Soft Knowledge

The STEM era is over.

For twenty years we’ve experienced the denigration of the liberal arts. For twenty years we’ve been ruled by tech. For twenty years it’s been about entrepreneurship.

Now it’s about thinking. About concepts. About ideas. Not changing the world with products, but analysis and influence.

You can’t compete with the billionaires, the opportunities are too few, and if you gain any traction they’ll squash you or acquire you. As for going to Silicon Valley to strike gold, you can’t even afford an apartment, you’re better off staying home and posting on the internet.

That’s right, we live in a world of art. Of photos. Of essays. Of words. They drive our culture, but the observers and prognosticators can only see the hate, the tumult, the cacophony, they don’t realize underneath it all is power.

Like Breitbart. Or InfoWars. Credit their creators with understanding the new game. They’ve brought Facebook to its knees. They’ve flummoxed Twitter. That’s the power of words.

The left wing reacts, the right wing pushes forward. The left wing thinks MSNBC can conquer Fox, when the truth is the next battle will be fought online. Not with fake news so much as the appeal to millennials.

Most of whom are just trying to get along.

Yes, it’s a different world from that of their parents, the baby boomers who got to protest and play simultaneously, who didn’t have to worry about careers for years, who didn’t have to get serious about money until the eighties. Today’s college graduates are so worried about falling behind that they buy insurance, they go to work for the bank, for the consulting firm, not aware that they’re instantly neutering themselves. Money is so last century. Sure, money has influence, but not as much as people.

I know, I know, this is heretical, but this is true.

The last twenty years were about tech. But when is the last time you were excited about a new app, even a new hardware product? It’s all about refinement these days.

Before that it was music. Music does not drive the culture today because the makers don’t understand its power. You’re supposed to be a reaction to what is, not glom on to it. You’re supposed to give the middle finger to the man, not be co-opted by him. You’re supposed to challenge the listener, not comfort him or her.

And now it’s all about politics. All Trump, all the time.

But it’s also about Bernie, it’s also about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

And that’s where ideas come in.

An individual can topple the enterprise, assuming he or she stands up to it.

So now is the time to study art, to read books, to learn how to write, how to shoot photographs, how to tell a story. It’s how Netflix won and the established players are scrambling. Fox sold to Disney which is years behind Netflix and HBO sold to AT&T and you cannot win in the future from inside the old enterprise, revolution is key, a blank slate is key.

Music will be healthy again when acts stop chasing trends. It doesn’t matter whether it’s acoustic instruments or iPads, it’s about confronting people with the unexpected and having them make a choice. Kraftwerk sounded like nothing on the radio, but it spurned a whole genre of music. Same deal with the original rap songs, “The Message” inspired a zillion other acts.

History repeats, but never in the same way. So maybe it doesn’t happen on the radio, maybe it doesn’t involve the major label. Reinvention and exploration are always anathema to the established player.

So turn off “Shark Tank.” Stop listening to “How I Built This.” Start reading, learn how to think, know that inspiration comes when you least expect it and when you act on it you can change the world.

Assuming you’re willing to walk into the wilderness to begin with.

Most people aren’t, they want a safety net.

But there’s no VC for ideas.

You can change the world.

If only you look inside, not outside, realize you need no help other than yourself. If you study the great thinkers and writers of the past. If you know you need nothing other than a keyboard and a connection to the internet.


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