Public and Open Debate is the Highest Form of Democracy (and Blogging)

Posted on Mar 13, 2010 | 66 comments


tony blair parliamentary debate

I lived in the UK for nearly a decade.  I loved my experience there and wish I got back more often now.  As a political junkie one of my favorite things to do was to watch Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).   If you’ve never seen PMQ, it’s worth worth 2 minutes to watch this short video of Gordon Brown debating David Cameron and then check out the Wikipedia link I previous provided.  I wish US politicians had to go through these kinds of public debates.

Somehow we’ve lost that ability to have real and meaningful debates in this country.  At the presidential level we have them every four years and even then it’s so controlled and contrived.  In my mind public debate is the highest form of democracy.  It proves that you really have freedom of speech.  And there is relationship between public debating and blogging.  Let me explain.

I started blogging in 2005 and then re-started blogging about a year ago.  It’s a great experiment for me.  I love learning first hand about the differences in analytics platforms, social media conversions, the effectiveness of copy, how to cultivate an audience, etc.  Mostly it’s been one huge creative outlet for me.  I’m loving it and would encourage more people to consider trying it.  You can start in a lightweight, community friendly way like on Tumblr or Posterous without much effort.

The most important experience I have in blogging is the debate it encourages.  I’ve always believed that you learn a great deal when you’re presenting, teaching or writing about what you know.  It’s not only the “consumer” of this information who learns, the “producer” also does.  Part of the reason I always found presenting to people so compelling is that it forced me to put into writing (a PowerPoint deck) what I thought I knew about a topic.  This is a process I call “consolidating your knowledge.”  You have all of this implicit knowledge in your head but you only draw interesting conclusions when you’re forced to put structure around it and define what your belief system is.  7 years ago when I used to publicly present what we learned at BuildOnline, team members would come up to me afterward and say, “Wow, we really have learned at lot.  I knew everything you presented but I didn’t realize just how much I knew.”  So true.

So it goes with blogging.  I have learned lots of lessons over the past 20 years about technology, entrepreneurship and investments.  My points-of-view are not always right and at best nearly all of them are subjective.  I like to put them out into the ether and test their validity.  Several times a week I offer conjecture and get instant feedback about how others feel.  Sometimes it’s in the form of user numbers.  If I write about something that isn’t compelling I can see it in the unique reader numbers.  But I can also measure it in retweets, facebook shares and comments.  People who like what you say are much more likely to hit the Tweetmeme Retweet button to tell other people (I always appreciate that).  And they tell me in private emails saying that I made good points or that I’m full of shite.  Friends and random people alike.

After every post I’m willing to defend my points-of-view in the comments and willing to cede where people make points I hadn’t considered.  The net result of my posts plus the comments forms a tighter view of my evolving belief system.  An example of this was when I wrote the “App is Crap” post arguing that mobile apps were the best form of mobile interactions available today but that in the long-run if mobile apps “win” over mobile browsing it’s a net negative for our industry.  I was willing to state a controversial point of view.  Every now and again I get personal attacks or people saying that I choose controversy for “link bait.”  Frankly, that’s just stupid.  This isn’t my day job, it’s my hobby.  If I had link bait with stupid ideas then entrepreneurs wouldn’t want to work with me.  I’d rather have smaller readership and better ideas.

But the reality is that most “conventional wisdom” is a bit like Hollywood films.  Conventional wisdom is often a bit lazy it reaches the masses of audience that are often not as informed on issues as those that live on the inside of companies and industries.  When you hear conventional wisdom you should always stop to ask yourself, “why is this view held by so many and how did it become so?  And how do I really think independently about this issue.”

If Hollywood = conventional wisdom, I’ll take “indie films” or foreign films any day of the week.  They make you think harder.  The world isn’t “all good” or “all bad” as it is in Hollywood films.  Life is complex. Apple has great products and occasionally bad motives driven by profit maximization.  I don’t blame them for this – I’m a capitalist.  But I think it’s fair to point out when I believe that the profit motive is a net negative for startups or for our industry.  Think Hulu is done by the studios for all good reasons?  Think it’s purely evil to fend off competition?  The answer is obviously neither or both.  Venture capital is neither “evil” nor benevolent.

Anyway, this seems to be turning more into an essay than a tightly knit topical point of view.  But I’m enjoying it and if you’re not then by now you’re probably no longer reading ;-)  My main objective in this post was to discuss the nature of debating.  I’ve stopped debating politics with most people because I find it too often turns into a debate about whether the Yankees or the Red Sox are better.  People get dug in on supporting their “team” (read: political party) rather than dissecting an idea and trying to learn.

My favorite person I used to love to debate was Bill Eggers (brother of the now famous Dave Eggers, who incidentally is one of my favorite modern writers), my college fraternity brother and former roommate.  He was a fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an important conservative thinker.  For what it’s worth I’m a socially (very) liberal, fiscally-moderate libertarian that isn’t easily defined by the party system.  When Bill and I debated topics it was never personal.  Where I made points that I thought were well argued, it solidified my thinking.  Where he made good points and I could no longer defend my own views, I changed my view.  I grew up in a household of Democrats.  It is my discussions with Bill that made me realize I’m more of a Libertarian.

So it goes on my blog.  Yesterday I wrote about a controversial topic that bothered me.  In attacking “fail fast” I wasn’t trying to say the “lean startup” movement was wrong.  It’s not.  I just think that people in Silicon Valley have gotten carried away and taken some of the precepts a bit too seriously.  I made my point a bit too sarcastically, which probably doesn’t help the debate.  It’s just my writing style.

I was delighted that so many people agreed that the fail fast mantra had gone too far and thanked me for saying out loud what they were privately thinking.  I was impressed by the professionalism of 99% of the people who disagreed with me.  I personally got a lot out of the debate.  I moved my thinking a bit and got to explore why people who didn’t agree with me feel so attached to the word “failure.”  I haven’t changed my opinion but I understand their view better.  I enjoyed it.  I never delete comments that disagree with me and I never take it personally even when the comments are harsh (the only comment I’ve ever deleted was anti-Semitic).

So please continue to debate important topics.  Please don’t be offended if I make an assertion against a belief system that you hold – I’m not attacking you.  And please feel free to tell me when you think what I’ve said is bollocks.  That’s how I learn, to0.  And the beauty of the debate is that others can read both sides of the argument and start to form their own educated points-of-view.  I would far rather step a little bit too far over the line than write politically correct posts or be a wallflower.  The worst insult when I lived in England was to be called “boring.”  That stuck with me.

Thank you for being a part of this community.

  • http://www.tnl.net TNLNYC

    First of all, thanks a lot for what seems to be a never-ending streak of amazing posts (I'm in awe).

    I wanted to also chime in about an amazing experience I had when the Republican convention was in New York city during the 2004 presidential election cycle. Being a strong first amendment believer, I had volunteered as an ACLU monitor for a lot of the protest movements at the time. On the Wednesday night of the convention, I saw what was the most amazing display of democracy I have ever experienced: a group of people who were attending the convention (and therefore republicans) went down to Union Square, where a lot of protesters or anti-republican people would gather, with a simple premise: to be willing to debate anyone there on anything for as long as possible this evening. What ensued was 4 different clusters, each with one of those republicans in the middle, and an evening-wide debate on matters as wide as 9/11, the war in Iraq, freedom of expression, republican tax cuts, etc… While the positions were tense, and initially many of the protestors were trying to shout the republicans down, eventually the night turn to honest debate between people from different sides of political spectrum, expressing different positions and trying to convince the other. It was amazing.

    I do fear, however, that such thing is much more difficult to attain in the virtual world. Our communities tend to be more polarized and it is often difficult to find people willing to cross from one side of the political blog spectrum to the other. At the same time, the reduction of speech to 140 characters seems to lower the potential for discussion, in general.

    Keep up the good work and definitely don't hesitate to stake out interesting positions.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you. That's a great story. Yes, sometimes the online medium makes the debate more difficult because people are usually more polite face-to-face. It seems to be even worse on TV. I can barely watch it any more. I love watching Shields & Brooks on The News Hour every Friday. Civil debates on topics. And usually you get that from the roundtable discussions on the political shows on Sunday mornings. Unless they invite politicians or deep partisans.

  • http://blog.ginsudo.com ginsu

    Some people hold beliefs in areas that might seem to be emotionally neutral – like business, medicine or astronomy – and invest their lives so fully with those beliefs that reasoned debate becomes very difficult. The beliefs become political, they become religious.

    Happens to bloggers all the time: You express a rational, well-reasoned point of view, and step into a big pile of other people's emotional baggage. Don't let it throw you off your game – I enjoy your writing and hope you don't get “boring.”

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks. And I agree with your comments.

  • garymwatson

    Interesting — I lived in England for 9 years; been back for 6. Co-founded my company in the UK which has expanded to and is now based in the USA.

  • http://www.tnl.net TNLNYC

    First of all, thanks a lot for what seems to be a never-ending streak of amazing posts (I'm in awe).

    I wanted to also chime in about an amazing experience I had when the Republican convention was in New York city during the 2004 presidential election cycle. Being a strong first amendment believer, I had volunteered as an ACLU monitor for a lot of the protest movements at the time. On the Wednesday night of the convention, I saw what was the most amazing display of democracy I have ever experienced: a group of people who were attending the convention (and therefore republicans) went down to Union Square, where a lot of protesters or anti-republican people would gather, with a simple premise: to be willing to debate anyone there on anything for as long as possible this evening. What ensued was 4 different clusters, each with one of those republicans in the middle, and an evening-wide debate on matters as wide as 9/11, the war in Iraq, freedom of expression, republican tax cuts, etc… While the positions were tense, and initially many of the protestors were trying to shout the republicans down, eventually the night turn to honest debate between people from different sides of political spectrum, expressing different positions and trying to convince the other. It was amazing.

    I do fear, however, that such thing is much more difficult to attain in the virtual world. Our communities tend to be more polarized and it is often difficult to find people willing to cross from one side of the political blog spectrum to the other. At the same time, the reduction of speech to 140 characters seems to lower the potential for discussion, in general.

    Keep up the good work and definitely don't hesitate to stake out interesting positions.

  • Hazzard

    Mark,

    Well put. Debate is a beautiful thing whether it's political or within a startup deciding whether to pivot or not… I believe it really causes one to focus and refine their opinions/ideas and leads to a better outcome.

    Regardless of one's political beliefs though, from a purely politics-oriented view, I think many times people forget the rules of the game (at least how it was intended to work in the US). One can be pro-life or pro-choice and argue that point until they're blue in the face, but chances are they're not converting anyone. Yet, on a constitutional level that doesn't change the fact that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. Abortion may be “right” or “wrong”, but that's not the issue, it's whether it was decided in a fashion consistent with the Constitution or not. Were it not decided the way it was, it wouldn't be an issue, each state would decide one way or another whether to allow it or not. The situation we're in now with regard to that issue tends to elect a lot of buffoons that vote one way or another on the issue consistent with their constituents beliefs, but the buffoon may be completely ignorant as to any other issue that affects one's district.

    Debate is key in startups, but in politics it can be really hit or miss, for they regularly intentionally obfuscate the point being discussed. I fear it's really a lost art form, debate, the most recent example I've seen of good debate, at least economically was Milton Friedman's Free to Choose on PBS back in 1980…

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you. That's a great story. Yes, sometimes the online medium makes the debate more difficult because people are usually more polite face-to-face. It seems to be even worse on TV. I can barely watch it any more. I love watching Shields & Brooks on The News Hour every Friday. Civil debates on topics. And usually you get that from the roundtable discussions on the political shows on Sunday mornings. Unless they invite politicians or deep partisans.

  • http://blog.ginsudo.com ginsu

    Some people hold beliefs in areas that might seem to be emotionally neutral – like business, medicine or astronomy – and invest their lives so fully with those beliefs that reasoned debate becomes very difficult. The beliefs become political, they become religious.

    Happens to bloggers all the time: You express a rational, well-reasoned point of view, and step into a big pile of other people's emotional baggage. Don't let it throw you off your game – I enjoy your writing and hope you don't get “boring.”

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Nice! I've been back for 4.5 years.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks. And I agree with your comments.

  • garymwatson

    Interesting — I lived in England for 9 years; been back for 6. Co-founded my company in the UK which has expanded to and is now based in the USA.

  • Hazzard

    Mark,

    Well put. Debate is a beautiful thing whether it's political or within a startup deciding whether to pivot or not… I believe it really causes one to focus and refine their opinions/ideas and leads to a better outcome.

    Regardless of one's political beliefs though, from a purely politics-oriented view, I think many times people forget the rules of the game (at least how it was intended to work in the US). One can be pro-life or pro-choice and argue that point until they're blue in the face, but chances are they're not converting anyone. Yet, on a constitutional level that doesn't change the fact that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. Abortion may be “right” or “wrong”, but that's not the issue, it's whether it was decided in a fashion consistent with the Constitution or not. Were it not decided the way it was, it wouldn't be an issue, each state would decide one way or another whether to allow it or not. The situation we're in now with regard to that issue tends to elect a lot of buffoons that vote one way or another on the issue consistent with their constituents beliefs, but the buffoon may be completely ignorant as to any other issue that affects one's district.

    Debate is key in startups, but in politics it can be really hit or miss, for they regularly intentionally obfuscate the point being discussed. I fear it's really a lost art form, debate, the most recent example I've seen of good debate, at least economically was Milton Friedman's Free to Choose on PBS back in 1980…

  • http://twitter.com/davidsmuts David Smuts

    Bloody good post for a Sunday morning Mark. I'm in tune with your sentiments on debate is healthy: give us more. It's funny you mentioned PMQ's – I was once in the House of Commons watching (as an observer) the PMQ sessions (Tony Blair vs Cameron) when sitting next to me was John McCain and his very beautiful wife. (You can't believe how bad the guy's skin looked in person!- but otherwise a very very kind man). I thoroughly loved the atmosphere and the debate, but when I compare that to blogging I don't think the two platforms are that comparable.

    I love debating and participating in blogs but let's be honest…, a blog is always controlled by it's owner, he's the facilitator, the orator as well the the speaker of the house (the guy who keeps order when the MPs get too rambunctious). So debate is permitted to a certain extent on blogs but we can't call it an open chamber. Also as a guest of a blog I always feel somewhat obliged not to spoil the bloggers show (it's his not mine) but when I do see something I disagree with, nine times out of ten I can't stop myself from putting in my 2 pennies worth.

    I think you're about as close as any blog can get to being an open chamber, hence the reason why I'm such a regular here. It takes a lot of guts and self-confidence for a blogger to be OK with other people disagreeing publicly with his stated position or even in fact correcting him (a wise blogger will only get better from the experience). You seem to be able to do that fairly well so credit to you.

    What I have seen a few occasions before however is where people have made disparaging comments about a post or position of yours, not on the blog itself, but on another public forum. These guys are gutless…, if they have a statement to make they should have the balls to lay it squarely at the author. After all…, if they're making sense and the blogger isn't a sensitive prima donna then it's more likely a heated but interesting debate will ensue (all very civil of course) and all the better for the quality of the blog. Viva-la-debate!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Nice! I've been back for 4.5 years.

  • rogerellman

    Off-topic, or certainly aside from your main topic…but I would be interested in your observations on the business environment, ease of operation, bureaucratic requirements and overheads in the UK versus USA today.

    I ran a business in the USA between 1981 and 1995 then in the UK from 1996 to 1999.

    Which one would be best to return to if starting a new business (boot-strapping again!) do you think?

    Thanks for your great subjects and considered writing

    Roger

  • http://oddfellowstudios.com/ Shava Nerad

    Funny, it was hard for me to think that your “fail fast” opposition was controversial — I've had the conversation about taking that as financial advice rather than early bootstrap advice. We've got a prototype and a test audience of thousands, and I'm filing patents probably in April on a burn of $2k/mo over 18 months — and *then* going after money. During that time, we've turned our model inside out three times and dyed it over once or twice.

    But on your main point here, I have to call up something my dad used to say (he was born in 1923, to immigrant parents): “Politics in America will never be healthy until two guys in a bar can disagree on politics without it turning into a fight” (by which he included simply stopping the conversation).

    The great taboos used to be sex, religion, and politics (and we didn't even *mention* money as a taboo, because it didn't bear saying). Now we talk about money more freely — certainly more about sex — and religion and politics remain more taboo, and more of a problem systemically among us.

    We can't talk *more* about politics. But we can talk more across silos, on that and on religion.

    I will be happier too, if we get to the point in society where I can say I believe in making money *and* I'm an ethical creature, and people don't think I'm lying on one or the other, eh? That's become more of a transgressive characterization lately.

    Huzzah for grey areas! :)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, David. I was lucky enough to spend time in the House of Commons but not during PMQ's.

    Yes, it's true the debate is vastly different online vs. question time. I wasn't trying to make a perfect analogy. But my point was:
    - open debate is good and healthy
    - people should welcome it
    - people shouldn't feel so sensitive if I say something that they disagree with (like App is Crap or Fail Fast)
    - I'm not sensitive. Let's all debate and learn. I'm game.

    Thanks again for spending time here. You're one of those awesome cases where we met here and then in person!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    It's a tough topic and in the future I plan to write posts about the UK and about Europe.

    If I had the choice I'd start a business in the US for one clear reason. It's a larger market of reasonably homogenous consumers. It's around 6x the size. One other observation – in the US we cheer on entrepreneurs who do well and make money. In the UK there seemed to be somewhat of a backlash.

    re: bureaucracy, legal frameworks, etc. – I can't say I noticed much difference (other than employment law for people who have worked in your company for more than 1 year).

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I don't think the “fail fast opposition” was controversial. Some of it got personal. Mostly the personal insults were on Twitter and not on this blog. But some people were clearly annoyed at me for challenging something that they saw as sacrosanct and I believe that was reflected in the comments that they left. So my biggest point is the same as yours – relish the opposition. Use it as a chance to debate and learn.

    I'm with you. I wish all topics were open. It is a rare friend in the US that you can have these discussions with. I haven't talked much in my blog about the fact that I lived more than 2 years in France. I believe the French have this right. In the US you rightly point out that we say, “you can talk about anything at a cocktail party except politics and religion.” Money seems a fair topic of conversation. In France they believe if you're not debating sex, religion and politics you're not interesting. I enjoyed my time in France ;-)

    re: money, it may be true that sometimes people get criticized for wanting to make money like this erroneous post by Jason Fried (I know the inside story and he's got it wrong) but for the most part we cheer on entrepreneurs more than most countries I've live in. http://37signals.com/svn/posts/1927-the-next-ge

  • http://www.seekomega.com Mark Fidelman

    Glad I've been introduced to your writing via Cloud Ave. I have to agree on the “consolidating knowledge” through writing and creating PowerPoint decks. I love throwing new ideas out and seeing how the crowd reacts to it. In fact, my ideas and opinions are strengthened through these online debates. Most are civilized, some degrade into the Ad Hominem, but the diversity of opinion creates a better end product.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Mark. I'm a fan of Zoli and believe that they're addressing a topic that is less addressed on the Internet – enterprise SaaS issues.

  • http://stevecheney.posterous.com/ steve cheney

    On the subject of active debates, the reason mark's blog is doing so well (in addition to the writing) is that he takes time to reply to (nearly) every comment. Same on twitter. The accessibility is admirable—hope you can keep it up as traffic scales. Btw, this was just an observation (not a comment), so no need to reply :)

  • http://twitter.com/davidsmuts David Smuts

    Bloody good post for a Sunday morning Mark. I'm in tune with your sentiments on debate is healthy: give us more. It's funny you mentioned PMQ's – I was once in the House of Commons watching (as an observer) the PMQ sessions (Tony Blair vs Cameron) when sitting next to me was John McCain and his very beautiful wife. (You can't believe how bad the guy's skin looked in person!- but otherwise a very very kind man). I thoroughly loved the atmosphere and the debate, but when I compare that to blogging I don't think the two platforms are that comparable.

    I love debating and participating in blogs but let's be honest…, a blog is always controlled by it's owner, he's the facilitator, the orator as well the the speaker of the house (the guy who keeps order when the MPs get too rambunctious). So debate is permitted to a certain extent on blogs but we can't call it an open chamber. Also as a guest of a blog I always feel somewhat obliged not to spoil the bloggers show (it's his not mine) but when I do see something I disagree with, nine times out of ten I can't stop myself from putting in my 2 pennies worth.

    I think you're about as close as any blog can get to being an open chamber, hence the reason why I'm such a regular here. It takes a lot of guts and self-confidence for a blogger to be OK with other people disagreeing publicly with his stated position or even in fact correcting him (a wise blogger will only get better from the experience). You seem to be able to do that fairly well so credit to you.

    What I have seen a few occasions before however is where people have made disparaging comments about a post or position of yours, not on the blog itself, but on another public forum. These guys are gutless…, if they have a statement to make they should have the balls to lay it squarely at the author. After all…, if they're making sense and the blogger isn't a sensitive prima donna then it's more likely a heated but interesting debate will ensue (all very civil of course) and all the better for the quality of the blog. Viva-la-debate!

  • http://derrickshields.tumblr.com/ Derrick Shields

    Nice meeting you Mark at LeadsCon a few weeks ago. Thanks again for letting your ADD get the best of you in an attempt to salvage the investors panel. That was great.

    I agreed whole heartedly with your previous post, and have defended this side of the argument in recent debates. Of course it is important to be mindful of running a capital-efficient startup – “lean” is good – but I also think being overly lean is why many startups fail. Rarely do young companies emerge from start-up stage to successful, revenue-generating operations without having switched courses at least a few times.

    Keep writing controversial posts. Leverage your (ever growing) audience to host healthy public debate. I'd be interested in seeing more discussion on how politics relate to venture capital or entrepreneurship. Most entrepreneurs I meet fit into a very similar tend to fit very closely as you've described yourself, being very socially liberal, however fiscally moderate to conservative (myself included).

    I'm wondering if it's simply a coincidence, or perhaps there are certain assumptions we can make about ones ability to build and lead a successful organization based on their political beliefs.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    re: “too lean” – agreed. That's the point I tried to make when talking about “when the hors d'oeuvres are passed take two, but not the whole tray.”

    re: politics, I don't know if it's just startups or many people in the country. It doesn't seem to me that our political parties represent a lot of mainstream people's actual points of view. But the political system rewards the politically active and motivated so maybe that's why.

  • http://oddfellowstudios.com/ Shava Nerad

    When I was executive director of The Tor Project (http://tor.eff.org then, now http://torproject.org — I split my time between NGO/academia/business) I was often asked to talk about online culture. Steven Clift (e-democracy.org) and I got placed in a he-said/she-said debate about strong identity and strong anonymity in public discourse — I imagine the journalism conference expected us to argue.

    What we found was a love-fest. I am in strong favor of strong identity building strong community for any form of politics and activism in general; but along with the pampheteers of the US's early days, I believe there is a place for strong anonymity which should not be compromised.

    I think people are learning, slowly, how to contextualize and moderate online contexts. Originally, I think the assumption was that they would be self-regulating, but for the most part to retain signal:noise, they must be moderated, and oddly we are less willing to do this than we would be at a public meeting.

    Being able to stand for your beliefs as who you are, and being able to state your beliefs without fear of retribution: both vital to democracy, and both in their place.

    I think everyone who worries about our current level of political discourse should read Dewey's Democracy and Education — and get a real feel for how we are *not* educating the Jeffersonian Citizens we need for a media era.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=8P0AAAAAYAAJ

    We can't teach “real” civics in the schools, because real civics requires the discussion of issues that would get a teacher fired. So where, in the business community, can we find funding for teaching young people how the political and business system works — outside of school?

    Then maybe they wouldn't treat politics like football fans.

  • rogerellman

    Thanks.
    The US market certainly is bigger and often more receptive to new ideas and services, seems to be less uniquely favorable in business climate now …. the UK had improved perhaps it's fallen back to the old “don't rock the boat mentality”, but the attitude in the US seems mostly pro discovery, progress and new ideas. Many thanks for the input – hope I can return the favor. R.

  • rogerellman

    Off-topic, or certainly aside from your main topic…but I would be interested in your observations on the business environment, ease of operation, bureaucratic requirements and overheads in the UK versus USA today.

    I ran a business in the USA between 1981 and 1995 then in the UK from 1996 to 1999.

    Which one would be best to return to if starting a new business (boot-strapping again!) do you think?

    Thanks for your great subjects and considered writing

    Roger

  • blinkx

    Interesting post. If you really are suffering withdrawl symptoms from British politics, check out BBC Democracy Live (http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi) — it lets you watch debates in any of the major houses in Britain and lets you search the videos word by word (we at blinkx provided the technology to do the second bit!). Especially interesting right now is comparing what various politicians are saying about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan vs what they said at the time…

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Very cool. Just went over there and did a few searches. I've known of Blinkx for a long time. If I'm not mistaken you're based on Autonomy's technology stack, no? And I seem to remember Blinkx being publicly listed on AIM. ?

  • http://oddfellowstudios.com/ Shava Nerad

    Funny, it was hard for me to think that your “fail fast” opposition was controversial — I've had the conversation about taking that as financial advice rather than early bootstrap advice. We've got a prototype and a test audience of thousands, and I'm filing patents probably in April on a burn of $2k/mo over 18 months — and *then* going after money. During that time, we've turned our model inside out three times and dyed it over once or twice.

    But on your main point here, I have to call up something my dad used to say (he was born in 1923, to immigrant parents): “Politics in America will never be healthy until two guys in a bar can disagree on politics without it turning into a fight” (by which he included simply stopping the conversation).

    The great taboos used to be sex, religion, and politics (and we didn't even *mention* money as a taboo, because it didn't bear saying). Now we talk about money more freely — certainly more about sex — and religion and politics remain more taboo, and more of a problem systemically among us.

    We can't talk *more* about politics. But we can talk more across silos, on that and on religion.

    I will be happier too, if we get to the point in society where I can say I believe in making money *and* I'm an ethical creature, and people don't think I'm lying on one or the other, eh? That's become more of a transgressive characterization lately.

    Huzzah for grey areas! :)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, David. I was lucky enough to spend time in the House of Commons but not during PMQ's.

    Yes, it's true the debate is vastly different online vs. question time. I wasn't trying to make a perfect analogy. But my point was:
    - open debate is good and healthy
    - people should welcome it
    - people shouldn't feel so sensitive if I say something that they disagree with (like App is Crap or Fail Fast)
    - I'm not sensitive. Let's all debate and learn. I'm game.

    Thanks again for spending time here. You're one of those awesome cases where we met here and then in person!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    It's a tough topic and in the future I plan to write posts about the UK and about Europe.

    If I had the choice I'd start a business in the US for one clear reason. It's a larger market of reasonably homogenous consumers. It's around 6x the size. One other observation – in the US we cheer on entrepreneurs who do well and make money. In the UK there seemed to be somewhat of a backlash.

    re: bureaucracy, legal frameworks, etc. – I can't say I noticed much difference (other than employment law for people who have worked in your company for more than 1 year).

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I don't think the “fail fast opposition” was controversial. Some of it got personal. Mostly the personal insults were on Twitter and not on this blog. But some people were clearly annoyed at me for challenging something that they saw as sacrosanct and I believe that was reflected in the comments that they left. So my biggest point is the same as yours – relish the opposition. Use it as a chance to debate and learn.

    I'm with you. I wish all topics were open. It is a rare friend in the US that you can have these discussions with. I haven't talked much in my blog about the fact that I lived more than 2 years in France. I believe the French have this right. In the US you rightly point out that we say, “you can talk about anything at a cocktail party except politics and religion.” Money seems a fair topic of conversation. In France they believe if you're not debating sex, religion and politics you're not interesting. I enjoyed my time in France ;-)

    re: money, it may be true that sometimes people get criticized for wanting to make money like this erroneous post by Jason Fried (I know the inside story and he's got it wrong) but for the most part we cheer on entrepreneurs more than most countries I've live in. http://37signals.com/svn/posts/1927-the-next-ge

  • http://www.seekomega.com Mark Fidelman

    Glad I've been introduced to your writing via Cloud Ave. I have to agree on the “consolidating knowledge” through writing and creating PowerPoint decks. I love throwing new ideas out and seeing how the crowd reacts to it. In fact, my ideas and opinions are strengthened through these online debates. Most are civilized, some degrade into the Ad Hominem, but the diversity of opinion creates a better end product.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Mark. I'm a fan of Zoli and believe that they're addressing a topic that is less addressed on the Internet – enterprise SaaS issues.

  • http://lmframework.com/blog/about David Semeria

    Bollocks is one of my favourite words.

    Did you know it originally meant “priest”. A fact usefully employed by Virgin Music when they were unsuccessfully prosecuted for displaying an advert for “Never Mind the Bollocks, the Sex Pistols are Here”.

    And proving people in the past were as cynical as we are today, the common meaning of bollocks gradually mutated to mean “nonsense” – presumably reflecting common displeasure with overly-long and out-of-touch sermons.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Too funny. I didn't know that but can confirm it via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bollocks

    And, yes, one of my favorite words as well!

  • http://stevecheney.posterous.com/ steve cheney

    On the subject of active debates, the reason mark's blog is doing so well (in addition to the writing) is that he takes time to reply to (nearly) every comment. Same on twitter. The accessibility is admirable—hope you can keep it up as traffic scales. Btw, this was just an observation (not a comment), so no need to reply :)

  • http://derrickshields.tumblr.com/ Derrick Shields

    Nice meeting you Mark at LeadsCon a few weeks ago. Thanks again for letting your ADD get the best of you in an attempt to salvage the investors panel. That was great.

    I agreed whole heartedly with your previous post, and have defended this side of the argument in recent debates. Of course it is important to be mindful of running a capital-efficient startup – “lean” is good – but I also think being overly lean is why many startups fail. Rarely do young companies emerge from start-up stage to successful, revenue-generating operations without having switched courses at least a few times.

    Keep writing controversial posts. Leverage your (ever growing) audience to host healthy public debate. I'd be interested in seeing more discussion on how politics relate to venture capital or entrepreneurship. Most entrepreneurs I meet fit into a very similar tend to fit very closely as you've described yourself, being very socially liberal, however fiscally moderate to conservative (myself included).

    I'm wondering if it's simply a coincidence, or perhaps there are certain assumptions we can make about ones ability to build and lead a successful organization based on their political beliefs.

  • http://www.wac6.typepad.com William Carleton

    Mark, you probably know this, but PM's Question Time, or a good half hour excerpt from it at any rate, is on CSPAN weekly. I think they run it live on Wed. mornings obscenely early, but I always catch the rerun at 9pm on Sunday evenings (8pm Central, I think). I rarely miss it!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    re: “too lean” – agreed. That's the point I tried to make when talking about “when the hors d'oeuvres are passed take two, but not the whole tray.”

    re: politics, I don't know if it's just startups or many people in the country. It doesn't seem to me that our political parties represent a lot of mainstream people's actual points of view. But the political system rewards the politically active and motivated so maybe that's why.

  • http://oddfellowstudios.com/ Shava Nerad

    When I was executive director of The Tor Project (http://tor.eff.org then, now http://torproject.org — I split my time between NGO/academia/business) I was often asked to talk about online culture. Steven Clift (e-democracy.org) and I got placed in a he-said/she-said debate about strong identity and strong anonymity in public discourse — I imagine the journalism conference expected us to argue.

    What we found was a love-fest. I am in strong favor of strong identity building strong community for any form of politics and activism in general; but along with the pampheteers of the US's early days, I believe there is a place for strong anonymity which should not be compromised.

    I think people are learning, slowly, how to contextualize and moderate online contexts. Originally, I think the assumption was that they would be self-regulating, but for the most part to retain signal:noise, they must be moderated, and oddly we are less willing to do this than we would be at a public meeting.

    Being able to stand for your beliefs as who you are, and being able to state your beliefs without fear of retribution: both vital to democracy, and both in their place.

    I think everyone who worries about our current level of political discourse should read Dewey's Democracy and Education — and get a real feel for how we are *not* educating the Jeffersonian Citizens we need for a media era.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=8P0AAAAAYAAJ

    We can't teach “real” civics in the schools, because real civics requires the discussion of issues that would get a teacher fired. So where, in the business community, can we find funding for teaching young people how the political and business system works — outside of school?

    Then maybe they wouldn't treat politics like football fans.

    p.s. When you put people into an actual “virtual world” like Second Life, where it *seems* like they are speaking face-to-face, the dialog becomes far more productive and civil. Amazing how we're programmed that way…

  • rogerellman

    Thanks.
    The US market certainly is bigger and often more receptive to new ideas and services, seems to be less uniquely favorable in business climate now …. the UK had improved perhaps it's fallen back to the old “don't rock the boat mentality”, but the attitude in the US seems mostly pro discovery, progress and new ideas. Many thanks for the input – hope I can return the favor. R.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    awesome, isn't it? Imagine if US politicians had to debate weekly!

  • http://www.wac6.typepad.com William Carleton

    Indeed! Not sure many US politicians think that well on their feet.
    But they'd learn to!

    Sent from my iPod
    My blog: http:// wac6.com
    Twitter: @wac6

  • blinkx

    Interesting post. If you really are suffering withdrawl symptoms from British politics, check out BBC Democracy Live (http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi) — it lets you watch debates in any of the major houses in Britain and lets you search the videos word by word (we at blinkx provided the technology to do the second bit!). Especially interesting right now is comparing what various politicians are saying about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan vs what they said at the time…

  • http://www.altgate.com/ fnazeeri

    +1

  • http://www.altgate.com/ fnazeeri

    +1