May 21, 2013

My New Thing: Jelly

I'm now Co-founder and CEO of Jelly Industries, Inc. A small startup based in San Francisco, California. We've not yet announced what our product will be but if you're interested in following along, feel free to visit our official blog, Jelly HQ.

Oct 1, 2011

Behold, The Financial Superentity

Economic literature often depicts markets as so dynamic that they are absent hot spots of control. Nevertheless, people have always suspected that a disproportionate amount of the world's economy is controlled by a small number of individuals. As it turns out, there is new and for the first time, empirical evidence to back up our anecdotal conspiracy theories. Thanks to the Cornell University Library, you can see The Network of Global Corporate Control.

Looking at a network of key financial actors within transnational companies, Stefania Vitali, James Glattfelder, and Stefano Battiston sorted through more than a million ownership ties to reveal a financial superentity. The diagrammed relationships show that in 2007, 147 companies controlled 40 percent of the world's global monetary value. The disproportionate ownership and close interconnectedness of so few financial titans appears, on its face, frightening.

In fact, like a common cold in kindergarten class, it seems fairly certain that if one of these players catches a virus then all of them will fall ill. However, the more optimistic flip side may also be true. The existence of this transnational superentity of immense economic value means global level change is achievable with only a small number of players. It's conceivable that seemingly impossible problems like climate change are addressable given these new facts.

While a virus might decimate the superentity, positive behavior and meaningful alignment is also more easily distributed via its interconnectedness. Today's New York Times features an article about our forests and our climate in peril. A group that controls 40 percent of global wealth could agree to a set of measures that would positively impact climate change. The only piece missing is to introduce these folks to each other. A social network might do the trick.

Sep 25, 2011

The Power of Joining Forces

Scientists who specialize in abiogenesis study how life arises from inorganic matter. These folks who study the origin of life will tell you that the "building blocks of life" are amino acids. What's amazing is that amino acids can form through natural chemical reactions that are unrelated to life. Amino acids organize into proteins which are essential to all living organisms. To put things very simply, life itself arises through the very basic act of joining forces.

The power of joining forces is on display when we examine the differences between single cell organisms and multicellular organisms. Multicellular organisms are larger in size so they are safer from predators. Differentiation of cells within the population of a multicellular organism increases its chances for survival. Another advantage of being more than just single-celled is that networks can form, complexity is permitted, and cool things happen.

When I worked alone in Boston, I was like a single cell. Jason and Evan were thousands of miles away in San Francisco. We joined forces to work on Blogger at Google—the multicellular adventure had begun. When we worked with Jack Dorsey and others, the organism grew more complex and cool things happened. Twitter was a cool thing. Twitter allows people all over the world to join forces and make amazing things happen.

A new study from the University of Washington puts forward that Twitter played a central role leading to the successful overthrow of oppressive dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. Make no mistake, people are the driving force behind positive change. However, when we work together to build tools and give them to people, then it becomes possible to positively impact millions of lives. Technology that helps people work together is the most powerful kind.

For a company called Obvious, we are admittedly enigmatic—lots of great stuff is happening but it's not easy to discern. Maybe Obvious is just a multicellular organism bent on making big ideas happen by whatever means necessary. Ev recently wrote, "We write code and write checks, make calls and make coffee, push paper and pull strings. We bring people together and help them do more than they thought possible." I'm glad we joined forces.

Maybe you're a single cell right now. If you are, you should seriously consider expanding your operation. Life is a wondrous thing and it came about because of joining forces. Twitter came about in the same way and it's being used to make even better things happen. If you can't find someone to join forces with, then join us. We've already got a pretty awesome multicellular operation going and we're interested in growing even more.

Sep 5, 2011

Cultural Neuroscience and Startups

Henry David Thoreau said, "As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives." The emerging interdisciplinary field of cultural neuroscience deals with daily social realities and how they can affect individual members of a culture—perhaps a startup culture.

At a recent World Congress on Positive Psychology Dr Richard J. Davidson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison shared research into the positive benefits of compassion and his work reminded me of the startup culture I'm so keen to encourage. Dr. Davidson effectively showed that mindfulness and compassion can enhance the prefrontal cortex—an area of our brain that helps us determine good from bad, controls our personality, and guides us toward our goals.

Previous research published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience showed devastatingly negative results both in the brain and even on organs when stressors are given to produce anxiety. So, if you work with people who are stressing you out or making you anxious then you may be hurting yourself mentally and physically. Ideally, you should work in an environment with compassion, mindfulness, respect, and good, healthy debate when it's needed.

Companies can be a vehicle for positive individual transformation. Startups have a unique ability to create a culture of compassion that helps us improve and in so doing, we are more likely to make a difference in the lives of others. It's possible to build a business, help people, and enjoy our work. How we approach our work is often as important as the work itself because the way we treat each other, our shared environment, and the way we cooperate shapes us as people.

Whatever your role is at the company you work for—whether you're an executive with many reports, or an individual contributor on a team, practicing regular, daily mindfulness and compassion will make you a healthier, more productive person. Additionally, the people you work with are going to respond better and do better work. The outcome is going to be a superior product or service, a happier user or client, and in the best case—a positive global impact.