FF Insights 714: Serena Williams unplugged

August 11, 2022: The case for diversity, The problems with Bitcoin, Change explained

Founding Fuel

[iShot71, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Good morning,

In her book Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows highlights the importance of diversity. We know the importance of diversity in science and technology, and individuals and institutions tend not to close doors on new fresh knowledge (even though that happens due to political and ideological reasons). We are increasingly realising the importance of biodiversity, even though it’s not clear if we are doing enough about it. A lot less appreciated is cultural diversity. We tend to dismiss some folklore, traditional knowledge because we haven't invested enough time in understanding it. 

But they all play an important role in progress and evolution. 

Meadows writes: “The most stunning thing living systems and some social systems can do is to change themselves utterly by creating whole new structures and behaviours. In biological systems that power is called evolution. In human economies it’s called technical advance or social revolution. In systems lingo it’s called self-organisation.”

She goes on to add: “When you understand the power of system self-organisation, you begin to understand why biologists worship biodiversity even more than economists worship technology. The wildly varied stock of DNA, evolved and accumulated over billions of years, is the source of evolutionary potential, just as science libraries and labs and universities where scientists are trained are the source of technological potential. Allowing species to go extinct is a systems crime, just as randomly eliminating all copies of particular science journals or particular kinds of scientists would be.

“The same could be said of human cultures, of course, which are the store of behavioural repertoires, accumulated over not billions, but hundreds of thousands of years. They are a stock out of which social evolution can arise. Unfortunately, people appreciate the precious evolutionary potential of cultures even less than they understand the preciousness of every genetic variation in the world’s ground squirrels. I guess that’s because one aspect of almost every culture is the belief in the utter superiority of that culture. 

“Insistence on a single culture shuts down learning and cuts back resilience. Any system, biological, economic, or social, that gets so encrusted that it cannot self-evolve, a system that systematically scorns experimentation and wipes out the raw material of innovation, is doomed over the long term on this highly variable planet.

“The intervention point here is obvious, but unpopular. Encouraging variability and experimentation and diversity means ‘losing control.’ Let a thousand flowers bloom and anything could happen! Who wants that? Let’s play it safe and push this lever in the wrong direction by wiping out biological, cultural, social, and market diversity!”

Have a great day! 

Serena Williams unplugged

That Serena Williams, one of the world’s greatest tennis players, has decided to retire is now headline news. Just how does she feel about it? We felt a lump in the throat on reading her first-person account in Vogue where she bares her soul and raises some issues that may never have crossed most of our minds. At 41, she isn’t ready to retire. But she must. “Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labour of expanding our family.”

But now that she has taken the call, it is sinking in. 

“It’s like it’s not real until you say it out loud. It comes up, I get an uncomfortable lump in my throat, and I start to cry. The only person I’ve really gone there with is my therapist! One thing I’m not going to do is sugarcoat this. I know that a lot of people are excited about and look forward to retiring, and I really wish I felt that way.

“It’s the hardest thing that I could ever imagine. I hate it. I hate that I have to be at this crossroads. I keep saying to myself, I wish it could be easy for me, but it’s not. I’m torn: I don’t want it to be over, but at the same time I’m ready for what’s next. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to look at this magazine when it comes out, knowing that this is it, the end of a story that started in Compton, California, with a little Black girl who just wanted to play tennis. This sport has given me so much. I love to win. I love the battle. I love to entertain…

“My whole life, up to now, has been tennis. My dad says I first picked up a racket when I was three, but I think it was even earlier. There’s a picture of Venus pushing me in a stroller on a tennis court, and I couldn’t have been more than 18 months. Unlike Venus, who’s always been stoic and classy, I’ve never been one to contain my emotions. I remember learning to write my alphabet for kindergarten and not doing it perfectly and crying all night. I was so angry about it. I’d erase and rewrite that A over and over, and my mother let me stay up all night while my sisters were in bed. That’s always been me. I want to be great. I want to be perfect. I know perfect doesn’t exist, but whatever my perfect was, I never wanted to stop until I got it right…

“I don’t particularly like to think about my legacy. I get asked about it a lot, and I never know exactly what to say. But I’d like to think that thanks to opportunities afforded to me, women athletes feel that they can be themselves on the court. They can play with aggression and pump their fists. They can be strong yet beautiful. They can wear what they want and say what they want and kick butt and be proud of it all. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career. Mistakes are learning experiences, and I embrace those moments. I’m far from perfect, but I’ve also taken a lot of criticism, and I’d like to think that I went through some hard times as a professional tennis player so that the next generation could have it easier. Over the years, I hope that people come to think of me as symbolising something bigger than tennis. I admire Billie Jean because she transcended her sport. I’d like it to be: Serena is this and she’s that and she was a great tennis player and she won those slams.”

Dig deeper

Serena Williams announces her retirement from tennis 

The problems with Bitcoin

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are the subject of much scrutiny and debate. Will it eventually replace the fiat currencies countries and people now use? As we have argued earlier, while we love the underlying technology, we aren’t quite sure about that. There are various reasons for that and Noah Smith has pointed out some more in the most recent edition of his newsletter. 

Consider inflation as one case. He says, “This is why a dollar is less valuable than it used to be—$1 dollar in 1913 was about as valuable as $30 in 2022.

“To many Bitcoiners, this represents an injustice. Why should unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats in distant Washington, D.C. get to devalue your hard-earned cash? To these folks, Bitcoin seems to represent individual autonomy, because the Fed doesn’t get to decide how much your money is worth. And the idea that Bitcoin appreciates rather than depreciates over time seems to value personal frugality and probity, because it promises that people who work hard and save money will be able to keep the fruits of their labours.

“But this idea rests on a fundamental misconception: The idea that cash should rise in value over time. In fact, cash was never meant to be a form of long-term savings.

“Consider a world where cash goes up in value over time—where simply because you stuffed some money under a mattress, you can afford more and more of society’s production every year. This sounds like a pretty good deal, right? In fact, it is a good deal—too good, really. In this sort of deflationary world, you’re getting wealth for nothing—society is continually transferring you more and more of the fruits of its labours in exchange for you doing absolutely bupkis.

“If money earns a positive real return over time, that return doesn’t represent a reward for hard work done; it represents a freebie. A handout. In economic terms, this is called ‘rent’. 

“If Bitcoin actually did become the currency of the land, and its value rose year after year, that rising value would represent a transfer of real resources to people who sit on cash and do nothing at all with it. And where do those real resources come from? Well, they must come from productive workers and companies. So the world Bitcoiners imagine is a world where productive workers and companies are subsidising the lifestyles of cash hoarders.”

Dig deeper

Economic misconceptions of the crypto world

Change explained

(Via WhatsApp)

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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