Future is Written in the Stars

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Today an interviewer from the media asked me "what do you think about bitcoin?". I said that it follows the well-tested pattern: if there are respected authorities that say it will never work, it probably have a great chances for success.  Moreover, if certain mr. Andreessen has a good stake in it, it will  almost certainly be a great success. Some of you might no ask who is this guy.

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Marc Andreessen is one of the key wizards of Silicon Valley. Back in nineties, he was  the one who built the first graphic internet browser. Then as thereafter the pattern repeated: most experts thought graphic interface will never work because it is too difficult, too expensive, people are used to non-graphic displays and so forth and so forth. Same with social media and cloud services, all of them developments in which Andreessen was pioneering at the time.

Had mr. Andreessen  believed what the experts say he would have not become the most important business angel of Silicon Valley. And more importantly, he would have never understood the pattern that holds the magic formula of success: wherever there is a way that connects a) consumer, b) machines and systems and c) producer in a more convenient, fast, cheap and interactive way, it will happen, one way or another.

So when Warren Buffett and Marc Andreessen have a debate about whether Bitcoin is a mirage (Buffett)  or "new internet" (Andreessen), I tend to believe the latter, though Buffett is in many ways a great guy that I respect hugely. In this case, it is not just, as Andreessen puts it, "the historical record of old white men crapping on a new technology they don't understand is at 100%" but that here again we see Silicon Valley intelligence at work.

Today it means hyper-intelligent systems that will spread everywhere in the domain of traditional businesses, challenging them from top to the toe. A case in point is the AirBnB, which has grown from the idea of couple of students into world largest chain of accommodation.

In last two years, I have invested considerable time and effort in Silicon Valley to understand its secret. I have come to conclusion that the incredible and continuous success of the Valley is based on seven principles at work in its ecosystems of entrepreneurs, investors, researchers and public actors:

  • Readiness and openness to go very far in exchanging information in a given ecosystem
  • Extreme care about customer experience
  • Willingness to bring in radically new and innovative solutions
  • The strong motivation of the owners which is not based on short-term thinking
  • Willingness to take genuine risks
  • Relentless focus on future, less attention to hierarchies and bureaucracies
  • An ability to enjoy success of a mutual effort.

This set of principles  actually also feeds heterogeneous systems. And indeed, over half of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs comes from foreign cultures. The question for us should be: is this something that can be repeated elsewhere? can we establish mini silicon valleys all over the world?

Look  at the Europe today: it is in fact a great hotspot of different cultures  already. Brussels, where I spend increasingly my time, has become a  great melting pot of various cultures. Of course, in most other places more should be done to allow heterogeneity, but we  are certainly not in the worst possible situation.

But when it comes to sharing the information, unchaining the barriers of hierarchies and dismantling bureaucracies, we tend to fail miserably. Failing here means the productivity of any effort is far from optimal. Immense amount of resources go down the drain as we immerse ourselves with unnecessary complexity. EU itself or any other major organization has a tendency to become extremely bureaucratic, as if it was bound to happen according to laws of nature. But the truth is that even if laws of nature says that in any given system complexity tend to increase, ours is the choice to reduce is if so happens.

Having worked some years in a German run financial giant, I think I know what I am talking about: bureaucracy and hierarchies kill initiatives more than any other means.

We should do everything to avoid this to happen. In the emerging sixth wave of development, those will be successful that have sufficient amount of resilience built in their system. Which in practice means simplicity, ability to move fast and play together.Be it Bitcoin or any other innovation, if it offers ways of being on that track, it has great chances to succeed.

So indeed future is not hazy or unclear. Future is written in the stars since it is all about understanding what drives human systems and individuals. And this knowledge we actually have already.