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The Culture Root for Web 2.0 and Barrack Obama

Just like how venture capitalists pick CEOs for their portfolio companies, I put 'experience' and -track record of execution'

  1. Obama excels at delivering a “great user experience” from his speeches. If you listen to him talk, it’s all about being uplifting and inspiring. The “user experience” from Obama talks is undoubtedly better than any other candidates. Though the content of his talks are not necessarily better or has more substance than others, his talks make the audience feel good. In the iGen culture, we value “a good user experience” higher than other attributes. As human beings, we are programmed to pursue uplifted and inspired mental states. In a presidential race, though voters should be looking at issues/positions/track record etc, we as human beings don’t really care about these as long as we feel good.
  2. Don’t Be Boring

    For the first time, “attention” is the rare commodity for the majority of the people in our society. Yet as individuals, we are psychologically hungry for “attention”. We register ourselves onto all different kinds of social networks and compete on the number of “virtual friends” we have. We carry mobile phones with us on a 24X7 basis, and yet, we have to set up instant messengers and Skye accounts to feel connected. Instant gratification is readily available in everywhere and yet we constantly search for the next instant gratification.

    The iGen culture hates to be bored and ignores anything that sounds boring. We have gone through so many presidential elections that yet another one is just boring. However, Obama is different. He is almost everything that a serious president candidate would have wanted to avoid in previous elections. But he is not boring and our attention goes to him.

  3. Change is More Important Than Experience (Change vs. Experience)

    The web 2.0 world has shown time and time again that “change” rather than “experience” builds success. FaceBook, MySpace, YouTube etc are all built by young and inexperienced young “kids”. Some of them didn’t even graduate from college.

    In this presidential race, there has been a battle of change vs. experience. Though it is logical to think that “strong experience” is required to be able to deliver “changes” successfully, “experience” doesn’t really matter too much in the iGen culture. If you compare the “experience” side of Obama and Hilary, Hilary clearly wins. In any other time in history, it is hard to think someone as inexperienced as Obama would be taken seriously. However, this is the culture that we value change more than experience.

  4. “You Don’t Have To Know What You Are Doing, As Long As You Have The Capability And The Willingness To Try Hard”

    “Just go ahead and do it. Figure it out along the way” is fairly common in the Web 2.0 world. The most famous example is Evan Williams, the founder of Blogger and Twitter. Evan set out to build some different software, and set up Blogger to help the team coordinating their effort in building that software. Along the way, Evan figured out that Blogger is actually more useful, and then he ditched the original idea and went for Blogger, which was eventually acquired by Google. Evan believes in this so strongly that he founded “Obvious”, with the mission to “create interesting things that matter to the world” by productizing the “stumble upon” process. Obvious is obviously successful so far. Twitter, the “third most exciting silicon valley company in 2007”, is a result of “Obvious”

    In a presidential race, this iGen culture principle applies as well. In this culture, people are more willing to take risk on “new” people and “new” ideas, overlooking the “experience” side, and without necessarily knowing exactly what the “new” stuff is. The Obama effect is a direct result of this culture characteristic.

The above list brings a natural question: weren’t these principles important in previous presidential elections? For example, wasn’t popularity important before? Wasn’t “don’t be boring” important before? For the point that experience is valued less than “change”, weren’t there examples that young, inexperienced people built success long before Web 2.0? For example, Bill Gates founded Microsoft while he was in early twenties without graduating from college. So how is this different from twenty years ago? What is different now that makes the “the iGen culture” new?

There is no doubt that a lot of the above principles were important before as well. However, the relative importance of them comparing to other factors is different. For example, during the great depression, “economy” would obviously be valued more than a candidate’s capability to “connect with people”. It took Bill Gates 16 years (Microsoft was founded in 1975) to reach a $15B market capitalization (October 1991). The iGen culture enabled FaceBook to reach a $15 billion valuation within only three years since its founding in 2004.

Would it possible for a black candidate, who is so inexperienced, to reach this rock star status in mainstream politics, in any other time in the history before? No. The Obama phenomenon happening right now at the moment of history is not accidental. It is a result of something very new in our history. Likewise, the Web 2.0 phenomenon happening right now at this particular moment is not accidental either. It couldn’t have happened a few years ago when most people were just trying to getting onto the web. Things like “connecting with people”, “popularity” and “user experience” can only become relevant until web 1.0 ushered the Web into our life. We are in a new era in our history.

What is unique about this era that enabled this era to become a new era?

  1. The Society Largely Operates In The Mode Of “Incremental Improvements” Instead Of “Breakthroughs”

    The end of the cold war eliminated the possibility of major wars. The country has been in prosperity in general. Though people showed dissatisfaction about the recent administration and are looking for changes, people are not looking for a major revolution. Instead, people are looking for ways to improve the existing ways of life, do to things “faster, better and cheaper”. In such a macro-climate, “nice to have” is getting adopted. A lot of Web 2.0 offerings are “nice to have” instead of “must have”. We can live without them, but they do make our life better. We flock to these web 2.0 offerings.

    Further, the society is in an age pursuing “incremental improvements” instead of “ground breaking innovations”. Einstein has built the relativity theory. We have been to the moon. The basic infrastructures are largely in place, ranging from the physical infrastructure such as the inter-state highway system, airports, building and bridges to the digital infrastructure such as the Internet, web, computers and broadband. Until the next major science/technology breakthrough, the society is operating in a mode of making these existing systems work better, more efficient and more cost effective. This is the foundation upon which what pundits call as “experience economy” is based. It is the “user experience” that differentiates product/services.

  2. The Society Is More Capable Of Taking Risks And Wants To Experiment With Something New

    Being the only superpower without major global war threats, and the general prosperity of the society give the population more confidence and willingness to take some risks and embrace new things. The level of willingness to embrace something new is unprecedented as shown in the Obama phenomenon that a relatively inexperienced black candidate would stimulate so much mainstream enthusiasm.

    This attitude of willingness to experiment is also clearly seen by a lot of web 2.0 companies that start with building popularity without a business model. In contrast, it was traditionally difficult to raising financing from venture capitalists unless the product/service is a “must have” and there is a solid business model for it. Nowadays VCs are fine without a business model. They know if your product/service is adopted by millions of people, there will be ways to monetize it.

    We hate getting bored, and we have the capacity to deal with failures. So we are happy to try new things, and we know it is OK if new things don’t work out.

We Are The First “Fully Connected” Society In History

The digital infrastructure gives us a lot of things at our fingertips. We have the means to get instant information as well as instant gratification. Because we are so connected and we have many options to get instant gratification, anything that sounds boring will not get our attention. The difficulty of getting attention makes each of us hungry for attention. We feel we are not connected enough. People try various means to get other people’s attention. Popularity does not only make one feel good. This connected infrastructure also enables means to cash in on popularity.

The digital infrastructure is transformational beyond technological and economical aspects. It transforms our culture, the iGen culture.

Acknowldgement: Thank Robert Bufffone for stimulating discussions around this subject.

More Stories By Coach Wei

Coach Wei is founder and CEO of Yottaa, a web performance optimization company. He is also founder and Chairman of Nexaweb, an enterprise application modernization software company. Coding, running, magic, robot, big data, speed...are among his favorite list of things (not necessarily in that order. His coding capability is really at PowerPoint level right now). Caffeine, doing something entrepreneurial and getting out of sleeping are three reasons that he gets up in the morning and gets really excited.

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