Us humans, we’re irrational beasts. Thus not surprising that cultural norms play a large role in influencing behaviors. What will our parents think? What will our peers think? What will potential mates think (yes, that monkey DNA makes breeding a pretty significant driver)?
Tech founders aren’t immune to these forces. In fact, within close knit communities one could even argue the influences are magnified due to groupthink. Whether geographic (Silicon Valley) or virtual (Hacker News), there’s both normalization (behave like others do) and shared role models (be like Person X, Y or Z).
Role models in particular interest me because they ‘teach’ observers what’s right and wrong. When I speak with young founders the two most dominant role models are Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg (with folks like Jack Dorsey and Paul Graham also mentioned).
Their impression of Steve Jobs is one constructed through use of Apple products, Apple product release keynotes, the Stanford graduation speech and sometimes a biographic article/book. Emulation of Jobs justifies their pursuit of ‘simplicity,’ and a lack of willingness to compromise. Excellence, elegance.
Zuck though holds even more sway. He’s of the same generation, he dresses like them (or more specifically, they dress like him) and they all want to respect the Hacker’s Way. This gets turned into mantras like “the best code wins,” and “move fast and break things.” From The Social Network some have learned that you should sometimes play loose with the rules and that you need to navigate around or bull through the stupid folks who seek to slow inevitable disruption, whether they be wealthy twins, Harvard administrators or dead weight co-founders (yes it’s dramatization but these are some of the indelible moments in the film and circle the Facebook founding story for better or worse).
But already a few years old, have we reached “Peak Hoodie?” That is, are we past the halfway point on Zuck as main influence for a generation of technologists. And if so, who will be the next role model and what values will they espouse?
What if the next set of norms include emphasis on trusting people to do good? Or a global citizenship where no matter what our differences, we should be kind to each other? Will the next Hoodie come from someone with a loud social media voice? Will they even be American? Will they be someone we don’t know yet or seeing a familiar face in a new light such as Larry Page?
I don’t know but it does feel like we’re about to enter another transitional phase towards the next set of role models, and it’s likely those people have a bigger impact on the next decade of startups than any technology platform or buzzword.