This week, David Gardner cleanses his podcasting palate from last week's Rule Breaker Investing show about his worst losers by bringing us some of his favorite quotes.
In this segment, he quotes Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog, the early online community called The WELL, and several other notable projects. And Brand's advice on accepting, adapting to, and becoming part of big changes applies to far more than just your investment portfolio.
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A full transcript follows the video.
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This video was recorded on Jan. 17, 2018.
David Gardner: Great Quote No. 1: And I quote, "Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road."
A great line from Stewart Brand. Now, some of you will know who Stewart Brand is. Others will recognize the name but not quite be able to place him in his background. I'm more in that camp. And then others will never have heard of Stewart Brand until Rule Breaker Investing brings him to your attention.
Stewart is presently a 79-year-old living somewhere in or around San Francisco, California. He's done a lot in his life. Anybody who'd ever heard of The WELL knows it was one of the early examples of an online community. A well-regulated, well-run, fruitful online community. Kind of pre-internet, so think year 1990.
Right when AOL was starting to get its first 100,000 sign-ons, The WELL was in operation. It was much admired, and as we started The Motley Fool and started to build an online community, ourselves, through Fool.com, some people would come to our site and say, "Hey, this is kind of like The WELL. I recognize this, except you guys are talking about stocks and money. The guys with the jester caps and their team. You're all talking about stocks, but it's kind of like The WELL."
Now, he also was behind Whole Earth Catalog. Some of you will know that. I was coming of age in the early '70s, when Whole Earth Catalog was popular, so I didn't really know a whole lot about it, but going back and researching it since then, it was kind of an early version of a countercultural, '60s-based view of life, focused on kind of do-it-yourself, in a lot of ways.
So, self-sufficiency. Alternative education. Ecology. Holism. Wikipedia uses that phrase. The slogan of Whole Earth Catalog was "Access to Tools," and the basis of Whole Earth Catalog 's publications was generally presenting reviews of things that might be useful to people who are reading the Whole Earth Catalog. Things like clothing, or books, or tools. Machines. Seeds. There was a little bit of a rural, non-urban view of things coming from the Whole Earth Catalog.
That was Stewart Brand's brainchild, and I should mention that Stewart is on Twitter, followable. I just clicked on "follow" this week for him @stewartbrand, and he's now in charge of The Long Now Foundation, and I love this idea. It's said to provide a counterpoint to what is viewed as today's faster, cheaper mindset to promote slow and better thinking. It's hoping to creatively foster responsibility.
There's a picture of their sign on their Wikipedia page. It just shows a big X, and that's there because X is intended as the Roman numeral for 10,000, because Stewart Brand and his colleagues are thinking about what this world is like in the year 10,000 BCE; so looking way forward and asking how do we make sure in all the hustle and bustle of today's technology and growth -- a lot of short-termism whether you're looking at business, politics, so many aspects of our culture -- how do we think long so that we're creating something with sustainability that lasts thousands of years? So, I like the work.
But back to the quote. You're either part of the steamroller, or part of the road. You know, it reminds me of the advice that I'll often give to young people if they come to me and say, "Hey, what do you think I should do after college? I'm graduating. What kind of job should I seek?" And I look back on my own very fortunate time, there, when I was their same age.
I have to admit I was pretty aimless. I didn't have a plan coming out of college. I didn't have a job coming out of college. I traveled. I read. I wrote. I got rejected a lot, with freelance pieces, but I lucked into what became the internet. I had a love of online services. This idea that you could use your phone to dial your computer into bulletin board systems. Some of you will remember the acronym BBS. It's not as popular these days, but back then BBSes seemed really cool. They were online forums. There were WELL-like communities.
I was in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the time. My wife was going through graduate school, and I was just hanging out, clicking into Charlottesville's BBSes at the time. I loved what the medium might do, and now looking backward, I think about those first few years of starting The Motley Fool, and in those days people talked of "internet time."
And the idea was if you spent one year working at an internet company, it was the equivalent of 12 years at any other organization. One month of internet time was equal to one year of employment outside of the internet because things were growing so fast, and your learnings, your perspective, how much it was enriched by that kind of innovation and the speed that it was happening with.
That was internet time and that, my friends, was a steamroller, so when somebody who's younger than me today asks where they should go work, I often say, "Find the so-called bleeding edge. Find technologies. Places in our business world, for profit or not for profit, where you're working in spaces of extreme innovation, whether it's genomics or, darn it, how about still the internet."
Especially I think about areas around the world where it's going to be growing very rapidly over the next 10 years. Think of the cloud. Think of video games. How about augmented reality? Do you know what "mixed reality" is? Think about all the growth in media. Or how about the so-called Internet of Things? Yes, 3D printing. All these things are extremely high-growth areas with lots of rapid innovation.
I think the world is to the innovators. That's how I pick stocks. I had the pleasure of speaking as the keynote speaker at the Washington Winter Show this past weekend. That's the second longest, we think, second longest running antique show in the United States of America. It's been running for 60 years or so in the Washington, D.C. area. I'm not a big antiquer myself, but I was happy to speak to the group and talk about how a lot of the stocks and business thinking that I was able to share with them is around the innovators. That's what we're finding as rule breakers, that's what we prize, and I want to set as many people up around me to be part of the steamroller -- not part of the road -- as possible.
And before we move on to the next one, think about how our CEOs talk. The CEO of a company that you're invested in. Do you feel like you're investing in part of the steamroller when you hear him or her talk, or part of the road? Is it more Reed Hastings talking about the future?
Back in the day, it was that one day there might be streaming. Back then Reed was mailing DVDs to us all through the mail, but he was talking about something new. Or did he sound more like the Blockbuster CEO, somebody that my brother Tom and I interviewed on The Motley Fool Radio Show back in the day, who was talking about streaming as a very small cottage industry. Something that was interesting to him, but at the time Blockbuster, I believe, had about 25 million customers, and Netflix had about 100,000.
So, from his standpoint, it was more much ado about nothing, but fortunately, a lot of the rest of us recognized a steamroller in place. So, as much as we can, both with our business lives as early as we can with our careers, and, of course, our whole life long as investors, I think we should be looking for the steamrollers, respecting them, and getting onboard. Thank you, Stewart Brand!
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