People Mazes

I recently came across this @vgr tweet that got me thinking about the concept of people mazes. Every industry has its own network of who’s whos — the star entrepreneurs, the glamorous actors, the powerful executives — influential people who climbed up the ladder and now possess a certain sway over the rest of the industry. They represent the top of an unspoken hierarchy of “insiders” whose comments/actions/related gossip become chatter fodder for the rest of town. An unassuming outsider looking to “break in” navigates this hierarchy or people maze by strategically building relationships that make him more “in the know”. This is a structural pattern more apparent in other industries that I think is just as prevalent but understated in tech.

People mazes are responsible for much of the network effects of an industry hub — they are deep repositories of strategic and contextual industry knowledge that are passed along via afterwork drinks. Talented people who come to the valley to chase their ambitions experience the startup-ism “come for the tool stay for the network” and soon become intertwined with the community of “misfits” (for many this is the first time meeting people who share the same interests). In that sense, it is notably easy to enter the maze — I see many recent transplants brimming with ideas who quickly become versed with thought leaders in new trends, feisty twitter personalities and fundraising gossip. This is an inevitable shift from a focus on ideas to a focus on people because unlike idea mazes, participating in people mazes mostly only requires talking about people. People mazes are inherently status hierarchies where the currency is insider knowledge about people. Those with a birds eye view of all people, dealings and chatter in the valley thus naturally find themselves positioned in the center of the maze (which I think explains alot of attraction to VCs).

There isn't necessarily anything wrong about this. Some might prefer to strictly subscribe to the Steve Martin philosophy of "Be so good they can't ignore you" and avoid entering people mazes entirely. That being said, seeking attention from the maze can be incredibly valuable when directed to your objective. For the talented programmer from the midwest interested in starting a company, access to the Silicon Valley network can have an order of magnitude higher outcome. By mixing with the right people in SV tech circles she stands to not only gain a financial advantage via VC dollars but also a strategic / information advantage via the collective wisdom / contextual knowledge of the network. The ability to break into people mazes at will is a strong trait for any entrepreneur — especially for navigating tricky enterprise sales (esp in old school, disruptable industries), recruiting quality talent and fundraising.

It’s easy to see how participating in people mazes can become pretty intoxicating. Sharing grand visions for the future, discussing scandalously large funding rounds and tracking various "mafias" would seem far more alluring than tinkering away at nitty gritty problems. The inherent risk is when hacking on ideas becomes merely a mechanism for hacking people mazes. While navigating people mazes can be highly influential towards success, it’s important not to forget to focus on your turpentine.

“When art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.” — Picasso


What I’ve been consuming recently

The End of Fashion

How Progress Blinds People To Progress

The Lesson To Unlearn (h/t Zuhayeer)

CANDYLAND

Money Man (inspired by “La Haine”)


Personal update

reading, writing, tinkering. excited for new things!!