Optimism versus Cynicism

Growing up in Canada, was overall a great experience. One that I am very grateful and thankful for. But the pull of Asia and then the United States was always there, which was why I left home the minute I graduated from university. First adventuring across Europe, then living in Taiwan for 2 years before finally landing in San Francisco.

I literally joke about being the luckiest man on earth on arriving in Silicon Valley during the near start of a 20+ year boom cycle. How often does a guy land in the nexus of where the world was going from a business and cultural perspective. One of the main reasons for this boom in the SF Bay Area was the high concentration of ambitious and optimistic people in one place. Growing up in Canada, ambition was something that was frowned on so you kept quiet and if you had success, it was begrudged by folks around you.

My view is that it is a leftover remnant from the now schlerotic British colonial culture. And you see something similar in Australia, New Zealand and other former British colonies. Ie. Tall Poppy Syndrome, if you stick out too much, you get your head cut off. It’s especially virulent in the United Kingdom. There are also versions of this in Japan, Germany, France, Ukraine or Russia. An intense skepticism, even cynicism steeped in conservatism. This is also one of the reasons I suspect those startup ecosystems have taken so long to get to critical mass. It takes a strong willed individual to build something when everyone around you is questioning and criticizing you. I have so much respect for founders in those countries.

Techcrunch journalist Danny Crichton wrote:

“Nothing got built by cynicism. “You can’t do it!” has never created a company, except perhaps to trigger a founder to start something in revolt at the fusillade of negativity.

It takes time though to build. It takes time to take an early product and grow it. It takes time to build a startup ecosystem and expand it into something self-sustaining. Perhaps most importantly, it takes extraordinary effort and hard work, and not just from singular individuals but a whole team and community of people to succeed. The future is malleable — and bets do pay off. So we all need to stop asking what’s the problem and pointing out flaws, and perhaps ask, what future are we building toward? What’s the bet I’m willing to back?”

(Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/12/29/startup-cynicism)

I’ve written before on the importance of culture in a country, in an organization and in an ecosystem. I’m not saying this cynicism does not exist in the United States or in Silicon Valley but it exists in much smaller pockets. Because of my relatively long experience and large data sample from looking at so many deals, it’s very easy to become jaded. I’ve worked hard at having a more balanced view. You need to look at what could go wrong but also imagine what would happen if things go right. Ie. understanding both the downside and upside.

I’ve had to unlearn many negative thoughts that come to mind when I hear a startup idea or meet startup founders. Or even in how I interpret life situations. There is little downside to being more optimistic in life albeit I should note, this should NOT be a blind & naive optimism that ignores reality and data.

Having said that, a more positive attitude has served me well and I believe it does for most people. We can all do with more doses of optimism & positivity in our lives. You should give people energy, not take it away. You have a choice, so choose Optimism!

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Ever curious: Tsundoku, Reader, Aspiring Shokunin, World traveller, Investor & Tech/Media exec interested in almost everything! www.marvinliao.com