February 6, 2021

Being Right Doesn't Matter

One truth we all eventually have to face as we become fully formed adults (“grown-ups”) is that being right doesn’t matter. The only thing that really matters is appearances, being in the right place at the right time, and your connections.

This is an idea that has been floating around in my head for a while, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe it. To do so, I can only think in terms of storytelling so that’s what I’ll do.

Being young and dumb

When you’re young, you think you’re smart but in fact you’re actually pretty dumb. It takes a while to get wise enough to realize how dumb you are. Some people are so dumb that they can’t even recognize how incredibly stupid they are. You may look at a tree and think “wow, that tree is super dumb!”, when in fact the tree is living a very happy life and simply operating at a different timescale. I don’t know of many trees that need therapy or medication of some form.

As a young dummy, I took pride in my clever ideas and smart solutions. I believed that technology would prevail, and the best ideas always won. It was not until many years later that I learned that this was not true. It turns out it’s not the best ideas that win, but rather the best marketing.

I spent (or lost) so much time in my life trying to prove how right I was, over and over. In nearly every case, it didn’t matter, because I focused solely on the proof and being right, and never bothered to worry about the part of winning people over. In the end, you are left with nothing but your correct ideas and few friends.

I’d argue, looking back, that it’s more important to keep the friends and have bad ideas.

Beauty contests

I think I’ve written about this idea of beauty contests before, as they relate to startups or the stock market (it’s not a new idea, I’ve never had an original idea myself).

The idea pretty much applies throughout life as well. It turns out, everything is a beauty contest (at least within human society). Little else matters but the public perception of your actions, not the actual actions.

To illustrate this, I invite you to look no further than the richest man in the world and one of the Internet’s darlings, Elon Musk. Elon has mastered the art of capturing the minds of those who can’t see past capitalist propaganda. He’s incredibly gifted in his ability to sell anything to anyone. He often makes bold promises, and people quickly forget the substance but remember the man.

These days Elon is little more than a celebrity car salesman and attention seeker, who has consistently failed to deliver on his promises but thanks to his ability to captivate audiences he has managed to overcome the usual market forces. Whether this is a good or bad thing, I don’t know, I just find Elon and his extreme bullshit to be an incredible case study.

So what about it?

If I could travel back in time to advise my young self, I think I’d say nothing. In spite of this realization, the truth is that whatever steps I took before got me where I am now, and it’s not so bad.

Yes, I wish I could have done things differently. I wish I had bought more Bitcoin in the early days and held on to it. I wish I had stayed the full 4 years at Airbnb, and never met the clowns from Mesosphere/D2IQ. I wish I’d spent less money, saved more, and spent more time with friends.

Alas, humans operate on a timescale that doesn’t let us sit around, take it all in, and process it like the trees do.

© 2021 Brenden Matthews, some rights reserved.