If you have followed this letter since its inception you know this.
When I launched as A Clue…to Internet Commerce in 1997, I often warned about the dot-bomb while in the middle of the dot-boom. I was looking three years out, which made it hard for me to enjoy the good times as they rolled.
Later, after the bomb dropped, I looked for more optimistic takes. That’s when I hit upon Moore’s Law, in all its permutations. Since I had no other work to do I turned that into a book, which you know as The Blankenhorn Effect. (Think I should update it? Write and let me know.)
Once growth began again, I looked at a trend I was certain could create a new boom, three years out. This was the World of Always On, a wireless network used as an applications platform. I flogged this through 2003 into early 2004.
After I became involved in politics, and had my heart broken, I began looking again at what might happen in the future, creating the novels The Chinese Century and The American Diaspora. After I returned home emotionally, I began re-examining the patterns that had made me believe in Dean, and saw a generational crisis coming, three years out. This resulted in my work on open source politics at www.www.danablankenhorn.com.
The point is this letter has never lived in the moment. It has usually lived in the future, looking for Clues from the past to explain what might change next. And I have done this throughout my career. I foresaw the end of the Houston oil boom at my first job in 1978. I foresaw the rise of the Internet as early as 1983, and began making my living here in 1985.
In terms of money, which is the main topic of this letter, this has been a mistake. I have had a tough time enjoying or capitalizing on present trends, knowing they would end.
The reason my kids are so well is, I think, that they demand I live in the moment. Their lives are filled with moments – dirty diapers, day care moments, school conferences, ball games. All these moments, taken together, have added up to fairly happy childhoods for both of them, despite the fact there have also been hard moments as well. What got them through the hard times was knowing that they were loved, that their parents wanted them to break through and succeed.
One of my favorite moments is of my daughter Robin, who is now 18, from when she was 4. Her mom decided to punish her. "I want daddy!" she cried. I refused to take her side. "I want mommy!" she wailed. We both stood together and made a solid front. "I want Santa Claus!" she screamed. And we laughed. Later she did too.
(Picture at left was taken today.)
Living in the moment is a key to business success. It doesn’t matter that the trend you’re following is going to end, the way a vein of gold plays out. You stay in the moment, stay on the wave, stay in the trend, and you play the game as long as it’s there. But know, also, that the game will end. Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away, and when to run.
I wish I were better at this in my own life, but you can learn from my failings. The short-term nature of a trend does not mean you don’t capitalize on it. A surfer can paddle all day waiting for the perfect wave, and never get a ride. You have to take what comes.
Right now, for instance, SMS messaging is a strong trend. It was late coming to the U.S. To those of us who use Internet resources daily, it’s primitive stuff. But it has a natural business model. Every phone can do it. There are youth markets that love it. And it has many, many valuable uses.
So what if it’s primitive? So what if it’s controlled by the carriers? So what if it will be seen as a fad three years from now? Start planning your exit strategy after you have made your entrance.
This is a lesson Mark Cuban and Richard Branson, my heroes in The American Diaspora, were trying to teach me, in their own lives. Cuban launched a PC store in the 1980s and sold it once he saw the door closing on that business. He launched Broadcast.com as an idea and sold it before it could do anything, because he knew that was all it was. Branson is an adrenaline junkie, who seeks and sees thrills in every moment, who lives for risk, for the idea it can all collapse.
Yesterday teaches lessons, but that’s all it can do. Tomorrow has its consequences, but you can’t live there. You can only live today, right now, in the moment.
Make each moment count.