Changing the World: That’s crap!

27 07 2007

Today I watched the new GigaOm show on Revision3. Of all the bits in the show, I was most impressed by Seagate CEO Bill Watkins’ comments about his irritation with some Silicon Valley leaders spouting to be “changing the world” and a suggestion that some of those same people need to start by changing and being involved in their communities first and foremost.

It turns out it wasn’t the first time he’d made such comments. Valleywag deemed him a hero (but Engadget thought his frankness was refreshing, but maybe a little too frank) for earlier comments:

Let’s face it, we’re not changing the world. We’re building a product that helps people buy more crap – and watch porn.

I don’t know if his later comments from the GigaOM show implies a subtle jab towards anyone in particular, but either way I found it particularly refreshing.

Everyone doing something wants to think they are changing the world, or are working a goal that can change the world.

Even the realistic sentimentalist wants to think that we are changing the world in some small way. And that’s what I think is the subtle distinction: changing the world is about making the world better for one person at a time. For if you hold your delusions of grandeur above all else, you forget that changing the world is really about helping people at literally that granular of a level.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it. I wonder if it’s better to be a teacher and just help set some kids in the right direction, changing their lives in some very small way.

Technology and enterprises do, however, have a wonderful opportunity to change a life in a small way, many times over. And that can mean a lot in the aggregate, which is why we stick it out. But let’s be clear about where that starts, which hopefully is the broader lesson of Bill Watkins’ entertainingly frank comments (sob).

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