Just this morning Christopher Carfi pointed a most excellent post on the Blogher Blog entitled, "Manifesto: I am not a brand." For those of you who have seen my live rants (aka speaking gigs), you know that one of the zinger one-liners I have delivered from time to time is: "Instead of a personal brand, why not just get a personality?" So I ran off to read Maureen Johnson's most excellent post (and wonderful rant - I so identify with her on the half-sized water bottles) right away.
I'll make you go and read it yourself, but I do want to clip a portion or two of the manifesto that struck me as "OMG yes! WTF?!! Exactly!" moments:
We can, if we group together, fight off the weenuses and hosebags who want to turn the Internet into a giant commercial.
Make stuff for the Internet that matters to you, even if it seems stupid. Do it because it’s good and feels important.
Not only does her language pull on my heartstrings (totally using the word 'weenuses' from now on), but her general outlook. And the thing about her general outlook is that it is gorgeously utopic like mine. That neverending, undying even if the crap is kicked out of it faith in the core goodness of humankind and the possibility that things CAN be made better and more people just have to believe in it and get behind it and the world will transform into a better place for all of us...cause what we are doing right now just ain't working. I mean, it looks like it's working for some and then we are promised we can all have that if we'd just get off our lazy asses and work a little harder and step on a few people to get there. And when I say "that to which we are promised", I mean some sort of luxurious life complete with high end handbags with big logos and more legroom on flights. But somebody has to sit in cattle class, eh?
Let me back up a bit here. I had a bit of a tipsy debate with a very smart person I know (who, in any case, one should never argue with sober OR tipsy, but I gave it a go) and afterwards he said the sweetest thing to me, which made me realize I was right all along:
"I enjoy your un-ending optimism.."
Because I argued that, much like Maureen, I believe there is a better way to approach the world. Why have we structured everything around ourselves to be about the almighty dollar? And why is the almighty dollar pretty consistently the reward for weenusism? For hustle? And stepping on other people? In the end, there is only so much of the almighty dollar to go around, so as I said earlier somebody has got to sit in cattle class and it isn't always the lazy arses. Quite often it's those people who are "making stuff that matters, even if it seems stupid because it feels good and important." You know, people like artists, writers, teachers, inventors (before they sell to 3M), academics, activisits, non-profit workers, small business entrepreneurs, volunteers, musicians (before they sell to Disney), open source coders, the people who serve you your triple shot latte extra hot, students, dancers, actors, yoga instructors, mechanics, etc.
Not that those of us that sit in cattle class don't want to make gobs of the almighty dollar, it's just not at the top of the priority list. And thank god for that! Because if everyone was focused on the hustle of making the almighty dollar at any cost, this world would be a lonely cesspool none of us would be particularly fond of living in. We need the people who don't prioritize the almighty dollar. Too bad we don't value them.
I've been luckier than most. I've sat in the parts of the plane with lots of legroom, been served by an in-flight sommelier, laid flat to sleep and gotten the high quality free socks on the overseas flight. It's an awesome feeling. Mostly because I know that it's rare and tomorrow I'll be flying in cattle class again and treated like a number. And I'm not saying that cattle class needs to go away or that we'd be living in a better world where we didn't have to struggle at some level. But I do wonder why the hell having an in-flight sommelier is more important than making sure nobody in the world goes to bed hungry. And I wonder where the hell the venture capital is that will fund the projects "that matter, even if they seem stupid because they are good and important".
I spent four years in SF Bay area watching all sorts of hustlers and weenuses get funded for their projects that didn't really matter, were going to be the next Google and were certainly not good or important. Many of those projects are long gone along with the VC money. I also watched as really good people working on really great projects that were good and mattered struggled to find funding. Some are still working (on the side) on those projects. Some have been hired by companies like Google and Microsoft (and believed they can incorporate their good and important ideas into the big machines). Some have seen awesome community traction and found homes to support them (like <a href="http://www.coworking.com")Coworking and VRM). And though there is a fund for social enterprise in existence, it can't handle all things that are good and important.
Our priorities are seriously off in this world. And I know that a good number of people agree with me. I would venture to say that there are enough people that agree with me that, as Maureen says, can "group together, fight off the weenuses and hosebags who want to turn the Internet into a giant commercial." The voice is growing, we just need more examples. Look, I don't have money. I'm still trying to figure out how to pay my rent next month. But there are people who do. And I believe strongly that social enterprise...or the "stuff that is good and important" is and can be profitable, too. It's just more equitable, that's all. And if it fails monetarily, well, at least there is a net gain for the world (not just a bunch of auctionable foosball tables and aeron chairs) just for the sheer existence of that project, which contributes to fighting off the lonely cesspool world we don't want to live in.
Now...only if we could find that benefactor for our startup that is about being "good and important" while I'm at it.