In recent weeks, I've become a helpless politics and market watcher, holding my breath for the latest tweet indicating which way our capitalist, house-of-cards empire might fall. Through it, I've been relatively silent, and, to be quite honest, it reminds me most of the days and weeks following 9/11.
In fact, a few nights ago, Angel Island caught fire in the middle of San Francisco Bay. With my sister, I drove to the Marin Headlands to watch more than 700 acres burn. As we stared at this surreal volcano-like image in the midst of a sea of normality, I remembered how I felt following 9/11. As we watched those burning ashes, we had so much pent-up emotion following the bloody dot-com financial meltdown and plunged headlong into the uncertainty of recent years. We also, perhaps for the first time, used social software to bind to others: I remember not having cell reception in N.Y. but staying in touch with others via e-mails, blogs and IM.
A panic feedback loop
I believe what we've been watching is clearly panic, starting in our financial institutions (though triggered by consumers, who in losing their homes, also must have panicked). These institutions are notable for me in that they are little more than repositories of trust, which they accumulate, hold and invest in the form of investors and depositors' money. As soon as the trust placed in them erodes, the funds quickly follow. So the opposite of panic is trust and the calm that results from knowing you are safe. These two states inform every relationship we have and every transaction we make, and they hold together our society and economy.
The unfortunate phenomena of panic that we're witnessing right now are examples of a panic-amplifying feedback loops. I've recently described this as the societal equivalent of a person who is completely healthy but knows he or she will drop dead if their heart rate exceeds 160 beats per minute. This should be just fine; don't run marathons and all will be well. Unless you start thinking about it. And your heart rate rises. Which worries you. And your heart rate rises ...
Will we escape unscathed?
Unfortunately (or fortunately), panic and trust do not exist in a vacuum. Many people, myself included, may have thought at the beginning of this crisis that we might escape its wrath. My logic went like this:
1. We do great work and our clients are largely in the entertainment sector.
2. Virtual worlds present a cost-effective and comforting refuge in troubled times.
3. As companies cut costs, they will increasingly look to replace costly flights and hotels with virtual meetings.
The reality is that nobody will escape unscathed because we are all so fundamentally interconnected. The question we must ask ourselves and each other is, "How can I be a force of trust and stability in my dealings with others?" Ironic as it may seem, the market is simply a reflection of all of us and our collective health. Sometimes that reflection is distorted, but for the most part it's accurate. Therefore, if we relax and focus, this too shall pass.
Agree? Disagree? Why?