Narrative busters

There are all sorts of narratives across all sorts of domains and topics that so many believe to be true for some reason but are more than likely false to a varying degree if one were to go on a truth seeking pursuit. For instance, it would be reasonable to think productivity in the US must be at generational peak or that people are changing jobs more than ever or that small business or startup formation is rapidly increasing. But, all of those narratives are false. In techopia, we would think that all the successful founders happen to be so young and tend to be college drop outs. But, that too isn’t true. The average age of a successful founder is 45.

Generally speaking, we come up with these narratives by observing something, coming up with a descriptive framework to make sense of it and conceiving an abstracted version of that to conjure up an axiom or principle. We boil down a complex reality to a function of observable variables. Such descriptive theories, like superstitions, are heuristics to deal with uncertainty.

I see this time and time again in tech when it comes to making sense of product and company successes. Investors, journalists and pundits do this the most because they get to observe lots of companies and products over time. This gives a very distorted view of things to outsiders who have no clue how things work in tech and insiders whose day to day work and interests don’t involve questioning the narratives they get exposed to.

A day doesn’t go by where I don’t see someone pontificate about why the products they built, invested in or advised got traction and won in a market. While this isn’t a problem in and of itself, it is a problem when the loudest proponents tend to be those that have worked on a very specific set and kind of products in a handful of generational companies whose initial success predominantly predicated on explosive growth and behavioral adoption by millions of people. There is a strong correlation amongst sensationalism of a young founders & PMs, unpredictable explosion of social products and misguided inspiration & lessons drawn from success stories.

I highly doubt that the same set of people who go around advising others would produce explosive consumer products repeatedly in varying environments. I have followed tech enough to know that that is true for almost all the people who keep pushing their descriptive theories as something that’s prescriptive and predictive frameworks. I don’t think it’s healthy to not have self awareness in the ecosystem.