Theranos, FTX, Offsets, and Transformations
the walrus does not care if you are watching
There is one area where there is no Civ-Mil Divide™ - that is where smart people with silver tongues, clever ideas, and an instinct for other people's weaknesses see a way to make money and fame quick and easy.
Hard things are hard, and usually expensive - there is a desire to be a hero/visionary, and we are pre-wired to have faith and hope in intangibles, and to look for the quick and easy gain. That is why we love sweets so much; a lot a calories very quick for little effort.
This is a seductive stew that works on our brain stem instincts which in turn seduces our higher conscious to find some more lofty justifications for our enthusiasm to sate our base needs.
Cheap food, easy money, fast fame ... all the same part of our Upper Paleolithic Brain. Throw in power and the access to sex that comes with it ... and boy howdy - watch out.
How does the military find itself to DDG-1000, LCS, and the latest Transformational™, war changing™, Eleventy Offset you may read about tomorrow related to defense spending? You can start there. The same mindset is in the civilian world even more so and looking for this pattern should be at the front of your thoughts when someone wants to sell you something.
It has a pedigree going back thousands of years through tulip bulbs and alchemy...and if you get caught up in them, it never ends well.
High tech is opaque and exciting ... and can be very lucrative.
Making money the hard way is ... hard. Getting rich quick is ... exciting - just like a sugar high or a hushed whisper to you rear from a stranger after midnight.
A review of the civilian version of "Transformation" and "Offsets" over at Spiked is good reading, even if you don't follow much in the civilian business world.
Building a military that can fight and win wars is hard ... and expensive, and frankly - unsexy. It is progressing miles one step at a time ... and on occasion, a quick march, forced march, or stolen march to get a bit ahead ... but mostly a slog.
Making an honest living in the civilian sector is equally hard.
The grifters, fools, and arrogantly optimistic are always there to save you;
...the real problem in tech today isn’t so much fraud, but misdirection. ... Subsidies and grants for green tech have created a culture of perpetual demos and prototypes. A manufacturer or consortium wins a government grant, creates a proof of concept – an electric-powered plane or a carbon-capture plant, for example – but it never reaches the market. Green tech is awash with such Potemkin innovation.
Even in the private sector, failure continues to be rewarded. ‘Adam [Neumann] is a visionary leader who revolutionised the second largest asset class in the world – commercial real estate – by bringing community and brand to an industry in which neither existed before’, wrote venture capitalist Marc Andreessen earlier this year, as he bunged the WeWork founder another $350million dollars. Forgive and forget. But forget first.
None of the tech messiahs can be accused of thinking small. But they are all thinking narrowly. Most eschew the deep and difficult challenges of creating really useful synthetic hydrocarbons, for example, or better nuclear fusion and fission. Ideas that might genuinely revolutionise society tend to get left on the shelf.
Now the cheap money has dried up, the next would-be tech geniuses are starting to resemble a cargo cult, adorning a field with sticks and bunting, chasing the forlorn hope that the giant metal birds might come to visit the island once again.
Watch for this. Listen for this ... it will always be with us.
How do you avoid this?
Ask hard questions.
Demand hard data.
Walk away from personalities whose credentials are their personality.
If you find yourself surrounded by people who don't answer the hard questions, have weak or no data, and are surrounded by fanbois ... get away with your hand on your wallet and in the end, your reputation intact.