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Every week, we try to collate some pieces of journalism and writing that stood out for us. We call it - somewhat obviously - What we’ve been reading.
So, if you’ve got a moment to spare, check out the content that had us talking and thinking. Hopefully, it will inspire a similar reaction in you.
A friend of mine recently reminded me of the phrase “polishing brass on the Titanic”. It’s a quote by Tyler Durden, Fight Club’s central villain.
The phrase is all about being in denial, busying ourselves with some task to forget about the whole that’s ultimately doomed. I thought about the quote again when I read this account of the ongoing chaos at Fresco News, a once hot media startup based in New York.
Its founder tries desperately to maintain an air of normalcy as his business atrophies around him. It’s all fine, he tells his employees as the company misses yet another payroll. He does it not only to protect his ego but, as Gaby Del Valle points out here, in a desperate bid to procure more investment money.
And Fresco News is just one part of an entire startup economy built on sand. Amid the B.S. and the bluster, the employees are left polishing brass on the Titanic. “It’s all going down, man.”
Sure, this might be another article on robots. But this one on Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of Osaka's Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, stands out.
In the last fifteen years, Ishiguro has produced some 30 androids, most of them female. He's focusing on suffusing the androids with something the Japanese call sonzai-kan - humanness, in other words.
But as the article points out, to re-create human presence we need to know more about ourselves than we do. We need to understand the accumulation of cues and micromovements that trigger our empathy, put us at ease, and earn our trust.
Is Ishiguro nearly there?
The Outline is killing it at the moment. Their content is brilliantly acidic, sure -- but it’s always paired with a clever and funny design. This dismantling of a social media shyster is not only delicious: it looks great!
You’ve probably stepped into the dog turd that is David Wolfe’s ideas. He’s all over Facebook and Twitter. Here’s a taster of Wolfe’s atrociously insane brain farts: mushrooms aren’t of this planet, they rode in on the cosmic wind.
It’s a hilarious article. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that Wolfe is an entrepreneur; an extremely successful one. This guy, he’s not a nincompoop. He knows what he’s doing and who his audience is. The more salient question is an ethical one: to what extent is it the entrepreneur’s responsibility to act ethically? Is it their responsibility at all?
David Wolfe clearly has his answer. Do you have yours?
If you can nab a spare moment this Friday (or this weekend) try and read this article in one sitting. I first came across it last summer, and what a mystery! It honestly reads like a John Le Carré thriller.
So there’s all that intrigue, but the article is also a fantastic primer into the strange world of the shipping trade: shady owners, car bombs, armed gunmen and pirates, ships moored in chaotically unstable port cities, salvagers, surveyors and idiosyncratic insurance policies.
And you thought being an entrepreneur was hard!
I didn't mean to start this with a story of failure and end with one. Honest.
Mental health in startups is something I've written about a lot. As far as I'm concerned, it's something we should be talking about more. This post comes from Startup Anonymous, and it's one of the site's most read posts. It delves into the feelings of disappointment and fear a founder has about telling employees, and even their spouse, that the company's shutting down.
"We haven’t paid ourselves a salary for some time with the hopes that we would raise more money, but also because we couldn’t afford to. My wife was counting on me to raise more money, now I have to tell her the news.
"We didn’t leave enough money in the bank to pay off our debt, so now we need to tell people we can’t pay. Are they going to come after me, or my house and my car? I’m broke and I’m scared," they say.
Having a peer network is crucial to learning and evolving as a CEO. It's also fundamental to be able to share your problems in a frank and open way with people who understand the job role. Startups Anonymous is great in that it gives everyone, anywhere an ability to get that kind of support without judgement.
It's a much more harrowing read than the story on Fresco News, but helpful to see the feedback and know that, hopefully, whatever you're going through as a business owner you're not alone.