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Notes from the Inter Intellect 🎈

I went to the InterIntellect (I.I) panel on Oct 10, 2019 and it was super fun. These are my expanded notes from the event 🙂


Creating Worlds & Languages:

The wording of the opening question by Anna really stuck with me. The panel consisted of folks from pretty diverse backgrounds:

  • Marine Tanguy – the founder of MTAgency, a modern talent agency for artists; aiming to professionalise the funding structure of the art industry.
  • Matt Clifford – the founder of a Entrepreneur First, aiming to increase the supply of world class entrepreneurs.
  • José Luis Ricón – one of the early pioneers of progress studies & most intellectually inspiring people i’ve met + his day job is ML engineering.
  • Anna Gát – who’s worked on augmenting relationship communication, writing plays, linguistics, rethinking community, and more.

Anna asked about creating worlds and languages for making sense of various fields and making progress within them. I liked this because it opened up the conversation to jargon/phrases that act as frames I wouldn’t have thought of before. My notes below mainly follow the pattern of digging into these phrases and giving examples of what they mean.

Reading All The Things, Pattern Languages for Progress, and the Supply Chain of Statistics:

Jose’s working on synthesising finding from several fields: Economics, Anthropology, Organisational Studies, History of Engineering etc. He’s trying to create a sort of ‘applied pattern language for progress’ → because the default has tended to be stasis. Two aditional descriptions were:

  1. ‘Working on the whole pipeline of progress’
  2. Intermediating the ideological layer within many contemporary debates on what makes progress possible.

The question Jose used to frame his research was: ‘What if someone read all the references and synthesised their views?’ — This is the idea behind standard literature reviews, etc…but the way he said it was just so simple and compelling.

He also mentioned correcting some incorrect statistics on USSR v USA calorie development. I’d like coin a phrase for this type of research: De-mystifying the supply chain of statistics.

Professionalising Your Sector + Accelerating Its Development:

Marine framed her work in the context of helping the art sector learn from other sectors and accelerate its development + professionalisation. This is a frame I’ve thought about quite a bit:

In Marine’s context, her description of the art industry included observations on:

  • There’s tremendous difficulty for people from working class backgrounds to work in art, mainly because there’s no proper means for early development without intense precarity. Trust fund kids are far more advantaged in this context.
  • The lack of proper commercialisation, packaging, and monetisation in the industry. The US’ media ecosystem v China’s provides a good analogy. A new model for monetising art that I find interesting is Otis.
  • Powerful ideas, such as portfolio theory, complexity, risk/return have barely touched the art industry’s way of doing things. [I’m not sure whether this was actually a comment made in the talk, or whether I’m making this up tho so..]

Rounding Errors of Capital, Directional Claims, & Different Cultures of Capital:

I.

Matt brought up his theory of value capture which I found quite compelling. The basic idea is: What is an inordinate amount of capital to you will be a rounding error for certain institutions. For example:

  • SoftBank’s fund is worth $100B. Spending $800m on banker’s fee is rounding error.
  • £6m/200m of Matt’s VC Fund goes to entrepreneur stipends, which is a negligible amount to the limited partners providing the capital, but is insanely meaningful at the individual level.
  • Grant money for Emergent Ventures Fellows is worth a lot to each individual grantee but is worth very little to the institutions.

Standing next to large sums of capital and re-purposing the rounding errors of that capital towards ends you find more exciting is an elegant strategy.

II.

When Matt was starting Entrepreneur First, one of the most common objections by institutional investors was: You can’t increase the supply of great entrepreneurs. If someone’s going to be a great entrepreneur, they’ll do it regardless of the help they’ll get from an incubator. This sounds somewhat true, but Matt flipped it. He took the directional claim and inverted it.

He tested this alternate assertion: You can’t decrease the supply of great entrepreneurs. If there was an electric fence that you had to jump over to fill in a business license, how would that impact the supply of entrepreneurs? The task of Entrepreneur First is to remove obstacles (i.e finding a co-founder) so people can start and build great companies.

I like this screenshot as context for the value of ‘obstacle removal as a service’.

During the Q&A, someone asked the question: What is the right type of adversity to keep and remove in such an endeavour? I’m not sure what the answer is; but I like the word adversity more than friction for stuff like entrepreneurship. It fits the scale far better.

III.

Matt and Marine spoke about different cultures of capital across industries and geographies. Given that I’ve only seen ‘cultures of capital’ from afar AKA twitter(dot)com + some books; I now see that there’s huge variance in the norms of different capital allocation institutions.

For example, Peter Thiel & Reid Hoffmann invested ~$20m in Matt’s fund off the back of an essay on the history and future of ambition,few extra questions asked.

In contrast, much of art’s capital allocation tends to be old money, slow moving, and conservative. Getting into the decision making room is far harder as well; because openness and risk tolerance aren’t norms in that specific culture of capital.


Final Points:

There was a bunch more that cropped up, but the above was what I found most memorable. Here are a few more tidbids:

  • Anna led the discussion so we didn’t hear too much about her work. She had some great quotes though::
    1. Regarding Marin’e bold choice of artists, which might upset people at times – Anny commented that she was ‘creating the right enemies’.
      A very Nietzschean thought. Relevant reading on that: Your Evil Twins and How to Find Them.
    2. On Matt’s Newsletter and the decisions that go into it: ‘Curation is the opinion’ – Like Poincare’s ‘To invent is to choose’. What do you choose?
  • Jose brought up some mad references. He spoke about:
    • Institutions which bluff. Their actual record of success may be close to random, but they dress their procedure in ritual and P.R so it seems like that’s not the case. He was talking about Scientific Grant organisations. But Active Investment Funds are another example.
    • Introducing a lottery for scientific grants. The current grant allocation system is resulting in very conservative and sub-par results, whilst also taking tremendous amounts of researcher time on pointless grants – What if we used a lottery instead?
      • The response from institutions seems to be ‘nah’. They must appear serious and lottery grants are not serious.
    • The above reminds me of my notes from meeting Vinay Gupta. He really hammered the idea that most institutions haven’t interalised uncertainty into their models yet; and they’re wasting lots of resources to bluff and cover up their errors instead.

Those are my notes for now. All mistakes are mine. Happy to talk and expand on them on Twitter! Thanks to the folks that organised the talk & Fergus McCullough for helping with the note taking.

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