I turned 58 last month, and that means we’re getting within striking distance of 60. Actually I’m getting within striking distance of 60. It’s a bit of a shock, actually. Inside I feel 19. Or maybe 30. But 58? 60. OMG. Ohhh.
But Monday night just before Game 7 of the Eastern Division Championship, I solved a problem that I had been thinking about for at least 20 years. It had to do with templating in content management systems. It came to me as we re-approached a problem I had approached several times before in earlier products. This time, I saw the way around the conundrum that had evaded me before. I don’t think this is because I’m smarter than I was when I was 38 or 48, rather it’s because I have the 20 years of experience that I didn’t have then.
The next little bit is a story that is not about the people involved, Fred Wilson, John Doerr and Michael Jordan, it’s illustrative. I have the greatest respect and admiration for all three of them, not just for their accomplishments in the past, but for what they are doing today. All three are very much alive. And all three are still taking chances, learning, and doing new things.
On Twitter, I saw Wilson refer to Doerr as The Michael Jordan of VC. Something bothered me about this. So I pondered it and realized the problem. How I got there was by changing some of the names, a couple of times and thinking in analogies.
1. I imagined Matt Mullenweg saying I was The Michael Jordan of Software. This wasn’t hard, because Matt said something similar a few weeks ago. No doubt said with genuine admiration, it exposed something inside that’s imho incorrect. He said that it’s amazing that I keep writing software, many years after I no longer had to. I imagine when Matt looks at me, he hopes that he will have the drive to create when he’s my age (he’s about 30 years younger than me). But I’d rather if Matt ignored my age and my financial circumstances, and looked at the actual software I’m writing — today — not in the past. I would prefer if he said: I think Dave’s new software is interesting, but I don’t understand it. Or I think Dave’s software is revolutionary and it will have impact on all software being developed today. Or something that reflected my status as an active player, maybe even an active superstar. But I think conventional thinking shuts off that train of thought.
- And btw, if you look to basketball as an example, the young guys always study the work of people who came before them. The young Knick Iman Schumpert is a great example and inspiration. In an interview I saw him explain in great detail the players who he was borrowing style from. In tech, we tend to throw all that away. We won’t always do it, as the art matures we’ll understand that we’re borrowing from the past, and then become receptive to learning from prior art. But first we have to cure ourselves of the idea that people are obsolete so early. Even basketball, where the bodies can’t compete after 40, manages to use the skill and experience of the veterans, as coaches, advisers, trainers.
- Also, I know that what Matt said was a compliment. But it also had meaning. It’s possible for something to be both a compliment and worth examining.
2. I had an experience on Twitter with Joshua Benton, someone who I admire and think highly of, who I know hasn’t used my new software. This came up in a discussion. I more or less asked him to check out my software before declaring blogging dead. It may not have sounded like that to him and it may have been said more awkwardly (140 char limit). His response was like Matt’s. I was using your software in 1990 he said. Nice. So I’m The Michael Jordan of Software. But I’m not because I’m still pushing it. Inventing new ways to approach the rim. New ways to stun and amaze. But you’ll never see it if you don’t look.
- My dream is that Benton would do 1/4 the analysis he did of Evan Williams’ new software. I think I’ve earned a good look, and some thought.
3. And that led me to the final analogy that nailed it. What if LeBron James said that Tim Duncan is The Michael Jordan of Basketball. Wishful thinking! The two men are about to face off in a classic series of the ages in the NBA finals. Game 1 is tonight. It’s the old sin of sport and business. Don’t celebrate until you win. That’s a good way to inspire the competition and undermine your fighting spirit. We saw that happen with the Knicks this season, when JR Smith, thinking the Knicks had won, celebrated by elbowing an opponent. In the face! He was suspended for a game (that the Knicks lost), and more importantly threw his energy out the window. The Knicks were embarassed by the Indiana Pacers in a short series that they never really were in. And Smith was in a funk the rest of the short Knicks run. Every Knicks fan knows this story. ;-(
I learn a lot from sports, I really do. I think it’s an incredible teacher of human spirit, in a very compact form. Things that may take years or even decades to play out in tech, often happen in just a few minutes in an NBA playoff game.
If I were Matt, I would watch that attitude. Because Old Dave might still have a trick or two. Software is not like basketball in that way. I have no stake in the competition between Doerr and Wilson (I assume they still see each other as competitiors). I will root for Doerr now, because I always like an underdog, the same way I rooted for Wilson when he was coming up. And tonight I will definitely be rooting for the Spurs and Tim Duncan, even though LeBron was smart enough not to make any grandiose claims about the obsolescence of his rival. 😉