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30-Something Tech Billionaires need to Stop Posing like Steve Jobs

And, while you are at it, please sprinkle the self-absorption with a splash of humility


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Brian Kean

3 years ago | 7 min read

Before you, dear readers, is the rant of a 50-something year old man. It is a message, let’s even call it sage advice, directed to the 30-somethings. If you will read no further, let me say now: Stop ignoring people with more life experience than you. Okay, the strategic rant begin.

Let me begin by saying, you are a rather annoying cohort of humans. I mean this, however, in a good way. So please read on and dare to hear me — maybe even learn a bit.

Just because you have invented what you think is a better way of doing something, it does not bestow upon you some enlightened state. I know you are thinking, for thousands of years they were doing it wrong and now I have invented the right way. I am super human. No, you aren’t.

Being 50-something, I can tell you that we have already thought of everything you are now discovering. Just back then when we were being you, email was still a revolution and dial-up Internet really slowed us down.

The same advice was passed on to me, however, when I was 30-something by 50-somethings. The same was said 40,000 years ago — this is just how it goes, right?

The only thing that makes us 50-somethings better and wiser than the ones that came before us (such a 30-something comment by me!) is that we have the end of the original Matrix to motivate us. You know, when Neo just flicks the bullets out of the air and explodes Mr. Smith.

We are collectively Neo. You know why? Because suddenly, as we cross the Rubicon into the beginning of a new half-century, we suddenly see all of the wrong steps taken in your life.

The map to virtually every mistake ever made has been laid out before for analysis and permits for inner-discussion. We see the mistakes you guys will make long before you have even thought of the next “revolutionary” idea.

With a lifetime of successes and failures under the belt, we see things before they happen. Everything moves in slow-motion, free from the noise that so often accompanies the thoughts and aspirations of the 30-somethings.

We also had those thoughts. The endless series of I might possibly rule the world one day. I am the next Steve Jobs. All I have to do is wear black, cross my arms at the waist and stare off into the ionosphere like I see the next great step for mankind. No one can out-think me.

Having been there before you and thought many similar thoughts, trust me when I say (but you won’t because I am not one of you) large doses of humility are oftentimes better than most drugs, fine whiskeys, and a bunch of beers.

Why Do I Write these Words?

I work with a lot of 30-somethings. They have a lot of information in their heads but lack knowledge. Sharing a common gaming culture, they feel empowered because they are united in the strength of the make-believe.

The base-concept for the industry I am in today, social virtual reality happens to be closer to gaming — for now — than it is to life, to traditional business; but only for an instant will it remain that way and then all of the traditional business practices will take it over.

What I see for the industry going forward, they can’t see because lacking any real experience, they cannot run the scenarios in their heads; they can’t see what happens when the round peg is put into the square hole in real life.

While they were still in diapers — yes, this is the ultimate, I am getting old comment! — I was checking out cows to find the best quality milk for making premium ice cream; and, yet they will tell me how to make the best ice cream possible, without cows and just ignore me — unless I yell and talk more effectively which we are capable of.

They spent their formidable year's gaming, developing the skills for social interaction via those virtual personalities. Shaped by social media, they are not very good at personal, one-on-one’s and so tend to be awkward and lost without a phone in hand, a selfie being snapped or an emoji to express their deepest feelings.

Most 30-somethings have by this point in this article told me to shut the hell up, or have stopped reading, but they shouldn’t. It is precisely their participation in reality that actually evolves us.

The way it works is quite simple — what we created before them, they add the missing pieces to it from evolution thereby advancing civilization to the next stage. I did it before them, my father did it before me and his father before him — and all the way back to the first prehistoric human who picked up that burning branch and carried it into the cave.

The 30-somethings are the age-cohort of humanity that repurposes that what was added to the evolutionary puzzle before them — they are preparing the puzzle for the next 30-somethings.

The evolutionary differences that separate me from my son won’t really be added to humanity by him until he too becomes a 30-something. Nature demands this sequence of events in order to renew the blueprint for humanity.

So, while I am often really frustrated by the naivety and carelessness of my 30-something colleagues, I also appreciate that their contribution is essential for permitting my knowledge — and contributions prior to them — to be most effectively meshed back into the whole cycle of life, like melting butter into mashed potatoes;

or, they hunt the bison and drag it into my kitchen and then I salt for preservation while also whipping up a nice pate and meat-sauce for enjoyment before the next hunt.

Stop Posing So

I was reading an article this morning about Vlad Tenev, the CEO of Robinhood in The New York Times. I saw THE photo — you know, the one described above. The Steve-Jobs-meets-Mona-Lisa moment that eventually overcomes most 30-somethings who experience any success — especially when it is tech/Silicon Valley determined.

Filled with pride, and a certainty that an unseen way to improve life has been discovered, so the world will surely flock to their doorstep, these young men and women assume the proud pose. The “I can’t believe this is really me” one.

For the record, I think Vlad’s accomplishments are awesome. I would love to have seen my ideas succeed to the extent that his have. I am not envious of him, I am proud because as I stated above, his accomplishments are in an indirect way a continuation of what we have done before but he is disregarding our evolutionary contribution to the process before him.

It is just the naivety that makes me kind of cringe because I remember my own words based solely on hubris; words that disregarded those more experienced.

The Robinhood problem that arose last week was part in parcel caused by Mr. Tenev’s not only inexperience with the nuances of trading, but, the seeming obsession the enabling VC’s and other investors have with those damn photos these guys do so well.

Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder and former CEO of Theranos, used to affect that same pose in her black turtlenecks, remember? Having spent a lot of time since 2010 in Silicon Valley meeting with these types, I grew bored fast by the over-the-top, I-am-a-genius approach to everything — literally everything.

From offices to coffee to skateboarding in airports and to investor meetings to not using vinegar in salads, everything this generation does is turned into the next-big-thing.

It often just a combination of the self-absorbed ahhh, life has me so confused by the inherent complexity that let me make it easier to the non-sustainable activities that turn everything upside for the sake of turning everything upside down.

Surely, we will soon be reading about the next great “coup” by some 30-something out there in the Bay Area who invented a better way to shampoo hair.

Having decided that the traditional way of washing hair was flawed, you know the one where you fumble around with eyes closed under the cascading water, searching for the bottle. Squeezing some into your hand, you then race it through the plummeting droplets to your head before the viscous liquid is washed down the drain.

But voila, our 30-something, ever-energized by the latest Tibetan-sourced power drink, invents a new technology permitting for hair to be washed whilst sleeping. Flush with $100 million in VC funding, the new young man or woman will surely think they are now part of an elite club of life-changing thinkers.

The thing is, the investment does not make the 30-something a genius. It does not make the 30-something somehow smarter and better than all of those who came before her. It just makes her a part of the evolutionary process. And, for a while, she will be the face of a movement and her edible shampoo tablet will lead to crazy sales making those VCs very happy with her performance.

But the sales will end. The moment will pass and evolution will scoot past her and onto the next group of 30-somethings. Crushed, or made redundant by the process of life, she will sit down and realize that really very little had in fact changed thanks to her for-a-time-being more effective, but now, outdated of washing hair.

The fact that she tried and did succeed for a while was truly remarkable and worthy of a lifetime of high-five’s, though. We need her success.

But that stupid photo with the unctuous pose is not needed; and, it will remain beyond her moment.

Take it from me, from us, the 50-somethings: Just be cool, humble, and know that while you may be amazing and truly genius, you are still just one of us.

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Brian Kean

Author and lecturer with over 20 years building brands and companies in Russia and Europe. Cook, bread-maker and concerned world citizen.


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