Do you believe in God? Part II: The unexplained does not justify blind faith.

Like anybody that enjoys thinking, I like to talk about polemic things like religion, football or politics. Especially because when there is no right or wrong, I can exercise my brain with fellow humans. Unfortunately we can’t talk to dolphins, whales or chimpanzees yet, to get their opinion about it. I’m sure someday we will be able to do so.

Always when I talk about this God issue, some people tell me that I’m dumb because there are many unexplained things around us, and therefore God exists. Well, I definitely believe that there are many unexplained things around us, but what’s the connection between those things and God? I don’t see it. Let’s take just a simple example: the “recent” case of Ram Bahadur Bamjan (the “Buddha Boy”, from Nepal). Discovery Channel could not explain how he can keep alive after being completely immovable for days:

Another constant question: Is it possible that spirits or souls exist? Definitely. Actually, I think that when a person or an animal dies, part of their energies stays present around us and even talk to us or influence us. Can that be called soul? Yes, why not? Spiritism, Voodoo, Yoruba or Candomble are really amazing and powerful things and I do think that they are based on natural phenomena that can be perceived by many of us in different ways but still can’t be explained.

“I’ve got you!” many believers then tell me, “so, you believe in God!”. What the heck! Does that justify the existence of God? Of course not. If God(s) exist(s) just because we can’t explain something, then we are screwed: there is no reason then to look for new discoveries whatsoever. Penicillin? What for? Lets all gonna die at the age of 35 due to a group of stupid bacteria just to make our God(s) (and priests) happier!

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Silicon Valley with IE Business School: Part III

This is the last post about the trip I did last year to the Silicon Valley with IE students.

During the last day of the visit we moved to San Francisco and had some different workshops with local professors, organizations that support “wanna-be” entrepreneurs and “wanna-be” entrepreneurs themselves. Just to make it clear, I call “wanna-be” entrepreneurs those people who want to get to the stage to be considered entrepreneurs. Those of you who follow my posts know that I just consider “entrepreneurs” people who exercise their theoretical (or Schumpeterian) function in society of finding new – and innovative – ways of trading something. People who are still trying to get there I call them just as “business people”.

San Francisco

San Francisco

In San Francisco we had the opportunity to meet the businessman Brandan Wallace, co-founder of Identified.com, a tool developed to compete with LinkedIn in a more junior – and facebook-like – job market (among other things, they found out that LinkedIn’s demographics achieves much more the senior profiles). Together with Prof. Blake Winchell of IE Business School, partner of Partner Ventures, and investor in the venture, they developed together some thoughts I not only share with them but would like also to debate with you:

1) In the market, usually, most of the people think that the entrepreneur (or the “wanna-be” entrepreneur, under my perspective) is the passionate guardian of the venture while the investor is “barely” the financial-minded part of the formula. In fact, quite often, the situation is the opposite. Think about it: there are a lot of investors out there with pretty much limited resources (let’s say, few millions). If they will put their money in something, they do have to believe in it, be passionate about it.

I met an investor in Brazil once that built his initial “venture capital” by selling part of the company he helped to build throughout some 15+ years of hard work. Me (and the local market – friends, press, etc) estimated he raised some 10 to 20 million dollars in that operation. He was explaining to me that he had only about 10 “shots” in his gun. So, he wanted ideas from IE students to consider investing on them. Imagine the emotional cost for this guy in believing in those 10 ideas. What if none of them worked? His whole fortune would be gone…

2) The myth of the great idea: Most of the “wanna-be” entrepreneurs think that their key contribution to the project is the “wonderful” great idea they had. I tell you something: the idea is not as important as people think. There are A LOT of hard work, appropriate networking connections and accumulation of positive outcomes from business decisions involved before the original idea become something really hot.

With years of accumulated experience, Prof. Blake estimates that nowadays the idea is responsible for about 5% of the success of a venture while proper execution about 95%. I not only strongly agree with him but also think that the tendency is that this proportion will considerably change in favor of execution as ideas become more and more available worldwide. Ideas will only keep relevance when deeply connected to “hard” intellectual property (patents) such as those for new materials.

3) In fact, “pivot” became the magical word of the moment in California. According to the Wiktionary, the word “pivot” comes from the French and Italian word for a very specific tool, usually made of metal, that allow us “to turn something using the same point of support”, like the base that allow the arm of a LP Player to move around (and reach different ideas):

A way of seeing the "famous" pivot

A way of seeing the "famous" pivot

According to this way of thinking, ventures can turn mediocre ideas into billion-dollar companies. To get more information about this interest trend read Eridc Ries book “The Lean Startup”. I have not read yet it sounds interesting.

I had so may other hints from this last day but I do not want to make this post too long. Let’s get back to these issues soon…

I need a Theory of Social Relativity!

I have been looking for a nice and well-rounded theory of social relativity for years and couldn’t find anything yet. If anybody knows anything about it please, let me know. I came up with this name on purpose, inspired by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (check up on Wikipedia to refresh your memory). Just to make it clear, I am not talking about Relativism in here (check it out too). Neither about Old or New Institutionalism (if you have not heard of it, don’t worry, Institutionalists are becoming an institution by themselves).

Since Max Weber, I think social scientists pretty much understand already how conventions are naturally established by humans and other animals to gain effectiveness in our actions and use of our brains (we tend to sit in the same seat, follow the same way back home and these kind of things). Take a read on Berger & Luckman’s “The Social Construction of Reality (1966)” for a nice introduction to that subject.

I am talking about a theory that can gather Einstein’s suggestions and combine its consequences with every social aspect of our lives, a theory that can make us to rethink the role of any kind of “constant” social behavior and physical condition.

Let’s think about it: the Earth attracts us to it, just like the Sun attracts the Earth to it. You may not have thought about it but we also attract the Sun and the Earth to ourselves with a tiny force derived from our masses and therefore we also distort space and time by our individual existence just like the Sun or any other mass in rapid movement. I won’t enter into the question about where those gravitational forces come from because then we would get too philosophical (some people believe that gravity is the closest thing we know to God).

In any case, my weird correlation is: just like every mass interact with each other in the universe distorting each other’s physical reality in different degrees, we humans also distort each other’s perceptions on ourselves due to the relativity of all our conventions that are merely based on unreliable and imprecise social definitions and physical evidences that should not be perceived as truth ever (and I think we should have been told that when we were young).

The Persistence of Memory, 1931

The Persistence of Memory, 1931

Words gain meaning with time, individually to each one of us, changing according to the use we give to them and the experience we have with them over time. I can assure that the meaning of the word “love” for you is different from the meaning it has to me. Moreover, the meaning of the word “love” for you today is different from the meaning you will give to it in 5 years. And even the way the word sounds is affected by the wind and the air chemical composition (like humidity).

The values of gold or money are also just conventions that mean nothing more than some kind of physical representation of certain local social power; especially under this “social game” we have been playing called capitalism. The Incas had a completely different relationship with gold, for example. Besides, the weight of an ounce of gold also varies according to the position you are in the planet since we now know that the force of gravity is not constant around our not-so-rounded Earth.

How about the time? Besides the distortion caused by all other masses surrounding us, our planet and solar system, we now know that not every day lasts a day and not every year lasts a year, so our “sacred” seconds, minutes and hours are all mere simplistic representations of a time that is not so fixed as we wished. Consequence: don’t worry if you arrive a minute late to a meeting. Nobody knows the exact time anyway. :-)

Gosh! Everything seems to be so complex! And I am not saying that in the Parsonian sense of the expression :-) but in a social-physical angle that apparently nobody dared to merge yet. I don’t know why, but Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” came to my mind while I was writing this. Perhaps because I am living in Spain and I do think that the Mediterranean people have been facing these complexities with a pleasant sense of disdain that amuses me. Olé!

Fool’s Gold

In my last day of vacations I took a moment to update the songs I am collecting in my Spotify account. If you have an account there too, take a look later at this never-ending but enjoyable work: http://open.spotify.com/user/newtonmcampos.

During this process, I found a Brazilian artist I liked a lot during my adolescence: Raul Seixas, an old pop icon in Brazil. For those of you who have heard of Paulo Coelho (the famous Brazilian writer), bear in mind that the they worked together creating some of the most amazing songs of that time. Just as a curiosity, I found a video of them during a trip to the US in the 70’s (that is interesting only if you’ve heard of Paulo Coelho before):

Well, the song I found more interesting to hear again and explore was this one, “Ouro de Tolo” (Fool’s Gold), one of the first musics composed by Raul Seixas, inspired by Bob Dylan, that talks about the “perfect job” promised by the Brazilian government under the dictatorship installed to assure the development of capitalism in the country during the cold war. I suggest you to listen to the song and read the lirics and its free Google translation. It is very interesting and made me think about this interesting moment of my life:

Eu devia estar contente porque eu tenho um emprego
I should be happy I have a job
Sou o dito cidadão respeitável
I’m the so called respectable citizen
E ganho quatro mil cruzeiros por mês
and I earn 4 thousand cruzeiros a month

E devia agradecer ao Senhor
And I should thank the Lord
Por ter tido sucesso na vida como artista
for having achieved success as an artist
Eu devia estar feliz porque
I should be happy because
Eu consegui comprar um corcel 73
I managed to buy a ’73 Ford

E devia estar alegre, satisfeito
And I should be happy, pleased
Por morar em Ipanema depois de ter passado fome
for living in Ipanema after having starved
Por dois anos, aqui, na cidade maravilhosa
for 2 years, here, in this marvelous city (Rio de Janeiro)

Eu devia estar sorrindo e orgulhoso
I should be smiling, proud
Por ter finalmente vencido na vida
for having finnaly succeeded
Mas eu acho isso uma grande piada
But I find it all a great joke
E um tanto quanto perigosa
a rather dangerous one

Eu devia estar contente por ter conseguido
I should be happy I got
Tudo o que eu quis, mas confesso
everything I always wanted, but I reckon
Abestalhado que eu estou decepcionado
stunned that I’m disappointed

Porque foi tão fácil conseguir
because it was so easy to get
E agora eu me pergunto, e daí?
And I ask; so what?
Eu tenho uma porção de coisas grandes pra conquistar
I have many great things to achieve
E eu não posso ficar aí parado
And I can’t stay stand

Eu devia estar feliz pelo Senhor ter me concedido
I should be happy the Lord gave me
Um domingo pra ir com a família no jardim zoológico
a Sunday to go to the zoo with my family
Dar pipoca aos macacos
give popcorn to the monkeys

Ah, mas que sujeito chato sou eu
oh, but what a bore guy I am
Que não acha nada engraçado
I can’t find fun
Macaco, praia, carro, jornal, tobogan
Monkeys, beaches, cars, newspapers, tobogan,
Eu acho tudo isso um saco
to me they just suck

É você olhar no espelho
You look at yourself on the mirror
Se sentir um grandessíssimo idiota
You feel like a great idiot
Saber que é humano, ridículo, limitado
Knowing you are human, limited
Que só usa dez por cento de sua cabeça animal
and you use just ten per cent of your animal head

E você ainda acredita que é um doutor
And you still believe you are a doctor
Padre ou policial que está contribuindo com sua parte
A priest or a policeman doing your part to contribute
Para o nosso belo quadro social
to our beatiful society

Eu é que não me sento no trono de um apartamento
I don’t sit on a couch in an apartment
Com a boca escancarada, cheia de dentes
with my mouth open, full of teeth,
Esperando a morte chegar
waiting for death to arrive

Porque longe das cercas embandeiradas
because far away form the decorated fences
Que separam os quintais
that separate yards
No cume calmo do meu olho que vê
at the calm peak of my seeing eye
Assenta a sombra sonora de um disco voador
there rests the shadow of a flying saucer.

Just for curiosity, I attach Raul’s own translation of “Ouro de Tolo”, in a version of the song in English:

And also the history of the song told – in Portuguese – by journalist Ana Maria Bahiana: http://soundcloud.com/factoide/historia-de-ouro-de-tolo-do-raul-seixas

The infinite growth problem

One of the things that annoy me most in our days is this compulsion for economic growth everywhere at any time and cost. I was having lunch with an IE alumnus last week and we entered in those typical talks about career development based on countries’ and market’s growth.

This thing was in the table for discussion because this alumnus was considering moving with his wife to Brazil just like many other current MBA students and alumni worldwide. Why are they considering it? Obviously because of the economic boom the country is facing and foreseeing. Most of them know that whoever gets there first, have an enhanced possibility to succeed professionally in the medium or long term. My argument to question this perception is that Brazil, just like any other country in the world, won’t grow forever (especially when anyone can see that most of the assets are already priced at international levels). The issue of growing or not growing per se couldn’t be sufficient, during these times we live, to make somebody consider living in another country.

But getting back to the issue of growth itself, how people expect the world to be when everybody gets their basic things for living? Japan, Europe and the United States are already starting to face this challenge. How many more cars an American must have to feel happy? How many sofas, beds and TVs? How many more bottles of good wine or luxury bags Europeans need to be happy? When the world population starts to decline by the second half of this century, there will be far more houses than people to live in them. Water is there, food is there, roads are there, schools are there, and almost everything is basically available to large parts of the population in these so-called developed countries (although the concept of “almost everything” obviously changes from region to region and from people to people).

Venus Project: example of a town

Venus Project: example of a town

But this is not the problem. The problem is to see that there aren’t many people studying real alternatives to this critical dead-end street we are moving toward. Initiatives like the Venus Project are exciting but in my opinion too unrealistic to be implemented in a large scale yet in this century. And we have to hurry up if we don’t want to see Karl Marx‘s predictions on “capitalism consuming itself” to happen. For me, together with Max Weber, Marx was one of the greatest people in “recent” history that really spent time to understand what capitalism was about. Whatever people did in his name afterwards (in Cuba, Russia, China, Venezuela, etc) simply did not represent his thoughts neither valid attempts to put in place improved human social, political and economic structures at all, in my opinion.

I think a more realistic approach for us to start solving this problem is not only via pressures for more sustainable development but mainly through the reconceptualization of overall governance indicators for private and public organizations. A new accounting science has to emerge soon, one that not only measures physical assets but mainly and more important things that are important for people and ecosystems to live in peace.

Why I joined the academy

I just gave an interview to the magazine of the business school where I did my Ph.D., FGV-SP Fundação Getulio Vargas de São Paulo. Since the interview will be published in Portuguese and only in São Paulo city, I think I could make it public in advance in English for people interested in some debate on entrepreneurship. Since it is a bit long, I will publish it in two parts: one today and another next week.

Reporter: Why did you decide to join the academy?
Newton Campos: Because I was dissatisfied with the loss of focus on the intellectual journey that I was having after the MBA. The MBA is an eminently practical training, but that indirectly makes you think too much in the development of capitalism worldwide. I started reading authors each day more interesting and more complex, but could not follow an investigative line that could kill my doubts, I felt I needed guidance to facilitate my intellectual evolution and realized that the academic career would be one of the few which would value this type of questioning. So I started the doctoral program in 2006.

Reporter: What was your research question? I wanted a brief summary of your dissertation.
Newton Campos: My research was directed to the social context that surrounds the entrepreneurs during the development of their businesses in Latin countries. As “social context” one may consider the entire network of contacts established or used for business success. I need to clarify that I do not consider entrepreneur those who own small businesses or companies, these are micro or small business owners to me, which eventually may even become entrepreneurs. The research tradition that I follow considers entrepreneur only that person or group of people who innovate during the process of building a project or an organization. Plus, this innovation has to be considered socially or financially successful, otherwise we neither would be talking about an entrepreneur yet. Moreover, much of the existing literature on entrepreneurship in 2006 also put the entrepreneur in a “developed” social context, usually the U.S. or Europe, where the “rules of the game” (market rules and institutional ones) are established in a specific manner, usually very different from the rules that exist in different parts of the world. It was from this observation that I got my research question: How does the social context influences the entrepreneurs at the beginning of their enterprise in a developing country? But the claim was only one stage in the search for this response. During the search, before I even started the dissertation I made a trip to pre-earthquake Haiti (in 2007) to see if it would be possible to observe innovative entrepreneurs in a social context as politically and socially unstable as in a country like Haiti, which was already at that time among the 10 world’s poorest countries. To my surprise I found many innovative entrepreneurs, some even known throughout the Caribbean. Amazingly, the market innovation was there, present in one of the most miserable places on earth. After that, in the thesis itself, I did a comparative study between two countries relatively similar from a cultural standpoint, but different in terms of social and institutional development: Brazil and Spain.

In the next part of interview I will talk about findings and theoretical contributions of my research.

We all want to be young!

The first video exposed by this post was published in the end of 2010 by the Brazilian born research/consulting group BOX1824. It shows how new generations – including those in emerging economies – are being heavily influenced by new technologies, and how they theoretically influence older and younger generations. Although a bit Americanized in its first parts, I think most of its arguments are valid and pretty updated, specially for middle and upper social classes.

The lighter but somehow interesting Chinese version came out just few days ago. It is interesting to see how researchers leaded by firms from two large “emerging” markets like Brazil and China observe the parts of the same phenomenon.