Hopeful Monsters

‘What are hopeful monsters?’ I said ‘They are things born perhaps slightly before their time; when it’s not known if the environment is quite ready for them.’
Hopeful Monsters, by Nicholas Mosley [P. 71]

Hopeful Monsters could have been startups, but it is a novel, a marvelous novel written in 1990 and that I am reading again these days. I had read it in another century, when there were only books in paper and independent bookstores still existed. I had bought it in the late Black Oak Books in Berkeley, California.

Bruno held out his hands to the flames and talked to them in an unintelligible language. Minna said ‘What do you say to the fire?’
Bruno said ‘I say “Come on up! Do as I say or I’ll punish you!” ’
Minna said ‘And does it?’
Bruno said ‘If it wants to.’

The first 3 chpaters begin this way:
Chapter I – if we are to survive in the environment we have made for ourselves, may we have to be monstrous enough to greet our predicament?
Chapter II – if we are talking about an environment in which the acceptance of paradoxes might breed, then this can happen in an English hot-house, I suppose, as well as in a melting-pot of Berlin streets.
Chapter III – if, for the sake of change, old ground has to be broken up, one or two seeds lie secret – what terrible opportunities there were during those years!

I had never read a novel which mixes philosophy and science with beautiful story-telling. Not an easy read. Not sure it is a masterpiece either, though…

“Don’t f**k it up” – Advice to founders

I should not like “Don’t f**k it up”. Just because I am not a big fan of “how to” books in high-tech entrepreneurship. There is another reason why I should not like, i.e. the subtitle: “How Founders and Their Successors Can Avoid the Clichés That Inhibit Growth”. Usually I think foudners should not have successors. But I did not hate les Trachtman’s book at all. The reason is Les gives good advice to founders, the main one being “Trust and Empower”.

Let me give you examples:

I know that every founder believes his company is special, exceedingly complex, and unique. I can assure you that the challenges confronting you are just not that different. Ninety-five percent of your problems are shared by other founders, which is good news because it means your problems are solvable. They’ve been seen and handled many times before—all that is required is the smarts and the courage to address them. [Page 2]

“Employees who are taught to mistrust their own instincts are not very likely to trust their colleagues’ instincts, either.” Fear of failure can easily poison a company culture. Team-building efforts are useless when everyone’s first imperative is CYA — cover your ass. [Page 12]

The process of building a team is not that different from raising a healthy, self-sufficient child. […] You want them to learn from their mistakes and the
resulting painful consequences.
[Pages 15-16]

Micromanaging can often be an excuse for not developing and committing to mid-range and long-range goals. It can also serve as an excuse, changing your mind about what’s most important from one day to the next. A lot of founders run small companies that way, and they never scale those companies because it’s impossible to run a larger company on the basis of what the founder is feeling that particular day. [Page 20]

and his advice to foudners is to give more and moe importance to strategy by [Pages 31-33]:
1. Track your time.
2. Decide what not to work on, and stick to it.
3. Plan for the unexpected.
4. Write down your goals and revisit them quarterly.

More in another post…

Mathematics again: Unexpected, Inevitable and Economical

“La libertad es como un número primo.” Roberto Bolaño, Los Detectives Salvajes

Michael Harris’ mathematics without apologies, I said it elsewhere, is a must-read if you are interested in mathematics. And probably even more, if you are not. But again, it is not an easy reading.

After the claim in his Chapter 3 that mathematics was “Not Merely Good, True and Beautiful”, Harris goes on with provocative and thoughful arguments about the relations that mathematics have with Money (Chapter 4 – Megaloprepeia), with the Body (Chapter 6 – Further Investigations of the Mind-Body problem), with Foundations (Chapter 7 – The Habit of Clinging to an Ultimate Ground) and even with tricks (Chapter 8 – The Science of Tricks), Harris finally comes back to Apologies after a personal chapter about inspiration and work (Chapter 9 – A Mathematical Dream and Its Interpretation).

The author made me discover, shame on me, that “apology” does not mean only praise, but also excuse or defense. Difficulty and confusion of the vocabulary, indeed a recurrent theme of Harris’ book. Let me be quite clear again. I did not understand everything and I imagined Harris could have created a new index. As you may know if you read my blog, I mention Indices from time to time, like the Erdős Index, the Tesla Index. This new Index could be 0 for Maths Giants or Supergiants, humans who could be awarded the Fields Medal, the Abel Prize or equivalent, 1 for those who can understand (everything) that has been written in mathematics by those with 0 Index; then 2, for those who can understand (everything) that has been written in mathematics by those with 1 Index, etc… I do not know where the index would stop and perhaps it already exists… I woudl like to believe that I was at the Index 3 but not sure! But then I made my discovery about “apology”, I put myself down at Index 5…

Harris goes even stronger than Hardy with his “No Apologies” even if he quotes him: Irony has not spoken its last word on the flight from utility [of science], even when utility is understood, with Hardy, as that which “tends to accentuate the existing inequalities in the distribution of wealth”. [Page 296] I think harris has written a very useful book about mathematics. I add another example on the nature of mathematical beauty: “there is a very high degree of unexpectedness, combined with inevitability and economy” [Page 307].

When looking for more information about harris, I found his web page which begins with the quote i give above from Bolaño. When I discovered Bolaño a few years ago, it was such a shock that I read everything I could find. Again without understanding everything. But if you read Harris’ chapter 9, you will undestand that “not understanding everything” may not be that important, compared to the impact that (apparent) confusion may create…

PS: I could have added that while I was reading Harris, a controversy arose around a new solution for the P vs. NP problem. More about this in a detailed pdf and on its author’s blog. I also should have mentioned the Langlands program and Alexander Grothendieck, whom I also mentioned here. But again Harris book is so rich…

Equity in Startups

This is the third short report I publish this summer about startups. After Startups at EPFL and Stanford and Startups, here is (I hope) an interesting analysis about how equity was allocated in 400 startups, entitled Equity in Startups (in pdf). Here is the description of the report on its back page: Startups have become in less than 50 years a major component of innovation and economic growth. An important feature of the startup phenomenon has been the wealth created through equity in startups to all stakeholders. These include the startup founders, the investors, and also the employees through the stock-option mechanism and universities through licenses of intellectual property. In the employee group, the allocation to important managers like the chief executive, vice-presidents and other officers, and independent board members is also analyzed. This report analyzes how equity was allocated in more than 400 startups, most of which had filed for an initial public offering. The author has the ambition of informing a general audience about best practice in equity split, in particular in Silicon Valley, the central place for startup innovation.

I will let you (hopefully) discover this rather short report which could have been much longer if I had decided to analyze the data in detail. I will just right here my main results. A simple look at data shows that at IPO (or exit) founders keep around 10% of their company whereas investors own 50% and employees 20%. The remaining 20% goes to the general public at IPO . Of course, this is a little too simplistic. For examples founders keep more in Software and Internet startups and less in Biotech and Medtech. There could be a lot more to add but I let the reader focus on what possibly interests her.
Additional interesting points are:
– The average age of founders is 38 but higher in Biotech and Medtech and lower in Software and Internet.
– It takes on average 8 years to go public after raising a total of $138M, including a first round of $8M in VC money.
– On average, companies have about $110M in sales and are slightly profitable, with 500 employees at IPO time. But again there are differences between Software and Internet startups which have more sales and employees and positive income and Biotech and Medtech startups which have much lower revenue and headcount and negative profit.
– The CEO owns about 3% of the startup at exit. This is 4x less the founding group and depending when she (although it is too often a “he”) joined it would mean up to 20% close to foundation (assuming the founders would keep 80% and allocate the delta to the CEO)
CEOs are non-founders in about 36% of the cases, more in biotech (42%) and Medtech (35%) than Internet (31%) and Software (25%), more in Boston (48%) than Silicon Valley (43%) .
– The Vice-Presidents and Chief Officers own about 1% and the Chief Financial around 0.6%.
– Finally, an independent director gets about 0.3% of the equity at IPO. If we consider again that the founders are diluted by a factor 8x from their initial 100% to about 12%, it means a director should have about 2-3% if he joins at inception.
– In the past universities owned about 10% of a startup at creation in exchange for an exclusive license on IP. More recently, this has been more 5% non-diluted until significant funding (Series A round).

Stanford and Startups

Stanford is in the top2 universities with MIT for high-tech entrepreneurship. There is not much doubt about such statement. For the last ten years, I have been studying the impact of this university which has grown in the middle of Silicon Valley. After one book and a few research papers, here is a kind of concluding work.

A little less than 10 years ago, I discovered the Wellspring of Innovation, a website from Stanford University listing about 6’000 companies and founders. I used that list in addition from data I had obtained from OTL, the Stanford office of technology licensing as well as some personal data I had compiled over years. The report Startups and Stanford University with subtitle “an analysis of the entrepreneurial activity of the Stanford community over 50 years”, is the result of about 10 years of research. Of course, I did not work on it every day, but it has been a patient work which helped me analyze more than 5’000 start-ups and entrepreneurs. There is nearly not storytelling but a lot of tables and figures. I deliberately decided not to draw many conclusions as each reader might prefer one piece to another. The few people I contacted before publishing it here twitted about it with different reactions. For example:

Katharine Ku, head of OTL has mentioned another report when I mentioned mine to her: Stanford’s Univenture Secret Sauce – Embracing Risk, Ambiguity and Collaboration. Another evidence of the entrepreneurial culture of that unique place! I must thank Ms Ku here again for the data I could access thanks to her!

This report is not a real conclusion. There is still a lot to study about high-tech entrepreneurship around Stanford. With this data only. And with more recent one probably too. And I will conclude here with the last sentence of the report: “How will it develop in the future is obviously impossible to predict Therefore a revisited analysis of the situation in a decade or so should be very intersting.”

Mathematics – Not Merely Good, True and Beautiful

“It’s not the marbles that matter. It’s the game.” Dutch proverb

“In mathematics, the art of proposing a question must be held of higher value than solving it.” Cantor

Mathematics can be made simple, even obvious; and beautiful, and even useful. Just read my previous post about Ian Stewart’s 17 Equations That Changed the World. But there are other more provocative views. You just need to read Michael Harris’ mathematics without apologies.

Harris is certainly not as easy to read as Stewart. But it is as (maybe more) enriching. His Chapter 3 for example is entitled Not Merely Good, True and Beautiful. In this world of increasing pressure to justify the usefulness of science, the author fights back. “There is now a massive literature on the pressures facing university laboratories. These books mostly ignore mathematics, where stakes are not so high and opportunities for commercial applications are scarce, especially in the pure mathematics.” [Page 55]

But even Truth seems to be at stake.“If one really thinks deeply about the possbility that the foundations of mathematics are inconsistent, this is extremely unsettling for any rational mind” [Voevodsky quoted on page 58] and a few lines before “Bombieri recalled the concerns about the consistency, reliability, and truthfulness of mathematics that surfaced during the Foundations Crisis and alluded to the ambiguous status of computer proofs and too-long proofs.”

Finally Harris mentions some confusion about Beauty quoting Villani: “The artistic aspect of our discipline is [so] evident” that we don’t see how anyone could miss it.. immediatley adding that “what generally makes a mathematician progress is the desire to produce something beautiful.” Harris then quotes an art expert advising museum-goers to “let go of [their] preconceived notions that art has to be beautiful”. [Page 63]

Harris adds that “the utility of practical applications, the guarantee of absolute certainty and the vision of mathematics as an art form – the good, the true and the beautiful, for short – have the advantage of being ready to hand with convenient associations, though we should keep in mind that what you are willing to see as good depends on your perspective, and on the other hand the true and beautiful can themselves be understood as goods.” [Pages 63-4]

The short answer to the “why” question is going to be that mathematicains engage in mathematics because it gives us pleasure. [Page 68]

Maybe more in another post…

Instead of another post, here is a short section extracted from page 76 and added on August 27:

The parallels between mathematics and art

“Here the presumed but largely unsubstantiated parallel between mathematics and the arts offers unexpected clarity. Anyone who wants to include mathematics among the arts has to accept the ambiguity that comes with that status and with the different perspectives implicit in different ways of talking about art. Six of these perspectives are particularly relevant: the changing semantic fields the word art has historically designated; the attempts by philosophers to define art, for example, by subordinating it to the (largely outdated) notion of beauty or to ground ethics in aesthetics, as in G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, which by way of Hardy’s Apology continues to influence mathematicians; the skeptical attitude of those, like Pierre Bourdieu, who read artistic taste as a stand-in for social distinction ; the institutions of the art world, whose representatives reflect upon themselves in Muntadas’s interviews ; the artists personal creative experience within the framework of the artistic tradition ; and the irreducible and (usually) material existence of the art works themselves.
Conveniently, each of these six approaches to art as a mathematical counterpart: the cognates of the word mathematics itself, derived form the Greek mathesis, which just means “learning”, and whose meaning has expanded and contracted repeatedly over the millennia and from one culture to another, including those that had no special affinity for the Greek root; the Mathematics of philosophers of “encyclopedist” schools; school mathematics in its role as social and vocational filter; the social institutions of mathematics with their internal complexity and heir no-less-complex interactions with other social and political institutions; the mathematicians personal creative experience within the framework of the tradition (the endless dialogue with the Giants and Supergiants of the IBM and similar rosters); and the irreducible and (usually) immaterial existence of theorems, definitions and other mathematical notions.”

Maybe more in another post…

How much do you know (and love) about mathematics?

A tribute to Maryam Mirzakhani

From time to time, I mention here books about science and mathematics that I read. It is the first one I read by Ian Stewart. Shame on me, I should have read him a long time ago. 17 Equations That Changed the World is a marvelous little book that describe the beauty of mathematics. A must read, I think

So as a little exercise, you can have a look at these 17 equations and check how much you know. What ever the result, I really advise to read his book! And if you do not, you can have a look at the answers below…

And here is more, the names of the equations and the mathematitians who who discovered them (or invented them – depending on what you think Math is about).

Politics vs. Economics: A country is not a Start-up

I publish more and more posts about politics, society and start-ups. I recently had one about sexism in Silicon Valley and the motivation for this one is a French blogger who critized French president, Emmanuel Macron, for his saying that France should become a startup nation. The author, Mehdi Medjaoui, reacted by writing Non, la France ne doit pas devenir une start-up (No, France must not become a start-up).

This is a very interesting article in French, so I put most of the content in Google Translate and though I did my best to correct this (decently good) tool, I am not sure what follows is easily readable. But the main messages should be possible to follow. It is worth the read. the author knows very well start-ups and Silicon Valley and he does not have (I think) really much against them, btu I agree with him, their unique model and dynaics cannot and should be copied by states, and indeed only by a tiny number of people or groups.

France is not a start-up, it already has its model

No, France is not a start-up, that is to say a temporary organization in search of a model of growth and income, as defined by Steve Blank, one of the pioneers to theorize the mentality start- Up in Silicon Valley. France is a multi-century nation, whose model of “freedom equality fraternity” is universal, universalist and resonant for eternity. She is no longer looking for a model. She has been in the execution of this model for 220 years.

No, France is not a start-up, owned by a small number of shareholders and unelected investment funds, authorized to make unilateral choices without counter-measures that are necessary for the whole group. France is a democratic, sovereign nation whose representatives are of the people, elected by the people, for the people and seeking the separation and balance of power in the interests of all these citizens.

France should not think like a start-up, it must put innovation at the service of progress

No, France should not think “make something people want”, as would say Paul Graham, the founder of the best-known start-up accelerator that is YCombinator. France is a Republic (res-publica, the public thing) which thinks the general interest over particular interests. We would still have the death penalty if we were content to accomplish only the things people wanted. France must think “make what the people want”. The people as a whole. Not a part of the people.

No France should not adopt the strategy of blitzscaling thought by Reid Hoffman – founder of LinkedIn and investor – that is to say to invest resources with very great loss, on a very risky profile, betting on the debt to take Dominant market positions. France must manage its public finances in good faith because it is fundamentally the money of the citizens, and it must invest in infrastructure for the future, less risky and less profitable in the short term. It is not for the French State to take risks, it is for entrepreneurs, who will be rewarded for this. Because yes, thinking like a start-up is thinking of extreme growth, at any price, in a leak forward that leads to failure in 90% of cases. But unlike a startup, if you miss, you cannot start France again.

No, France must not succumb to the dictatorship of innovation that prevails in Silicon Valley, which is beginning to innovate to innovate as long as there are people to invest in a bubble economy … As Peter Thiel would say in “Where is the Future”. “We wanted flying cars, we had networks of 140 characters instead.” France should not think and control itself like a game where one bursts of candy, or a social network of photos or micro-messaging.

“France, the 5th world power and nuclear power does not drive like CandyCrush, Tinder or Snapchat”

On the other hand, France must think Progress. With values from the Enlightenment, it must enlighten the world again by thinking about the future, and by putting innovation and start-ups at the service of this future, because “Innovation without conscience is only ruin of the soul”.

For example, France as a nation must think the future by its ethical scientific and industrial intellectuals, define qualitative and quantitative objectives for the future of humanity, encourage innovation in this direction, go out of the «spray and pray» which is to believe that we must water and support all innovations and pray to see those that will evolve in progress.

It can do this by piloting its public research towards these objectives, the steering of its policy of financing innovation through the Public Investment Bank and the Caisse des Depots et Consignations and an open policy of valorization by its Socities for the Accelerated Transfer of Technology (SATT). The state can also do so with the legal context of intellectual property to allow all entrepreneurs in the territory to have a free license on unused patents owned by the state.

It is perhaps even negotiating at the global level to renounce the patenting of living organisms or medicines for poorer countries, or clean energy, in a logic of progress for humanity against the logic of capital. Somewhat like Elon Musk did when he put Tesla’s patents in the public domain, or the YCombinator accelerator I mentioned earlier, which guarantees with its YCResearch research center that all the results from their Works will be in the public domain.

At the same time, France, unlike the start-up philosophy, has to direct the world to think about the crazy guards that innovation tries to circumvent pushed by its logic of short-term profit. For example, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and researchers in the OpenAI movement want to finance the balance of knowledge in the field of artificial intelligence to ensure that it does not drift and becomes our last invention. It is the role of an enlightened nation like France to think these things on a global level. Not to think like a start-up to accept any innovation whatever its impact on the world, on the sole pretext that it is innovation, without knowing in which direction to go. For as the Chinese proverb says, “There is good wind only to him who knows where he is going”.

No France should not yield like start-ups to the galactic datacracy which thinks that one can control everything with metrics of acquisition, activation, retention, income and recommendations, statistics and the Big data. Or even succumb to what Eric Ries, the author of Lean Startup, calls the Vanity Metrics, these indicators of success that are not. That we can all automate, in a virtuous martingale this creation of value and unlimited. No, the data is only a representation of reality because it always suffers from statistical and collection bias. As Jacky Fayolle, administrator of INSEE, puts it: “When indicators are used in a fetish fashion, disconnected from the information system from which they come, they deplete public action rather than enrich it, while Offering an easy but illusory assessment of the performance of these actions.”
Cathy O’Neil in her book Weapons of Maths Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy takes on the example of the subprime crisis Where she explains that “a formula can be perfectly innocuous in theory. But when it is used on a large scale and becomes a national or global standard, it creates its own distorted and dystopic economy.” Behind, these are not application features that no longer work, they are people expropriated and put On the street, the financial bankruptcies of people who had invested their retirement in the markets and who have nothing more … and public money by hundreds of billions of all the citizens who come to bail out the banks.

On the scale of a start-up looking for its model, it is easy to go back in the real to understand what is not working and to publish a new version of the software two days later. When one speaks of basing the whole society behind the data, one takes the risk of diluting its meaning, which creates a systemic risk of discrepancy between reality and its statistical or algorithmic representation on a scale where one does not Can stop the machine.

No France should not act as a start-up, it must guarantee the long term

No, France should not “Move fast and break things”, that is to say to innovate at the risk of breaking the existing, as Mark Zuckerberg said in the first ten years of Facebook. France must guarantee national cohesion, guaranteeing progress for all, in the long term and without breaking the gains of social progress, its culture and its living together which are a legacy of the common French. Moreover once a critical size reached for Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg changed this principle to “Move fast with stable infrastructure”. This is closer to a sound strategy of rapid development by respecting the stability of what has already been built before, and which endorses the fact that Facebook was no longer a start-up. As France, too, must not think as such, it must also maintain the stability of its infrastructures, as quickly as it moves.

No, France does not have to “Fuck it, ship it”, an ideology that promotes the release of products not yet finished, to confront them with reality and learn from their impact on customers and the market. As Reid Hoffman (again) says, “If you’re not ashamed of your product when you take it out, it’s because you took too long to get it out and you’d have to get it out a lot sooner”.
France must think about reforms and laws in a spirit of respect for institutions, debate and consultation in the constitutional requirement and not produce laws or any other reform or infrastructure, without thinking about equality of rights. When you manage 67 million people in such an advanced way in your life, you cannot produce laws, utilities, infrastructure without thinking for all in the long run. You cannot do it without planning them on qualitative and quantitative goals of progress, egalitarian and ecological, just to get them out and see what it gives and then iterate. In other words: motorways or nuclear power plants are not built in “Fuck it ship it” mode.

No, France should not “Ask for forgiveness, not for permission”. The acts of the French state bind him before history. This can be seen, for example, in Germany, which still has no right to hold nuclear weapons or Japan which cannot devote more than 1% of its GDP to its army in retaliation for their actions during the second world War. It can also be seen with the consequences of colonization which remain open wounds in a large part of the population and a French dishonor in the History of the world. A start-up can make moral mistakes, play with the limits of the law like Uber and Airbnb to move the lines, but a state has many other responsibilities of another kind before international law and the course of the story. No France ought not to engage the nation for the future without thinking of the consequences.

France does not have to fail fast, fail often, but France is a nation state whose model has no right to break, in a country with 9 million poor people, 4 million poorly housed. Moreover, France cannot economically go bankrupt. The economic defeat, it ends in the end by “hyperinflation or war” as Karl Marx would say. Hyperinflation if we try to pay off the debts that have become un-repayable, the war with its creditors if we do not want to pay them back and they come to force it back.
And then we cannot start France again with another team and other investors. There is but one people of France, and one territory of France.

No France should not like a start-up segment its offers according to the citizens in a cleaving relationship, for citizens who can afford to subscribe and others not. On the contrary, it must treat the whole territory and all its citizens in an inclusive, “equal with equals, unequal with unequal” way, to compensate for differences of fact or nature, not to accentuate them.

No France should not invest everything solely on technological solutionism, which advocates that everything can be solved with an application, as Evgeny Morozov explains in his book “To save everything click here” or Jaron Lanier in his book “Who owns The Future.” Things are more complex than that when you run a nation. France must think, like Barack Obama in front of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, that “Democracy is by definition disordered and that if all I had to do was produce a widget (web or mobile application) without worrying about Whether the poorest can access it or worry about possible collateral damage, then the recommendations of the Silicon Valley bosses would be great.”

No, France should not create temporal monopolies, as Peter Thiel would say in his book Zero to One, in order to create more margin than its competitors (especially Europeans) in order to continue investing to maintain this monopoly. France needs to think of economic collaboration with its European partners, to rebuild a political Europe that goes beyond the doctrine of free and undistorted competition that puts countries in tax and social competition. France must establish itself in Europe in a logic of cooperation, as we have seen with the industrial successes of Airbus and Ariane Espace. There remain the economics of the sea, the digital and so many other areas on which to cooperate at the European level with our partners, not our competitors.

France must be an infrastructure, think and act as an infrastructure

Instead of being a start-up and thinking like a start-up, France must become an entrepreneurial state. In this context, its role is a regulator, an insurer of last resort and an arbitrator who ensures the freedom to undertake, reduces the opportunity cost and the cost of access to the market to its minimum for entrepreneurs , Helps finance innovation, supports basic research, while protecting its strategic industries. Its role is to ensure neutrality, equity, transparency and stability in the marketplace to create a climate of sound confidence and enable entrepreneurs to innovate. In this respect, it is concretely to create an infrastructure favorable to the creation of value, with maximum positive externalities to allow the emergence of a fertile ecosystem to the taking of risk. But it is not France that must take risks! Entrepreneurs will be more agile to identify market needs and build experiences that customers expect. The State is involved in investing in infrastructure over the long term and pooling them for all, with access costs tending to zero with the number, allowing the opportunity cost to the entrepreneurial Real equality of opportunity.
So it is not to think like a start-up but to think like an infrastructure that allows the emergence of startups, guaranteeing as a state the counterpart of the legislative framework in the direction of Progress over the long term for the society.

A State is the opposite of “move fast and break things”, but rather “move forward and do not break”

“We can not stop progress” or the dictatorship of innovation

“In the speech of Emmanuel Macron at Vivatech, the word innovation is pronounced 25 times, the word progress does not appear.”

As Etienne Klein has often said in his lectures, “50 years ago, for every innovation that brought society forward, it was said, We do not stop progress”. There was a benevolent vision of innovation where it was said that technology came to free men and women from their condition. In a society where innovation is king, this expression takes a whole different turn. “One does not stop progress” is today the expression of a dictatorship of innovation. Technology is seen as a bulimic monster that will come to threaten our future, take jobs, consume more resources, with no safeguards. It is the theories of the Singularity University in Mountain View, where it is believed that technology will replace the man in a “forced march” and make it obsolete.

Is this really our plan for the future?

“The idea of progress was a doubly consoling idea. In the first place, because by sustaining the hope of a future improvement of our living conditions, by making a more desirable world a long way off, it made history humanly bearable. Second, because it gave meaning to the sacrifices it imposed. In the name of a certain idea of the future, mankind was called upon to work for a progress which the individual would not necessarily Experience, but whose descendants could benefit. ”
In short, to believe in progress was to accept the sacrifice of the personal present in the name of a certain credible and desirable idea of the collective future. But for such a sacrifice to have any meaning, a symbolic attachment to the world and its future was required. Is it because such a connection is lacking today that the word progress is disappearing or curling up behind the single concept of innovation, now on the agenda of all research policies? ”

The idea of progress is the opposite of the start-up philosophy that runs in the short term, in a forward flight dictated by the dogma of innovation at all costs in the name of the market, without putting it in context Desire for the future. Not every innovation that meets a market is progress. Some examples? Allowing to share photos that fade on a social network is not a progress for humanity. Paying to choose the genetic characteristics of one’s children, is not a progress for humanity. Transplanting the blood of young adults to try to get younger rich businessmen to rejuvenate is not a progress. Allowing to meet men and women on a simple thumb on her phone is not a progress for humanity. It’s up to you to judge for yourself.

For all these reasons, France should not become a start-up, nor should it think and act as a start-up. France is a nation, a state, a people, a history, a culture that has to extricate itself from the permanent pivot, for it is capable of thinking the future in the name of a desirable idea for which its people are ready to sacrifice. These reversals of strategy startups who do not know where they go and what their model are the opposite. The French model is established “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” and it has an eternal vocation, for France is not and will never be an enterprise, it is a Republic.

Inequality is putting the American Dream in peril

As I am a big fan of both Piketty and Harari in addition to being a start-up fan, I was attracted by this article from the Stanford Magazine: This is Not Your Parents’ Economy – Inequality is putting the American Dream in peril. Here is the most striking message:

According to the “Fading American Dream” paper, 92 percent of people born in 1940 earned more in income at age 30 than their parents did at age 30. Only 50 percent of those born in 1984 did.
[…]
In trying to explain why mobility has fallen so precipitously, Chetty, Grusky and their team considered two “counterfactual” scenarios for those born in the 1980s. The first assumes higher GDP growth, equivalent to that experienced by those born in 1940 but distributed as it has been recently. The second uses the real GDP growth for the 1980s cohort but assumes a “more broadly shared” distribution. As the paper explains, “the first scenario expands the size of the economic pie, dividing it in the proportions by which it is divided today. The second keeps the size of the pie fixed, but divides it more evenly as in the past.”
[…]
The higher GDP growth scenario did increase mobility — to 62 percent from 50 percent. But the more broadly shared growth scenario did even better, increasing mobility to 80 percent. To achieve that higher level of mobility using GDP alone would require growth of 6.4 percent per year. (Recent years have seen growth under 3 percent in the United States.)
[…]
“We were able to say, if you care about upward mobility, aggregate growth wouldn’t be enough to restore it; instead, growth needs to be more equitably distributed.”