Everything Is A Bubble

In the presence of exponential success, it is important to realize that every high has a low. Any booming industry is simply the upside of a sine curve.

Edit: The day after this was posted, bitcoin dropped 1k and the stock market crashed. Regardless of what the status of the market might be, it is important to remember that nearly all things in life are cyclical.

As of today the world is seeing the top of the stock market and Bitcoin is knocking on the door of a three thousand dollar all-time high. 2017 has taken world politics and economics for a violent ride as unexpected twists have shaken expectations of the norm. By now we've hopefully learned not to trust knee-jerk reactions.

Headlines are raging and some have chosen to move directly towards preparing victory speeches. Before you consider celebrating, perhaps it would be best to take a step back and put things in perspective.

Ups and Downs

Tech Financial Crash

My first few years out of university were not among my favorites. Without close family or friends, the most notable possession to my name was a mattress on the floor of a rough 5 bedroom apartment. The financial uncertainty of living in far the slums of a major city had felt like a sort of purgatory. Surely, I figured, this would be the moment in life I would recall as rock bottom. As I clawed my out of this reality, it seemed to me as though I had been right.

In reality I can recall at least 3 times since that moment that I can recall as being much worse than that perceived 'rock bottom.' Through illness, unemployment, financial woes, etc, the memory of living deep into Brooklyn with few belongings seems like one of my fonder times by comparison.

When I moved past that period I began to enjoy each day as a gift. While I believed I knew better, I consciously disconnected myself from thinking about the future to focus on appreciating each fleeting moment. It turns out that was a big mistake.

The Mania of Rapid Growth

Growth

Like the Dot Com bubble or seemingly the blind 23 billion valuation of Snapchat's IPO, the euphoria that comes with "achieving dreams" results in self-destructive subconscious behavior. Prolonged expose to an environment of struggling and pain drives us to to silent crave escape to a degree which is barely known to even ourselves. In the identical mechanism that drives addicts, we crave escape as though it were fresh air.

When that escape comes, it does not come quietly. As though we are gasping for air, long awaited relief comes fiercely, often in whichever fashion satisfies the polar opposite of our pain.

In my case, my hobbies shifted from building to socializing. The philosophy which had built my life was forgotten. I embraced luxuries I thought I had earned, and strived for unreasonable goals. I abandoned the idea of building a safety net in favor for swinging for the fences... all the time, every time. Saving money was not nearly as exciting or romantic as going all-in. Every project became a fight for survival, and once again I fell deep into Brooklyn with nothing but a mattress.

Companies are driven by humans, thus we need only to look at ourselves to recognize the dangers of success.

Steady vs Explosive

Explosion

The perfect scenario for startups, cryptocurrencies, or even life, should always be steady growth over time. Like clockwork, in a way that is nearly mathematically quantifiable, it is clear to see how an old adage must have come to be:

Easy come, easy go.

Companies experiencing booming growth are always the most susceptible to crash, especially in the time immediately after. Unrealistic upwards trajectories signify that an organization's success is likely not success at all, but rather artificial speculation or a house made of cards. Big investment rounds result in bigger expectations, but this is not limited to the world of business. The only ingredients to any type of success are the commitment to core values. It is easy to attribute success to the substance of work, but any end product is a product of consistent values.

In the presence of exponential success, it is important to realize that every high has a low; almost all forms of success are a high point which can be traced back to one individual's low point. The motivation to achieve satisfaction cannot exist without the presence of dissatisfaction, such is the cyclical nature of all things. Those experiencing what they consider to be success should be wary of losing focus, as comfort can lead to a certain Arrogance which almost always ends in a poetic downfall.

Industry Bubbles

Technology has gone through its fair share of mania, and the low is likely yet to come. The product management profession itself is a result of a tech boom... the title had not even existed a decade ago. Despite our arguments to justify product, companies had existed fine without product until now.

As we may still be on the upswing of a previously nonexistent industry, we would do well to consider what a downswing could look like. The below is a video from Kurzgesagt which is an excellent depiction of how industry bubbles have come and gone, and will continue to do so:

Note the specific reference to product/project management at 06:02.

Any booming industry is simply the upside of a sine curve which will inevitably fall back to earth in the face of its successor. It has felt great to be in technology for the past decade, just as it likely felt great to be a part of the automotive industry 60 years ago.

To think we have reached a singularity of the one perfect service-based economy is beyond foolish... it is denial.

Adaptation as a Core Value

The ability to adapt is likely the only true core value which will be forever relevant... this is why we run Agile development in the first place. Being a student of the Agile Manifesto offers the life benefit of being one step ahead in the world's next crisis.

Adapting implies constantly being informed, and always moving forward (read: working). Regardless of your life's current status, abandoning humble effort for pleasure is a suicidal investment.

Enjoy life by embracing success, but also appreciating pain. The failure to foresee and tackle painful realities adds to the size of a bubble which grows larger with time. It is better to avoid a bubble burst than to discover what you or your company's lowest low might look like.

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Todd Birchard

Todd Birchard

Application Architect

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