A Few Things....

May 23 2019

From Montreux, Switzerland.

1. I was recently discussing individualism and liberalism (think they are the same idea) with a few people and whether the rise of populism and overall malaise that people feel is related to how society has changed.

I think it is, and probably best first understood at a macro level and then down to a micro (individual level).

At a macro level, we have all heard about cycles - the book that brought generational cycles home for me, was one that Steve Bannon talks about a lot - The Fourth Turning. Here is the four stage cycle Strauss & Howe discussed:


The First Turning is a High, which occurs after a Crisis. During The High, institutions are strong and individualism is weak. Society is confident about where it wants to go collectively, though those outside the majoritarian center often feel stifled by the conformity.


The Second Turning is an Awakening. This is an era when institutions are attacked in the name of personal and spiritual autonomy. Just when society is reaching its high tide of public progress, people suddenly tire of social discipline and want to recapture a sense of "self-awareness", "spirituality" and "personal authenticity".


The Third Turning is an Unraveling. The mood of this era they say is in many ways the opposite of a High: Institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing. Highs come after Crises, when society wants to coalesce and build and avoid the death and destruction of the previous crisis. Unravelings come after Awakenings, when society wants to atomize and enjoy.


The Fourth Turning is a Crisis. This is an era of destruction, often involving war or revolution, in which institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation's survival. After the crisis, civic authority revives, cultural expression redirects towards community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group.

Do these sound familiar ?

On the micro front, the best ideas I have seen on where society finds itself come from David Brooks and his new book - The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life and Brene Brown and her work on vulnerability, which is best encapsulated in this famous TED talk. I listened to her recent goop podcast with Gwyneth Paltrow twice.

Brooks’ thesis is that once individuals have climbed to the top of the first mountain (external, material, worldly success), we realize that we want is actually on top of the second mountain. We want the things that are truly worth wanting, not the things other people tell us to want. He thinks true happiness involves some mixture of the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose: to a spouse and family, to a vocation, to a philosophy or faith, and to a community.

Bottom line: I think society swings like a pendulum between community and individualism. We are at the peak of individualism right now and we are all slowly understanding as Brooks discusses that individual achievements (and overall placing the individual above the whole) do not in fact lead to individual happiness or a moral & just society. That comes from vulnerability and finding meaning and purpose in something bigger than ourselves. Whatever that is for you.

2.  A lot more China news this week, I won’t bore you with the headlines. Spent some time with Kai-Fu Lee and the Tencent Ventures team this week.

Kai-Fu discussed his views on the macro impact of technology and Tencent Ventures was on how to execute on the changes in front.

I encourage you to watch Kai-Fu’s TED talk on the impact of AI on society. My big takeaway from the Tencent team was that the platforms, the innovation, the data available means Chinese start ups are operating at a different level to the ‘West’.

To really access some of the innovation & wealth creation, I am told you have to look at China venture capital (which is the same message I just heard from a Cambridge Associates MD).

3. One thing worth checking out:
A. Tim Urban (author of Wait But Why) on the Invest Like The Best podcast.

Quote I think about often:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”