California is gentle and tolerant, but to me that’s the more honest route. I don’t relate at all to the notion that one should be calling others out on their bullshit. Life is far too vast and one’s personal experiences are far too narrow for me to feel comfortable with the idea that anyone has it all figured out. To suggest otherwise seems like the narcissistic route.
Perhaps, and I do sometimes worry I’ve become a bit too unhealthily preoccupied with this stuff. But just keep this in mind: the people toward whom you are adopting this highly evolved, West Coast, live-and-let-live attitude are going to be your co-workers, your boss (or trying very hard to be your boss), your peers, your social network, the people you see at Zeitgeist every weekend whether you want to or not. Their actions will affect you—particularly when you’re in the pressure cooker environment of a startup with them. I’ve seen drama go down in SF startups that would shock people who are fed a steady diet of “In SF, everyone’s shiny and happy and inventing the future and wearing amazing socks” crap by the press. I’ve seen festering interpersonal problems go unresolved and toxic people allowed to run amuck to the extent that it has done real damage to promising companies. These kinds of problems aren’t unique to SF, of course, and in some ways come with the territory in startups. But I feel like I’ve never found myself slapping my forehead and thinking “Can you believe this shit?” like I have in SF.
Besides, I think there’s actually a real value to stumbling into things wide-eyed and ignorant, unsure of who and what to believe. Jeff Veen once told me that he credits a lot of his success to not knowing what he was getting into. By the time the problems inherent in type licensing and technology became clear, Typekit had enough momentum to overcome them…More broadly, this is the reason why incumbents rarely continue to innovate. They know too much, and box themselves into predetermined modes of perception. The flip side to never saying someone is crazy is never saying they’re right.
This idea is, of course, a staple of Silicon Valley mythology going back to the 70s (Virginia Postrel makes the point very well in her essay “Resilience vs. Anticipation,” which I linked to in the previous post), and for good reason: it’s true. I’m as big a fan of this story as anyone—I absolutely devour histories of the early computer industry (John Markoff’s “What the Dormouse Said” is a great example if you’re curious) and devoutly wish I could have worked at Xerox PARC in the 1970s with one of my all-time heroes, Alan Kay. There absolutely is something to be said for the feeling of absolute potential you get living somewhere like SF or Silicon Valley—I still think of my first year living in Cupertino as one of the most magical times in my life. Just remember: that magic comes with a downside, which is basically what my previous post was about.