I’ve been struggling to concentrate this last week, teeter-tottering between feeling like shit as I refreshed my news feeds in the hopes that anything would change (nope, just more bad news) and feeling like shit for not being able to manage myself better. The time that passed was objectively a week, but it simultaneously felt like a month (so much happening!) and a single day (it’s all the same!). And this inability to grasp time wore on my ability to make decisions. How do I properly forecast in this new environment? How do I properly ring fence the implications for my family and friends, our community, our portfolio companies, myself? Will this be another 6 weeks or 18 months?
I don’t have an answer, but I really appreciated reading this edition of “Why is this interesting?” from Noah Brier. He explores our emotional experience of time, and presents a theory as to why it feels fast and slow all at the same time. I found it helpful to re-orient myself. Still crazy, but it makes a bit more sense.
And then I dug up some of my old writing from last July, where I explored our perception of the time it takes for things to change. (Also, another h/t to “Why is this interesting?”, y’all should subscribe to their newsletter.) I list out a few factors that could lead to a “seismic shift” and I never even thought to call out a black swan event. Ah! What a different world it was then. I’m such a blissfully ignorant millennial. But maybe now I’ll finally read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan.
(That said, I still agree with my conclusion.)
From July 2019:
It often feels to me like our world is on the cusp of a seismic shift, with the upcoming 2020 elections, with the growing nationalism, tribalism around the world, with climate change, with transformational technology like AI. But maybe not: in Bloomberg’s “5 Things to Start Your Day”, the author shared this take on how we often overestimate these inflection points:
Yesterday Tracy Alloway and I interviewed Philip E. Tetlock, an expert on forecasting and making predictions, for an upcoming episode of our podcast. […] Tetlock said people make a common error of overestimating the frequency of “inflection points” in whatever they’re studying. So for example, geopolitical forecasters are likely to overstate the odds of an imminent regime change or coup in any given country, despite those events being extremely rare. […] Anyway, I was thinking about this with respect to the market and the economy right now. The post-crisis era has been characterized by an exceptionally long, stable period of moderate growth and cool inflation. […] Right now we’re in a period where people are starting to wonder if this is coming to an end. The fact that the Fed might ease policy is one reason they’re anxious. The surge in negative-yielding sovereign debt is another. The trade war is also a huge wild card. And yet on the flipside, if you look at Friday’s jobs report, with 224,000 jobs created and wage growth failing to accelerate, it certainly looks like the stable and cool economy remains with us. While there are all kinds of crosswinds and headline risk and everything else at the moment, perhaps people should be open to the idea that really not much has changed from what we’ve seen virtually non-stop since 2009.
In other words, things perhaps change much slower than we perceive, and we’re more likely to be in the middle of any cycle at any given point of time. It was a reminder to me that real change takes time. Perhaps if more of our society accepted this slow-moving reality, we would be more willing to vote for and invest in long-term, multidimensional solutions. It was also a reminder of the long journey for changemakers and their organizations — it’s not just one election cycle or funding round or another year of operations that will get us to the world we wish to see. And funding mechanisms like venture philanthropy are a critical piece of supporting these efforts.