I’m working on a new book with Dave Jilk, my first business partner. It is titled The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche: A Book for Disruptors. We are in the home stretch (it’ll be published sometime in the second quarter), and I’m adding a little connecting tissue to the major sections this morning.
The third major section (of five) is called Free Spirits. Dave had already written the section introduction, which meant that I had 20% less writing to do this morning than I expected.
As I read through what he had written, I remembered the story of Nietzsche’s “The Three Metamorphoses,” which I’ve been using a lot lately to think about my own life. Following is an appetizer from the upcoming book.
For Nietzsche, the best human beings are what he calls free spirits. Early in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a section called “The Three Metamorphoses” describes three stages a free spirit must pass through in its full development: the camel, the lion, and the child.
The camel is a dutiful beast of burden, in a humble but not humiliating way. It is virtuous and willing to bear any difficulty to accomplish what is needed. But the camel is isolated from those who choose the comfortable and easy, leaving its spirit in a “desert.” In this desert, the camel transforms into the lion, which actively opposes tradition, taboos, and the status quo. In particular, the lion responds to the “Thou Shalt” of the world with a “Holy No.” The lion is a contrarian, an isolated iconoclast. But a spirit cannot create new values simply by saying “no” to the ways of the world. For that, it must become the child, which has a “beginner’s mind,” sees the world as play, a fresh start, as perpetual motion. The child speaks a “Holy Yes” which enables it to dictate its own will, not in reaction to the world but independently. As spiritualist Ken Wilber puts it, these transformations do not each supersede their preceding stage but rather they “transcend and include.”
It is not hard to see how this maps to disruptive entrepreneurship. The camel gets things done but is too embedded in the tasks of the moment to produce more than incremental change. The lion sees what is broken in the world and refuses to just go along, but has no way to find a truly novel path. The child frees itself of its attachments and starts fresh, enabling it to create an entirely new way of doing things that shakes an industry to its foundations.
If you are a free spirit, what stage of metamorphosis are you in: Are you a camel, a lion, or a child?
Both Amy and I had tears in our eyes after listening to Amanda Gorman yesterday. I knew America had a national poet laureate, but I didn’t know we had a national youth poet laureate. We’ve now had four; Amanda was the first.
Even if you heard her read The Hill We Climb yesterday, I encourage you to listen (and watch) again this morning. If you want to go on an intellectual exploration of it, the New York Times Lesson of the Day is Amanda Gorman and ‘The Hill We Climb.’
If, for you, like me, reading is a more powerful way to absorb or learn something, the following is the poem.
When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
The Hill We Climb
Following is an abridged email that showed up in my inbox recently that caused me to stop and think for a few minutes.
I took a look back through your posts before I crafted this email. So much of what you write about is focused on men who are succeeding, that I wonder if you are going to write something about women like Simone Biles. She is doing some pretty amazing stuff on the mat, bars, vault, and beam.
I know you support women so I feel a little bad about calling this out but am curious. Is my perspective so biased that I see fault or bias where there is none?
You did write about JOMO and that was written by a woman. But that was one post out of 10-15 that I scanned through.
And this is your personal blog so you can write about whatever you want. My concern is that you are followed by a lot of men who you could influence with your openminded approach to more than just sci-fi, investing, and health. I’ve read Snow Crash and thought it was fascinating but it’s definitely not my typical cup of tea.
Perhaps we women are not your target audience. To which I will add that it would be really helpful if you could use your platform for the good of women, not just men. Because in the end, we all win if we have a more level and equal playing field including opportunities, products, and services.
Even though I think I write in a non-gendered way and try to alternate pronouns when I sat and thought about this email the point being made rang true to me.
I have many women who are examples and role models for me. They start with my mom (Cecelia Feld) and my wife (Amy Batchelor). But there are many more that, going forward, I’ll try to incorporate into the stories and examples that I write about on this blog.
I try to live my life in a non-gender biased way. But, this note was a good reminder that it’s easy to fall into patterns that are not particularly helpful.
I’m back from a month off from blogging. Like any good vacation, I feel refreshed.
Blogging has been a daily habit for me during the week. I occasionally miss a day and take the weekends off, but the routine has been, in general, a good one for me around my writing.
Amy has an equivalent activity called “morning pages.” This is a private blog using an ancient technology where she uses a writing stylus on bound parchment. She uses it in a similar way that I use my blogging, which is to get words flowing each day, ideas out of my head, and gear up the engine for the rest of the day.
When we got to Aspen earlier this summer, I felt like my writing was stale. The daily blogging was a chore. My efforts around other writing were challenging and I found myself procrastinating on anything that I’d categorize as medium or long-form writing. Basically, I continued to crank out hundreds of emails a day, but anything proactive that was longer than a few paragraphs had become a chore.
In early July, I decided to take a month off from blogging. I did the same with writing and reading. I knew I had an intense work stretch coming and I wanted to give myself some space to get the work done without putting extra pressure on myself. So, I took a vacation from writing and reading.
I feel refreshed. I continued several of my other habits, including meditating and running, both of which are feeling great. But most importantly, I’ve been able to spend a reasonable amount of time with Amy even in the midst of the intense work. While I’m periodically not present in the moment, which elicits a “Brad, be a person” comment (or equivalent) from Amy that snaps me back to reality, the intensity of the work hasn’t overwhelmed me.
I love the Bezos Day One philosophy, so I’ll just end with it. It’s Day One again today.
I have awful handwriting.
I used to not care, but at age 53, I find myself writing on paper more than I have the past 30 years. I’ve decided that I’m going to improve my handwriting because I think it will increase my joy of writing on paper.
I’ve always rationalized that my bad handwriting comes from being the son of a doctor who has terrible handwriting, being left handed, and spending most of my time typing instead of writing on paper.
But that’s nonsense. I’m also the son of an artist who has beautiful handwriting. I’m married to a woman with delightful handwriting. I learned to type in sixth grade and have been practicing ever since in direct contrast to writing by hand, which I mostly avoid.
One of my summer projects is to improve my penpersonship (why is it called penmanship – what a silly word which apparently peaked around the 1930s.)
Handwriting is such a better word.
I started my journey with Google and quickly discovered 8 Tips to Improve Your Handwriting and How to Improve Your Handwriting in 30 Days: The Challenge.
Fortunately, that led me to a bunch of books which I bought, including:
I also bought a bunch of green Pilot G2 Retractable Premium Gel Ink Roller Ball Pens since one of the things I saw online said: “the pen is important and this is my favorite one.”
If you have suggestions for how to improve one’s handwriting, I’m all eyes (and ears, and hands …)
While I’ve been writing my entire adult life, I started writing consistently on May 4, 2004, when I began this blog with my first post To Blog or Not to Blog.
I ended that first post with the sentence:
“I’m still not sure if the world needs my musings, but because you have complete control over whether or not you decide to read this, here goes.”
WordPress tells me that since then I’ve written 4,890 posts. There are 5,095 days since May 4, 2004, so I write approximately a post a day (sometimes two, sometimes none). I’ve written hundreds of articles over the years for other publications, done countless online and live interviews, and written six books.
While that’s a lot of writing, I’ve had extended periods of being stymied. During the writing of several of my books, I had long spells of boredom, which some call writer’s block, but when I reflect on how I felt, I was bored of either the process or the content of the book. I never liked the feeling of writing as “work” and there were many periods where that’s what it has been for me.
I’ve always written to think and to learn, so I know that intellectually it is work. However, I get an enormous amount of joy out of thinking and learning, so that when I’m in a mode where one of these is happening, it doesn’t feel like work.
In 2016, Foundry Group became a registered investment advisor because of our Foundry Group Next fund (and our investments in other VC funds) which created another layer of work for me. Up to that point, my partners were fine with me posting whatever I wanted on this blog. Once we became an RIA, things changed, which I described in that post from 2016.
“… Because it will affect what we can say on the Foundry Group blog and personal blogs that we write. We’ll have to be careful with statements that we make about companies we invest in. We’ll also be cautious in what we write about our funds or the industry in general. According to the SEC rules, we can no longer write anything that “promotes” our funds. While we’d argue that we never try to promote our firm, but just write anything that comes to mind and try to have fun doing it, with our new registration status comes new responsibilities.”
This compliance process slowed me down and, for some of my writing, requires me to get approval from our compliance team to publish. This changed my rhythm a lot since I could no longer just write what was in my head about a company or a fund we were investors in. If that sounds like work, it is.
I’ve carried this around recently as frustration. I’ve allowed it to feel like work. I haven’t let my thoughts flow as much, as I’ve felt constrained. But I realized over the weekend that this feeling is artificial and unnecessary since my fundamental goal for writing is to think and to learn. If I go back to first principles from that first blog post in May of 2004. As long as my writing helps me think and learn, that’s why I do it.
Look for more “different” in my writing going forward. I’m going to let myself be less constrained, as I explore new topics that I’m playing around with. I’ll go deeper on things I am already deep in, and pay less attention to things that don’t stimulate me to think or learn. I’ve always tried to be playful and very personal in my writing, so my evolution will have more joy in it, even when talking about difficult or unhappy things. I’m thinking and learning, which is what I love to do.
For those of you who have been part of my writing journey for many years, I hope there is much more to come. I expect that will be linked to the number of days I have left on this planet, since I seem to write about one post a day, and one book a year, on average.
Regardless, the feeling of Amy patting me on the back as she reads what I’m writing over my shoulder lingers pleasantly with me all the time.
As I continue my exploration of feminist literature, I’ve become much more aware of pronoun usage.
I realized my default pronoun for writing and speaking has been male gendered. If I thought about pronoun usage in advance, I could alternate and use female gendered pronouns, but when I wasn’t paying attention, my default went back to the male pronoun.
I also noticed that much of what I read used male-gendered pronouns as a default. When referring to a specific person, pronoun usage was linked to the person, but whenever the writing referenced a non-specific person, the pronouns were usually male.
I’ve given several talks in the past few months where I consciously decided to use only female-gendered pronouns, except when referring to a specific person (where I then matched the gender of the person.) After these talks, I regularly got positive notes about this, from both women and men, thanking me for doing this.
Some of these talks were about gender issues in tech, but others were about something entirely different, so the positive reactions were instructive to me. I started mentioning this approach, including to several women I respected a lot for their views on gender issues. I specifically asked if my behavior around this was useful. All gave me a resounding yes.
So I’ve decided to try to use female-gendered pronouns as my default in writing and talking for a while and see how it goes. I’ll still occasionally use male-gendered pronouns, but by having the female as the default, I hope to have “her” appear more frequently.
All of this notwithstanding, I think it’s important to recognize that there’s an entire generation that is moving quickly past binary pronouns to epicene (or gender-neutral) pronouns. I write this way also and in lots of situations, it works well. But I’m not ready to shift to it, especially since I have a massive deficit of female-gendered pronouns in my historical writing.
As my writing progress on my two books – Startup Communities 2 and #GiveFirst – continue to equal zero and the pile of unread stuff reaches higher into the sky than the stack of turtles going all the way down, I’ve decided to try a new process thing.
I’m going have a reading and writing week starting today and going through 9/17. Any excess time I have next week will be for reading the turtle pile and working on the new books. The activities are self-reinforcing – I write better when I’m reading a lot, I can only write productively for a few hours a day, and reading refreshes me a lot for future writing.
Amy’s birthday is next week (yes – it now lasts a week instead of a day) so I’m taking the week off. We are together for every possible minute, other than when I’m running and in the bathroom, so it’s a particularly great week to try this experiment since Amy also loves to read and write.
Once the US Open is finished on Sunday, we’ll have no reason to watch TV. The books and a blank screen beckon. This will either work or not. Either way, I’ll learn something.
I took the last two weeks off from blogging. It was a nice vacation.
While I try to blog every day, I don’t have a daily ritual like Fred Wilson does. Fred and I have talked about this a few times – for him, it is meditation, discipline, and ritual. I’ll let him say it in his own words.
“But I’ve come to realize that the daily post, and its quality or lack thereof, is not really the thing. It is the ritual, the practice, the frequency, the habit, and the discipline that matters most to me.”
In the past four years, I’ve tried to move away from time-based disciplines. I realized that my obsession with time and schedule, such as waking up every morning at 5 am no matter what time zone I was in, was one of the inputs into my depressive cycles. My weekly “wall of blue” (what I refer to my calendar – and what it looks like – basically fully committed between 9 and 5 from Monday to Friday) was another.
About four years ago I started removing time-based disciplines from my life. I still have many time-based rhythms – often imposed by others – that I adhere to. Most of the business world runs on a time-based rhythm (hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually) so that’s a background that I have to operate within. However, I’ve systematically tried to eliminate as many of these self-imposed rhythms as I can.
I wake up whenever I feel like it. I try to schedule less, not more, phone calls. I try to leave an increasing amount of time unscheduled. There are long stretches of time where this is difficult, and the wall of blue takes over.
As I rolled into August, I knew I was facing an intense two weeks. I foreshadowed that in my post Total Failure at Summer Maker Mode. After writing one more post on July 31st, I gave myself permission to take a two-week vacation from blogging.
Regularly readers notice when I go off the grid for a vacation, which varies in length from a week to a month. This wasn’t a work vacation, but it was a blogging vacation. It felt good not to think about writing for two weeks as I just focused on work, running, resting, and being with Amy.
While my schedule is still pretty full, it’s not as full, and as I look forward the wall of blue has some space in it. Between that, and a nice two-week break, writing once again appeals to me.