One of my favorite daily reads is the NFX newsletter. It’s very startup inside-baseball, but I think James Currier is one of the best startup philosophers—if you will—of our time, frequently stepping back and looking at an industry in ways others don’t. He obsesses about ways to build network effects in businesses, and has a lot of good practical advice you don’t hear elsewhere.
Last week, he did something different: He published a fascinating piece about the math and the network effects in our lives.
It is a long read, and I won’t do it all justice here but the gist is this: “The networks of human connections in your life create a force that guides you down a path not always fully of your intention, through the mechanisms of 100s of small interactions.
Further, this ‘network force’ compounds over time…90% of these network forces are established in just 7 crossroads or pivotal life events…
The world seems chaotic. But it’s not. Underlying all this apparent complexity is some wonderfully simple math…
Even though we are each making what feel like independent decisions…it seems that we are part of this network unconsciously influencing people…I am one of those people being pushed around. And so are you.”
So, so, so many thoughts reading this.
My first is that the news that we’re being pushed around and our destinies determined by unseen sociological forces is not news to anyone in an underrepresented group. A lot of this math is pretty patriarchal in practice. It clearly benefits those with the most privilege, the deepest and most powerful networks. I had a physiological negative reaction reading parts of this—that it could be twisted to justify why popular, already powerful, privileged men from Stanford receive so much funding in the venture world. “It’s math!” bigots could shrug. “They are just more likely to succeed!”
Chaos isn’t all bad if you are trying to find a hole in a system that doesn’t want you there. Chaos creates opportunity. (This was the thesis of my second book on emerging markets muscling their way into the top ranks of startups. And look at the surge in money going to and coming from the emerging world and the dominance of companies like TikTok into arenas that seemed like they’d always be controlled by Silicon Valley. It has happened. Chaos, not those would be founders moving to Silicon Valley as they might have decades earlier, did that.)
But it would be shortsighted to throw out what does also strike me as empirically right because it also happens to sustain privilege. After all, understanding seemingly patriarchal forces is valuable.
As per those seven crossroads moments James talks about, I wasn’t able to pick my family (obviously) or pick my college, because my family had limited financial resources. But I will agree that my high school, my choice of spouse, my first job, and my decision where to live all had more of an outsized impact on me beating the odds based on my gender and my background and lack of an Ivy League education than any other decision I made in life.
It’s important to know that these things aren’t destiny. But there are choices you can make to change your math.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- Should we still keep pregnancies secret in the first trimester?
- How do you get started cycling?
- At what age did you start giving your kids real autonomy?