What we've been reading: startup dysfunction, Bitcoin mining and resilience

What we've been reading this week
Francois Badenhorst
Deputy editor
BusinessZone and UK Business Forums
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Hello, dear friends. Welcome to the latest iteration of What we’ve been reading this week. I like to think it’s quite a nice mix. 

So I’ll let you just dive straight in. Enjoy and have a good weekend. 

When the money runs out

A friend of mine recently reminded me of the phrase “polishing brass on the Titanic”. It’s a quote by Tyler Durden, Fight Club’s central villain. 

The phrase is all about being in denial, busying ourselves with some task to forget about the whole that’s ultimately doomed. I thought about the quote again when I read this account of the ongoing chaos at Frisco News, a once hot media startup based in New York.

Its founder tries desperately to maintain an air of normalcy as his business atrophies around him. It’s all fine, he tells his employees as the company misses yet another payroll. He does it not only to protect his ego but, as  Gaby Del Valle points out here, in a desperate bid to procure more investment money.

And Frisco News is just one part of an entire startup economy built on sand. Amid the B.S. and the bluster, the employees are left polishing brass on the Titanic. “It’s all going down, man.”

Inside one of the world’s largest Bitcoin mines

Here we can see the eerily joyless innards of the world’s crypto-currency boom. Situated somewhere in desolate inner Mongolia, this ‘mine’ (really a few warehouses filled with processors) is central to Bitcoin’s existence.

So ‘mining’ is the process of adding transaction records to Bitcoin's public ledger (known as the blockchain). It’s the sine qua non of Blockchain’s decentralised system because the blockchain is what maintains order.

But it’s also a weird relationship: inasmuch as mining is essential, the process is deliberately designed to be difficult and resource intensive. This is done to keep the miners’ output steady and consistent. There’s no rush, the blocks have to be churned out.

I could carry on about the topic for many, many more words, but I’ll leave it to you to do some research yourself.

The dark side of resilience

Toughen up! Grow a spine! There’s plenty of ways to tell people to be more resilient. In my first language of Afrikaans - a weird step-child of Dutch - boys are often told to “byt vas”; literally: “Bite down and don’t let go”. 

Resilience is good! John McClane was resilient; our heroes are resilient. But what are the limits of resiliency? Could too much resilience be a bad thing, “just like too much muscle mass”?

Well, yeah: “As Rob Kaiser’s research on leadership versatility indicates, overused strengths become weaknesses. In line, it is easy to conceive of situations in which individuals could be too resilient for their own sake”. An overly resilient soul, for example, would double down on a lost cause out of a misguided belief in the idea of holding tight.

There are times where it’s not just okay to give up, but wise to do so. Recognising these times become difficult when you’re wearing the blindfold of resiliency.

Game of Thrones: the best show on TV just became the silliest

Okay, hands up: who gave the Game of Thrones characters (specifically Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow) a teleportation device? Trips that used to take whole seasons are now brief jaunts!

Look, I’ve criticised GoT in the past for its at time glacial pacing and self-indulgent but ultimately unnecessary story arcs. But, my god, the answer to that critique wasn’t to tilt it to the other extreme.

As this cultural phenomenon nears its end, what was once a lumbering giant has become an addled, frenetic toddler rushing madly to its closing act. Somewhere in the middle would’ve been nice, guys.

Who am I kidding, though. I’m clearly not going to stop watching. 

The Amazon effect echoes across the industry

In what way does Amazon warp our economies? Let me count the ways.

Brick and mortar retail, content, and news, delivery, pharmaceuticals. All hail our overlord Monsieur Bezos. Forgive me for once thinking that our god-king would be less of a normie.

Bezos, a slight, balding, innocuous looking man helms this commercial Hydra. And he seems pretty chuffed with himself. I mean, he would be: he’ll probably be humanity’s first trillionaire.

We’re way past the point where we need to contemplate whether it’s a reality we’re comfortable with. In Sid Lumet’s classic Network, the central character Howard Beale is berated by the network chief Arthur Jensen for his rabble rousing.

The boss explains his “corporate cosmology”. “You get up on your little twenty-one-inch screen and howl about America and democracy,” says Jensen. “There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.”

I think if we made Network today, Amazon would be on that list. We’d have a new Jensen berating a new Howard Beale, explaining this cosmology. “That is the natural order of things today,” says Jensen. “That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today!”

About Francois

About Francois

Francois is the deputy editor of BusinessZone and UK Business Forums.

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