Cultural Transparency ÷ Risk = Upward Mobility

These are just notes. Some of the links may be incomplete but the basis, I think, is strong.

Theory: The more you can find out about your culture, the more you’re capable of moving upward. This is buffered by risk, which prevents people from acting based on potential repercussions.

Huge mouthful, I know. Let’s break it down so it makes a bit more sense.

Imagine you’re a serf in a kingdom 600 years ago. You know of the king, you may even have seen him, but you have no idea how to get up there. How does someone become a king, a duke, or even a court jester? You have no idea, because this information is not available to you. You know no one that can get you anywhere close to the king so you can find out. You’re stuck.

Compare that to your favourite CEO, maybe Steve Jobs or Richard Branson. They have biographies (sometimes many of them) and Wikipedia pages. Their stories are well known. You know how they made computers or built their companies, and you know where they’re going from here based on their quarterly reports and by reading message boards like The Motley Fool.

In one case, you know nothing about how to get where you’re going. In the other, you know much more. Naturally, you are more capable of getting there. So far, so good.

This means that a transparent society is naturally a more democratic one, where you see people around you capable of doing great things so you’re more prone to want to do them yourself. But risk prevents this. It has to seem as if you’re not going to be hurting yourself for potential gain.

Here’s another interesting part of the equation. Risk is increased by debt. Since I teach people about taking risks when I do speaking events, this was a huge breakthrough for me. I picked it up from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, who we wrote about in Trust Agents and happens to be paleo. Here’s a video of him talking about it:

The argument is simple and can be explained by an easy analogy: If you have kids, that is debt in the form of future food and housing. If you have a house, that is debt in the form of future mortgage payments. Both of these decrease the chance you’ll quit your job and start your own company. Risk increases your acceptance of the status quo.

I’m unsure whether health care helps people become entrepreneurs or vice-versa. There is a huge startup culture in Silicon Valley but I’m not sure that means anything. Quebec has a huge portion of small companies contributing to its GDP but has a culture of submitting to hierarchy, so who knows. Maybe even a more collective-based culture (naturally submits to hierarchy) is also prone to giving health care, while a highly individualistic one is less so. But I know I feel safer doing many things based on the fact that my basic needs are taken care of by a support network of friends/family/government.

The reason you’d want upward mobility in the first place is because it’s the opposite of debt– it’s like putting money in the bank in the sense that your future self is (or your children are) in a better position. And this, in turn, is better because you have control over your own time, which leads to more self-actualization (hopefully).

Anyway, this is a real reason why you’d want to prevent debt and/or live in a transparent society, of which the web is a prime example. The more you can find out about everything around you, the more you’re capable of finding a good path for yourself. Btw, this is totally different from school, which IMHO rarely teaches you actual success skills and is devalued by it being the most commonly taken path.

Again, sorry if it’s not entirely making sense yet. But I’m pretty sure that, if you read this blog, you can keep up.

Comments appreciated.





14 responses to “Cultural Transparency ÷ Risk = Upward Mobility”

  1. Joey Strawn Avatar

    This is a much meatier post than some of yours in the past and I like it. I like that you are pushing not only your own boundaries, but ours as well. And also, I couldn’t agree more.

    Looking at my own life, the things that keep me from quitting my job and starting my own business are my house payments, school loans, and the knowledge that I must provide for my family. I’ve never looked at them as risks before (b/c it’s quite a harsh perception) but if there were no risk, I would do anything.

    I think that’s true for most people and risk is what makes a strong democratic society strong either intellectually or technologically. Steve Jobs and Richard Branson are successful and special because they took those risks. Those that rise to the top always do. The question boils down to where your priorities lie and which risks are worth taking in your own life.

    I by no means have the answer, but I’m glad that you are making me think about it.

  2. James D Avatar

    I have several friends that would love to start their own businesses. They aren’t claiming that they need health care to do it. The problem is that they are so saddled with debt that they can’t do it. They are hanging on to their current jobs for the security and they are miserable. I’m having dinner tonight with one of them.

    Ninety percent of the successful people I know did so avoiding debt and were out of debt before they started.

    I don’t know much about Quebec but I will tell you that the US Government’s idea of helping out small businesses is encouraging them to borrow money. It’s just so freaking stupid. I get A LOT more help reading blogs about business than my government will ever provide. It doesn’t have a clue on what it takes to run a successful company. They think it’s all about how much money you infuse into the thing. Don’t we all know better?

  3. Everett Bogue Avatar

    I think the most important element of this reality is the element of risk.

    Too many people position their lives in a way where taking a risk is impossible, I’m convinced they do this by simply buying too much before they’ve earned it. The less you have the easier it is to for the risks and have them pay off.

    Well done on this post, you could probably write an entire book on this and it would help a lot of people.

    1. Julien Avatar

      I agree, it probably would. 🙂

  4. Tamsen Avatar

    Taking the positive spin: your success is a product of your perceptiveness (your ability to recognize patterns, the gaps therein, and where you can fill them…or to see where and how new patterns are needed) and your perception (of reality, of freedom. or risk etc.).

    Risk is, in itself, a perception. And not universal. (What’s risky to you may not be risky to me and vice versa.)

  5. Duff Avatar

    How does someone become a king…

    Usually you have to be a son of the king to become a king. It has nothing to do with transparency–most people in monarchies know they cannot become king because they are not born into the royal family.

    Transparency does play some small role in upward mobility in capitalistic democracies, but I’m not sure how much. There are many who take equally intelligent and bold risks as those who are celebrated for their success. Luck, timing, and other soft factors play a significant role in addition to persistence, risk-taking/risk-management, etc.

  6. Michael Bigger Avatar

    Great Post! I agree with Ev with the book idea. The same concept can be applied to investments. Companies in debt are handcuffed. The Apple and the Amazon of the world are freer to explore many dark alleys and to experiment. Sometimes “Something Wonderful Happens”.

  7. Rufus Avatar

    Make perfect sense and also a really nifty argument for pursuing my lifestyle of living in a van down by the river! In all seriousness, personal debt is one of the most oppressive of our modern day tyrannies

    Most people buy stuff and are excited to have stuff and more and more. When I buy stuff, I think about the maintenance cost of that stuff and decide if I want to be encumbered by it. For example, if I buy a car, I am now saddled with the cost of storing it, washing it, repairing it, insuring it, moving it when it snows.. and all of that limits my mobility ability. I’m not sure how odd that makes me, but I suspect in a consumer culture, perhaps a little odd.

    I think you are onto a movement of sorts and this would make a good book. (I’d try beating you to it, but you’re already a published author, so even if you started late, you’d be published first…)

  8. Rick Avatar

    For me, changing jobs/career path last summer was a HUGE risk, and debt in all the forms you mentioned were in play to make it scarier. But I think that was a good thing, forced me to be sure of myself, to be creative about the support network I was going to need to build, and preparing me for the change and what work was needed to make it succeed. Unlike @Joey above, if there’s no risk I don’t know that I would’ve made any change. It came down to the risk of staying vs. the risk of change, and change was the best for me at the time. Still is, btw. 🙂

  9. CareerDiva Avatar

    We have such a different mindset today when it comes to risk and taking chances with our careers. I don’t know about you all, but my parents were just focused on paying the bills not finding their career bliss. They looked at work as a means to an end — the end was having a home, being able to travel, eating lavish Greek-Turkish meals and having Ouzo. They just worked hard as jobs they didn’t love to do what was the center of their lives, living a happy life.
    To them the risk was, if they didn’t work hard, their lives would get harder.
    That said, my father ran his own business but not because he saw any sort of transparency in life…it was just what he fell into doing.

    I’m not saying how they lived was right or wrong. I’m very focused today on doing what I love and not doing it for a paycheck. It’s just interesting how the conversation has changed.

  10. Erika Napoletano Avatar

    Screw school and the path most taken IM-not-so-HO. So many people never allow themselves to move upward and onward because they’ve been taught to associate risk with negativity. What about becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable? Yeah, it starts as that feeling of wanting to kick your friend’s ass for dragging you on that drop-you-from-30-stories-high-it’s-OK-you-have-a-“seatbelt”-on-ride-operated-by-a-stoned-17-year-old feeling. When you ride it enough times, you become the one instigating the pool on who’s going to throw-up their hot dog first.

    If we’re not willing to personally reassess risk and enter comfortable-being-uncomfortable, upward and onward will forever be intangibles.


  11. @studionumber9 Avatar

    i couldn’t agree more on all aspects of this post. as a matter of fact i posted this exact sentiment a few days ago:

    as a father of two and creative jack-of-all-trades i have these hurdles to contend with at every turn.

    i sold off most of my traditional big stakes belongings to take my family across country for a chance to do really cool shit. when it fizzled out, i shipped us all back across this great land and started working for myself (much to the chagrin of my significant other who comes from a more traditional school of thought).

    I’ve somehow been able to stave off the “let’s buy a house” thing and i’ll continue to as long as i can. i’ve never been one to believe what everyone else does is they way i want to live my life. it may sounds selfish, and on some level it is, but it’s also setting an example for my kids:

    don’t settle for ordinary.
    think different.
    question everything.

    as far as school goes, i’ll have to tackle that white elephant when the time comes, but i have long contended the same feelings you mention. beyond a certain establishment of the basics the current educational system encourages conformity. something i’m not comfortable with at all.

    one additional thought for those taking this advice: remember to be cognoscente of the fact that a majority of people do not think like you. this includes family members and significant others. you’ll not only have to struggle to get your footing, you’ll have to struggle to be accepted by others who are affected by your decisions.

    stand strong. this country was built by those who didn’t settle for what they were told was the way things should be. the rewards are innumerable.

  12. Dave Sohnchen Avatar

    Great post. It’s timely for me considering the fact that I’m teetering on the edge of major a transition but not sure which way to jump.

    You’re absolutely right the debt increases the risk but what also amplifies the risk for me is a wife that’s not used to taking risks herself. It’s one for me to jump but in order to fully succeed, I think she (and my two kids) needs to jump with me. Hence the teetering.

    If you do write a book on this topic, I’d definitely pick it up.

  13. urssur Avatar

    It makes sense dude, except not all debt is money and not all debt is preventive of entrepreneurial success.

    I find most people are far more likely to work hard to repay a debt taken for business than they are to work hard to multiply the cash they already have.

    In Romania for instance you cannot expect much help from government and most of your peers are in a situation that they cannot provide you with significant financial aid, however this is not an impediment . Due to the lack of support, there are many opportunities for businesses ready to decrease the risk associated with starting a business, or making other people’s lives a little bit better either by providing information or leveraging the highly educated and under-payed workforce.

    Love your articles 😉

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