On Thursday, September 21, 2017, the headline of the New York Times Business Day read "The Start-Up Slump Is a Drag on the Economy. Maybe Big Business Is to Blame." With new firm creation at over a 30-year low, here is what dirty hippies can teach us about revitalizing the American economy.
Timothy Leary 101: Intro to Turning On, Tuning In, Dropping Out
Leary wanted people to activate their neural equipment (turn on), interact harmoniously with their environments (tune in), and become self-reliant (drop out). In order to revitalize the American economy, people need to turn on their brains, observe problems in their communities, then launch entrepreneurial ventures to solve these problems.
Luckily, generation Z seems to be getting this message, and universities are priming them to drop out of the corporate system, similar to how Leary promoted psychedelic experimentation among his graduate students. Hackathons, accelerators, and entrepreneurship curriculums are catching fire across the country. The kids are apparently eating up the doses their professors are supplying.
Now that we know there is hope for the future, lets proceed to some more advanced courses.
Ken Kesey 201: Get Out on the Ground,
Prior to a 1964 book launch, Kesey and his buddies, the Merry Pranksters, took a trip across the country in a bus called Further, attempting to create art out of everyday life. Similarly, entrepreneurs must create solutions out of everyday problems.
After the trip, Kesey claimed that "the sense of communication in this country has damn near atrophied. But we found as we went along it got easier to make contact with people." If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to gain an intimate understanding of your customers and the problems they face. Communication is critical when you are performing customer discovery research, providing customer service, or making cold calls to sell your product. Stay persistent and persevere.
Basic takeaways- pound the pavement, keep your eyes open, and talk to people.
Grateful Dead 301: Develop a Loyal Following and Build an Ecosystem
When the Merry Pranksters returned from NYC, they threw a series of parties in the Bay Area, known as the Acid Tests. Who provided the entertainment for these parties? You guessed it- the Grateful Dead.
Pioneering the jam band world, the Grateful Dead invented a fusion of music styles that rapidly developed a cult-like following. Their following was so loyal that they broke the traditional record-sales and radio-play business models, by selling out shows, while allowing live recordings to spread freely. Loyal customer bases provide recurring revenue, and it is always smart to reward your early adopters and evangelists.
Over the course of decades, Dead Heads followed these innovators on tour, financing their trips by selling goods and services on Shakedown Street. Unicorns, startups with over billion-dollar valuations, often facilitate ecosystems, similar to Shakedown Street. Consider AirBnB and Uber. These companies provide platforms that facilitate transactions among users. Furthermore, they act with disregard to established industry models and regulations, forcing institutions to bend to their wills.
Steward Brand 401: Open Your Eyes to the Whole Earth
According to The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, "Brand was sitting on his gravelly rooftop in San Fransisco’s north Beach enjoying the effects of 100 micrograms of LSD. Staring at the skyline, he ruminated on something that Buckminster Fuller had said: our perception that the world is flat and stretches indefinitely, rather than round and small, is because we have never seen it from outer space." in order to "promote big-picture thinking, empathy for all the earth’s inhabitants, and a sense of connectedness;" Brand "resolved to convince NASA" to take a picture of the whole earth.
He produced hundreds of buttons, launched a campaign at UC Berkeley, and his story was picked up by the San Fransisco Chronicle. Eventually, NASA complied, taking a picture of Earth in 1967, which would serve as the cover image for the Whole Earth Catalog, Brand’s subsequent venture.
Functioning as an "evaluation and access device," the Whole Earth Catalog provided access to tools promoting independent education and a do-it-yourself mentality, facilitating hacker culture. In a 2005 Stanford Commencement speech, Steve Jobs compared the publication to an early Google. The Whole Earth Catalog was essentially a predecessor to search engines, blogs, and affiliate marketing mechanisms.
What have we learned from this? Look globally, promote interconnectedness/independent thinking, and rally the troops around the cause.
Capstone: Create a Culture
Now, get out in the world, and get to work. Be part of something bigger than yourself, a cultural revolution to revitalize the American economy through startup ecosystems. Maybe one day people will write about you.
- New York Times Article
- Wikipedia- Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out
- Wikipedia- Ken Kesey
- Wikipedia- Grateful Dead
- Wikipedia- Whole Earth Catalog