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A time for reinvention: standing on the brink

September 28, 2011

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the technology startup game. It’s not for the faint hearted though, because you see, part of what comes with it is the impending sense of doom that lingers in the air; with every step forward toward building something better, more advanced, and more amazing, you’re always looking over your shoulder to make sure no one else is about to catch up, or do something better than your team’s already amazing idea.

It’s long nights, big personalities, balancing intuition against experience against actual testing (and there is always a LOT of intuition involved). Casualties in the war room are as heavy as you would expect. I’m lucky enough not to have been a casualty before – but wise enough to know that won’t last forever. But for many, in the pursuit of something great – we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cate Blanchett’s playbook is not one I would normally quote from, but she said it quite succinctly a few years back:

“If I had my way, if I was lucky enough, if I could be on the brink my entire life – that great sense of expectation and excitement without the disappointment – that would be the perfect state.”

There is a certain truth in the notion that only by pushing yourself right to the edge will you be at your greatest. How many times have we seen people, businesses and even entire nations come to the brink of disaster before making the very fundamental change they needed in the first place to save themselves? Let’s not forget  Apple was 90 days away from bankruptcy back in 1997 before they were saved b y fundamental but radical change, and Carlos Ghosn’s revival of Nissan at around the same time was astonishingly similar.

Standing at the brink in a world gone social

In an era where the concept of social business and social enterprise have come to the fore, doing something great no longer means building technology or a product so you can make yourself, your investors, or your boss into the next Donald Trump and be universally hated.

Business ideas in this day and age have the ability and the social capital to be something that benefits society as much as it also gives you a decent profit. If you’ve ever learnt anything about negotiating, managing, or just trying to influence other people (and if you have kids, then you know much more than 8 years at university ever taught me) – then you know that the person that finds the ‘win-win’ situation always comes out on top.

It’s why big business is in trouble right now – the big telcos, utilities, banks and other major corporates, who have institutionalised one-way greed over many decades (and in the case of banks – centuries), have spent so much time removing their customers’ ability to have a simple conversation with helpful human beings to conduct business – that they have found themselves radically unprepared for a socially empowered world;

New startups rise everyday to challenge the notion that bigger is better.  Consumers increasingly have the choice to support brands and products that they know and identify with, or who in some way contribute back to society in an authentic way.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the combination of the global financial markets at the moment, with a socially empowered world, with a flood of brilliant technologists (including those I work with) will see some of the institutionalised big businesses that practically own this planet come to the brink of disaster.

And in the end, from the brink of disaster come good things. It’s a great time to be in working in social technology.

Deliriant Isti Romani – These Romans are Crazy!


  1. Jp

    4 some reason this reminded me of one of fav quotes from Kurt Vonnegut

    “I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over.
    Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”

    not so sure about your disaster scenario.. though totally agree on the social perspective
    …. enjoyed the post


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