More Than Ever Entrepreneurs Must Maximize Human Flourishing
When great minds work towards a noble cause, such as the global eradication of smallpox in the 20th century, we can achieve great things. Today it seems too many of the brightest minds are working on social media platforms or viral apps. In an economy that so heavily prioritizes monetary profit over all other considerations, it’s become easy to lose sight of the obvious: our companies, tools and gadgets are only as good as the human flourishing they support.
What Happened to the Future?
Nearly a decade ago, Peter Thiel and Bruce Gibney penned a manifesto called “What happened to the future?” with the poignant subtitle “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters” (a reference to Twitter).
Since then Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have only grown bigger, more powerful, but their support for human flourishing is questionable. They’ve built teams of designers, data scientists and psychologists to develop addictive feeds that keep us scrolling and “liking” for hours every day. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” said Facebook investor Sean Parker.
Dr. Jonathan Haidt, author of “The Coddling of the American Mind” explains how social media has fundamentally changed a generation of children for the worse citing numerous data of worsening anxiety and depression. The financial success of these platforms has led an entire generation of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to create the next viral application to capture time and attention of users.
We have bigger problems to solve.
Let’s Contribute to Human Wellbeing
Humans have fantastic potential. With the right motivations and incentives, we can steward the planet we call home, reduce suffering amongst our species, and create a utopian world for the creatures that cohabitate with us. We can also catalyze global collapse and the end of life as we know it. The choice is ours.
In the words of Jordan Hall, “...humanity is in the midst of a world historical transition which will likely kill all of us (see Mad Max) but just might end in a truly amazing future (see Star Trek)...”
Entrepreneurs must be a major force pushing humanity towards that amazing future.
Ancestral Technologies: The Low Hanging Fruit
If futuristic technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence seem overwhelming, newer is not always better. Numerous entrepreneurs are maximizing human flourishing through ancestral technologies. These technologies have long lineages, histories, and come with far lower barriers to entry for entrepreneurs.
Psychedelics are a perfect example. Ayahuasca, a brew used for thousands of years in central and south America, is becoming more widely available for healing and self-actualization. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated psilocybin mushrooms as a “breakthrough therapy” that may make it legal to prescribe by 2021. Both have a long history of use and support wellbeing when used responsibly. Entrepreneurs, such as Synthesis in the Netherlands, are seizing upon this new data and traditional wisdom.
Another example is regenerative agriculture (RA), a system of farming practices that increase biodiversity and enhances ecosystems. In contrast to most other forms of agriculture, RA can sequester carbon dioxide and help to reverse climate change, which is a major goal of mine. Agriculture that supports the land in a sustainable way is an old phenomenon, but it is making a resurgence for all of our benefit. The duo who sold Epic Bar to General Mills founded Roam Ranch afterwards and implemented RA.
There are ancestral birthing technologies that support pregnant mothers, decreasing stress and reducing the chance of trauma. The most valuable technology is one we so often neglect in the internet age: people. My partner is a doula who painstakingly supports mothers and infants during the first moments of life. Whereas communities of trusted individuals used to be the norm for bringing life into the world, today we have adopted sterile hospital environments to our detriment.
To maximize human flourishing, we must first look to our ancestral wisdom and roots. Then we can build technologies upon that foundation.
Looking to a New Future
In Austin, Texas, an annual conference called Future Frontiers brings together 600 entrepreneurs and thought leaders to share and discuss up-and-coming technologies that “maximize human flourishing,” a phrase that inspired this post.
This year includes as speakers John Mackey (Whole Foods founder) and Ken Wilber (Integral Theory), a discussion of ancestral tech like psychedelic medicine and consciousness exploration, the biggest new trends like crypto and virtual reality, and cutting edge ideas like space colonization that you may have thought only existed in a sci-fi novel.
One previous talk by the eccentric Dr. James Hardt combined the traditional Zen meditation practices of Tibetan monks with brain neurofeedback devices that accelerated the process. This technology provided many of the same brain-related changes of 40 years of meditation within only seven days. It is this combination of ancestral practices and modern technology that represents a small, but growing industry that supports human flourishing rather than maximizing profit. It is a trend that entrepreneurs can use to grow wealth and support our species.
We have the financial and intellectual capital to solve enormous problems. We must remember what is important, not only what’s profitable.