I have a very simplified understanding of how humans create culture. Basically, we have three levers to pull: we make tools, stories, and decisions.
We make tools to interact with and manipulate our world. We make stories to influence and inform other people. And we make decisions to deal with the inevitability of time. These levers are not completely independent — they greatly affect each other. Cumulatively and eventually, though, that’s how we get to the future.
When I moved to San Francisco in 2008, I fell in love with the sense of possibility. The open minds and optimism were infectious. The financial crisis had scared everyone, but here it still felt like anything could happen (in a good way). As everyone else has remarked, things have changed in the past few years.
For me, the worst part of that change hasn’t been the housing prices. The biggest loss was forgetting that we have three levers. The gravity of the big money meant we all got sucked into one story: tools rule, software eats the world, unicorn or bust, etc. That’s fine. I have a lot of friends who are tech booming. But it’s kind of boring.
My faith in this town was restored this week, though. Two conferences — Alexis Madrigal’s Real Future Fair and Tim O’Reilly’s Next:Economy — bucked the trend. They were both relatively small and intimate, but all the attendees and discussions were first class. They both felt like a perfectly executed surprise party — somehow attracting A+ people without the throngs of tech wannabes.
Concurrently, two articles on Medium — Yancey Strickler’s Resist and Thrive and David Heinemeier Hansson’s Reconsider — talked about non-unicorn business journeys. Overly idealistic? Maybe. But at least they’re trying to be different. We need way more of that.