“Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.” -Mary Schmich
To understand the future (in any subject) and keep up with latest in emerging technology, there is a broad strategy that is immensely beneficial:
Follow and learn from where smart people in are investing their time, effort, energy, money, and other resources.
Why? Because those most knowledgeable people in a field often have early access to data and information to use in their endeavors. Keeping track of what smart people are doing allows you to benefit from their information access.
Although information feels more accessible than ever, top researchers know about ground-breaking studies before everyone else. Breakthrough research papers are often not widely discussed and are missed by the headlines. Data also can take time before being published.
Venture Capitalists fund companies that no one has heard of; they have perspectives and hypothesis that most of us have not considered.
Who is worth following?
“What you listen to and who you listen to is what you become.” – Gary Vee, recent post on LinkedIn.
Mark Andreesen calls it the ‘What do the nerds do on nights and weekends?’ test.
What are the nerds talking about and working on that the greater population of people is not even aware of? Video games is a great example. Most people never would have thought that being a professional gamer was a viable way to and earn money by livestreaming on platforms like Twitch. In fact, many people in 2021 probably still don’t even realize this.
Identifying influential and intelligent people who’s ideas are worth spreading is somewhat subjective. There isn’t a sure way to find the brilliant minds of a given area, but a few things to look for include:
- Track record of success.
- Which people have founded of been an early employee at successful companies? Which angel investors have had successful exits with their portfolio companies?
- Network of other influential people in their circle.
- Contrarian, not dedicated to mainstream ideas and conventional wisdom.
In his book Zero to One as well as his talks on YouTube, Peter Thiel shares his favorite interview question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”.
This is not an easy question to answer.
To invest successfully, being able to think from contrarian viewpoints is extremely important.
Holding a hypothesis about a business or about the world that is against the consensus of the general population creates the risk of being wrong. However, by applying the scientific method, a founder can test whether or not this hypothesis is indeed true.
Holding contrarian viewpoints means betting on something that is underrated and undervalued. It means people must disagree with you today, and agree with you in the future.
Although tough to stomach, having people disagree with your hypothesis in the present is a pre-requisite to successful investment thesis.
When done well, spending time and energy on contrarian ideas resembles the “buy low, sell high” approach in investing. When most people regard something as worthless or irrelevant, it is affordable and easy to access. The thing is, most people don’t care about being involved with something that isn’t worth anything today.
A recent example is cryptocurrency. In 2009 or 2010, conversations about cryptocurrency were probably generally ignored. People working on crypto had a unique hypothesis about the future of this technology, and spent time building projects. Vitalik Buterin was building the Ethereum blockchain before most of the world even knew what cryptocurrency was. At the time, cryptocurrency was highly undervalued. Because Vitalik believed there was value in working on building projects in this arena, he spent massive time and energy creating a platform and accumulating skills and experience. Now that the rest of the population is realizing the value of cryptocurrency, Vitalik’s project Ethereum has grown exponentially in value.
This type of growth would not have been possible if Vitalik did not initially pursue and idea that most people would have considered worthless.
Often, the smartest people in the world know things that you don’t. They sit on the boards of highly technical and innovative companies. Their circles include influential people in business internationally.
How and where to find new ideas?
Its easier said than done, and there really isn’t a single way to discover emerging trends.
Ultimately, I would recommend thinking about commonly held beliefs and accepted truths, then flipping them around to find areas where the majority may be wrong.
Follow people on Twitter. Being able to read the real-time thoughts of someone that has figured out how to start and launch successful tech companies might give you ideas about how you can do the same. Paul Graham, who has written timeless essays that dispense wisdom for technology founders, Tweets quite often. His essays on business, software, and startups are second to none.
Read subreddits. Despite the large amount of trolls, misinformation, and time-wasting content on this website, Reddit is a great way to obtain a general understanding of a topic by reading forum-based threads with what everyone is saying about a topic. Find the small communities with a dedicated following, and become a contributor.
Listen to interviews and podcast appearances with noteworthy people.
Set specific Google Alerts. For example, setting a Google Alert for Gwynn Shotwell, COO of SpaceX, might help you stay up to date with the excitement in the space travel industry such as rapid point-to-point rocket travel. Some of the greatest business minds don’t have a huge online presence. Setting a Google Alert for the words “Warren Buffett” will help you stay ahead of any big moves that Berkshire Hathaway has made, for example.
Following Exploding Topics may help you keep track of where there is greater interest in specific Google searches. Following the Espresso Insight newsletter help you follow insight on space, technology, and the future.
Every piece of knowledge acquired is just one data point – not everything should be acted upon. Accumulation of knowledge and insights comes with slow and gradual realization of how much you don’t know. I will leave you with this: As Socrates said, “I know that I know nothing”.
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