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Marc Andreessen on Why Optimism Is Safest Bet

Marc Andreessen on Why Optimism Is Safest Bet NYMag


I think it’s fantastic. For example, I think there’s sort of two Silicon Valleys right now. There’s the Silicon Valley of the people who were here during the 2000 crash, and there’s the Silicon Valley of the people who weren’t, and the psychology is actually totally different. Those of us who were here in 2000 have, like, scar tissue, because shit went wrong and it sucked.

You came to Silicon Valley in 1994. What was it like?

It was dead. Dead in the water. There had been this PC boom in the ’80s, and it was gigantic—that was Apple and Intel and Microsoft up in Seattle. And then the American economic recession hit—in ’88, ’89—and that was on the heels of the rapid ten-year rise of Japan. Silicon Valley had had this sort of brief shining moment, but Japan was going to take over everything. And that’s when the American economy went straight into a ditch. You’d pick up the newspaper, and it was just endless misery and woe. Technology in the U.S. is dead; economic growth in the U.S. is dead. All of the American kids were Gen-X slackers2—no ambition, never going to do anything.

What did you do?

I just went to college. I did my thing. I came out here in ’94, and Silicon Valley was in hibernation. In high school, I actually thought I was going to have to learn Japanese to work in technology. My big feeling was I just missed it, I missed the whole thing. It had happened in the ’80s, and I got here too late. But then, I’m maybe the most optimistic person I know. I mean, I’m incredibly optimistic. I’m optimistic arguably to a fault, especially in terms of new ideas. My presumptive tendency, when I’m presented with a new idea, is not to ask, “Is it going to work?” It’s, “Well, what if it does work?”

That stance is something I work very hard to maintain, because it’s very easy to slip into the other mode. I remember when eBay came along,3 and I thought, No fucking way. A fucking flea market? How much crap is there in people’s garages? And who would want all that crap? But that was not the relevant question. The eBay guys and the people who invested early, they said, “Let’s forget whether it’ll work or not. What if it does work?” If it does work, then you’ve got a global trading platform for the first time in the world, you’ve got liquidity for products of all kinds, you’re going to have true price discovery.

But clearly you don’t think everything’s going to work.

No. But there are people who are wired to be skeptics and there are people who are wired to be optimists. And I can tell you, at least from the last 20 years, if you bet on the side of the optimists, generally you’re right. 

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Also, he's not a billionaire.

Last night, you tweeted something to the effect of, “The problem with being a billionaire is that no one ever tells you when your dumb ideas are dumb.” Was that autobiographical? I mean, is this something you worry about?

I’m not a billionaire! That’s why I found it so entertaining. Everybody immediately thought I was talking about myself.

But you are in a circle where if I worked for you, I’d be scared to tell you that your dumb idea was dumb.

The problem that I was tweeting about is the billionaires don’t understand that it’s happening to them. They’re the last to know. Because they don’t feel like anything’s changed. They just feel like, I’m who I was before, I’m going around, I’m doing my thing. And it’s very rare that they actually stop and think, Everybody’s nicer to me than they were ten years ago. By the way, this is not limited to billionaires. This applies to presidents, senators, congressmen, mayors, anybody who gets in a position of power.

So how do you, Marc Andreessen, make sure that you are hearing honest feedback?

Every morning, I wake up and several dozen people have explained to me in detail how I’m an idiot on Twitter, which is actually fairly helpful.

Getting called an idiot does not necessarily mean you're getting honest feedback.

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