterprise tool licensed by major companies to encourage their staff to post content about their company on a business-social network.

It is opt in, and the marketing doesn’t suggest companies tie job performance to these dashboards (though…their client endorsers advocate using them to exert social pressure among teammates). And, in fairness, corporations have been able to monitor at least some of their staff’s activity for a long time (though…maybe not quite to the extent that technology offers today. At all).

As the past few years certainly remind us, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Guess we’ll see.

p.s. just came across this Quartz piece – from two years ago – lamenting the advent of corporate surveillance (and echoing my fears of Slack). la la la.