Last week, I went on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and I brought a prop — a weird-shaped lightbulb from Firefly LED Lighting, an Austin-based green tech company. The lightbulb, by taking an approach that dissipates heat through metal sidings instead of concentrating it in the bulb itself, has dramatically increased efficiency.
It’s an experiment, backed by a pilot project, data, and a small amount of seed funding. And if we’re going to save America, it’s going to be experiments like those I’ve seen in Austin and elsewhere that will lead us there.
For the past three years, I’ve been talking about the politics of Washington, D.C., and the financing conventional wisdom from New York City. My eyes were opened to the realities of the system in 2008, when I saw the bailouts up close as an anchor on CNBC. It’s depressing, closed, and difficult to see the gears of America chew up human potential.
But now I’ve found myself more enthusiastic than I’ve been in years, as I’ve shifted my attention from D.C./NYC to cities burgeoning both with ideas and with the excruciating pain that Washington and New York have inflicted on them. What’s become apparent to me is that the rate of change on this planet, due to technological, ecological, and financial mechanisms, is the highest it’s ever been. That means that our rate of adaptation must also be high, that we must adapt our communities, companies, and selves to what is quickly becoming a new and different world.
We must experiment, or die.
And as we experiment, with new communities, new technologies, and new financing structures, we must do so with an eye for quality and for learning. I want to inspire all of us to experiment with our lives, the way that America itself is an experiment in forming a more perfect union. Here’s what we’re going to have to do to restore this entrepreneurial spirit.
1) We must get over our abject and irrational fear of failure. One of my heroes, Salman Khan, has built a learning model that uses the Internet and in person teaching, and the goal is mastery. The method is failure. Do the problem set again and again, until you get it all correct. It doesn’t matter if you fail, it only matters if you don’t try again.
2) We must build a capital market that can make investments of between 30 thousand and 3 million dollars, which is what most experiments cost. The old model is broken — Facebook will have a $100 billion valuation and raise billions in its IPO, but this is so the original investors can cash out, not to fund innovation. By contrast, Firefly LED had a seed round of $325k in 2010. That’s the kind of capital that builds innovation, and we should have more opportunity to get it.
3) We must deal with the student debt problem, which is a direct incentive to not experiment. When you are young, you are in the most experimental part of your life. Don’t burden our young with unpayable debt, it’s guaranteed stasis. And stasis in a rapidly changing world that demands adaptation, as we know, means cultural death.
4) We must get rid of the employer based health care system. If experimenting means you can’t see a doctor when you are sick, then you aren’t going to experiment. That’s bad. We need to find a new way to deliver care, so we can thrive as a society.
5) We must deal with the upside down housing market. The main store of wealth for the middle class, who should be a seat of innovation, is home equity. Without writing down debt and restoring a healthy housing market, this store of wealth will gradually be destroyed and rendered unusable. People won’t be able to move or tap lines of credit if we don’t fix the housing finance system. We must restore our distribution mechanism for financing the way we live, and we haven’t yet done so.
More than all of these, though, we need a culture that values innovation. We need to experiment in our own lives, with ourselves, our business endeavours, our government, and our surroundings. With a million high quality experiments, we’ll learn so much that we will see a new Renaissance in how we deal with the rapidity of change we are currently experiencing. And if there were ever a time we need such a Renaissance, it’s now.
My pledge to you is that I will be exploring America the experimental. I will challenge myself, and everyone I meet, and I will use all the resources at my disposal, to encourage the cultural shift we know we need.
MORE: Dylan visits Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to talk about the 30 Million Jobs tour and creating a culture of experimentation:
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