It’s easy to get lost in the negative news about the few people who are doing bad things on the large scale. But I would like to argue that there are more people doing good things on an even larger scale (personal connections), you just don’t hear about them because they are too busy doing the work.
It has been 1 year since I stopped watching the news. All news. Sometimes I do check in with comedic news but overall, I get my news from people. This was a conscious effort because when I moved back to the States, the bombardment of negative opinions about factual news was too much. As a scientist I prefer facts than the opinions. However, I understand that people’s interpretation of events are also important so I end up getting my news from the people I interact with each day; democrats, republicans, green peace evangelists, and even neo-Nazis.
Quick note about the neo-Nazis… I made someone associated with them cry at a party. I told them I was here to promote the Swedish agenda of innovation and caring for those you don’t know. Imagine hearing that from a dark skinned girl with an afro lol.
Now back to the people doing good: I am gathering evidence for the hypothesis that the real influencers are not on social media. They are not professing quotes, they are in the mud with the people they want to help. Yes it is valid to use social media when you want funding and to promote an idea. However, when I started my company I met with people with thousands of ‘followers’ on social media and only got sound bites of repetitious quotes rather than actual advice. Then I also met with people with no social media presence, I would call them worrying about choosing the right investors or how to morally fund the thing I am trying to build. They would say things like, “stay calm and work hard” and then carry on to tell me what they thought and introduce me to more people to get this thing off the ground.
Trystan talking me out of my fear One of my favourite people in this life is a surfer named Trystan. I met him on the plane heading to Fuerteventura a year and change ago. You know when you see someone and they look you in the eyes and you realise you might have a lot to learn from this person? And I was not incorrect. He pushed me to the limits of my fear in one of the greatest surf experiences I have ever had. I didn’t stand up much but I remember one wave I caught and went right on... this was only a few months into my surf adventure, hips still inflexible but I rode that wave. The best part of our session were all the moments he talked the fear out of me. Now he is doing it on a larger scale with his Ocean Guiding Centre. He is not just teaching kids or people how to surf, he is teaching them sustainability and helping them gain great respect for the environment that gives us so much more than a free ride. He has launched a kick-starter campaign to help fund his endeavour, and I hope that if any of you are reading this you might consider going down to FV and supporting anyway you can. I mean taking a class with him was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Trystan is doing stuff. Another example is the Stockholm Start-UP culture. I am biased because I never tried to start a company anywhere else. However, what I have noticed is the watershed effect of success here. The Unicorns help the soon to be unicorns, and the soon to be help the newly developed, and the newly developed help the idea generators. This is counter to what you would think the competitive landscape would be like. The city of Stockholm even makes sure to have concise information on each person you should contact in every stage of your start up life. Yes of course in Sweden, I would argue the innovation capital of the world, we need new companies to support our main resource, taxes, but the support to do so fairly, quietly but with great impact is in the infrastructure and the core of Swedish values. My last example is from the sciences. From the professors raising children while teaching and doing research and starting companies. To the post-docs studying the role of microtubules in shape for plant development or how water striders stride. The professors who tell us to stay strong, protect your mind, exercise and that being free comes at great risk. The researchers turned consultants who help large companies put funds towards cancer research using their critical ability to judge quality research. To the technicians in each lab who make sure we do our experiments well and don’t break the really expensive instruments. When I started my PhD the resident engineer at our lab helped me when one of our equipment caught fire and he turned to me, a flustered 23 yr old just starting out in the lab and said, “Don’t worry, I'll take care of the breakdowns so that you can have a break through.” I have many more examples of such people and I am sure you can think of many more. But, I hope you can see that you don’t always need to shout to be influential. You just need to do the work.