Camping in the desert

Camping in the desert is thirsty work. It’s a dry, barren wasteland where conditions are harsh. Most people will think you’re crazy for pitching your tent out here. Not only that, but they’ll demonstrate how ridiculous the idea is with hard data. You’ll doubt yourself at least half the time and will constantly have to fight the urge to leave for saner dwellings as your wits are pushed to the limit. You’ll spend a lot of time being lonely too. But when the city finally expands to your locale, you’ll be in a prime spot and revered as a pioneer.

It’ll be a lot of things, but easy isn’t one of them.

The lifecycle of an innovator generally begins with humiliation. You want to do what to who? Are you entirely mad? Why don’t you rather get a job doing the things we’ve always done? We know they work, after all. What kind of lunatic would choose to camp way out there in the desert instead of submitting to the snugger backdrop of suburbia?

Next comes the bit where they show you why you’re wrong. We’ve got empirical evidence that proves you’re bat-shit crazy! Look at the numbers, man - this is never going to work! You’re arguing for a fairy tale! Camping in the desert will get you hot, then cold, then super dead. People have tried it before and failed. What’s wrong with you?

You’re going to have to put up with this kind of criticism for a long time too. You will fail at first. Sand storms will hit. The cacophony of naysaying will escalate as you battle to tie down a tent on the verge of blowing away. The evidence for how insane you are will become first-hand. You’ll have to carry on regardless. And good luck finding anyone to join you. Even close friends and family will think you’ve lost your mind.

But I hope to hell you’ll carry on, fist held high. The world needs more people like you.

Mark Shuttleworth once told me that, “to revolutionise an industry you have to be willing to be demonstrably wrong for the better part of a decade.”

As someone who provided a key component of the modern internet in the form of cryptographic identities and is now working to promote the use of open source operating systems, Mark is used to being told he’s crazy. He said that the “demonstrably wrong” mantra was handed to him by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos - another desert camper who has had to stick to his guns as the world maintained that he would fail.

Think about that. Demonstrably wrong.

It doesn’t just mean that people will think you’re doing the wrong thing, but that they’ll be able to prove it. That’s because you’re applying a new model to an old world. You’ve got an idea that there’s a better way of doing things and it will inherently require a change in the environment that you’ve predicted, but that no one else can see and hasn't happened yet.

It requires faith. There’s no other way of putting it. You’ll have reasons to believe it - I hope, otherwise you really are a lunatic - but the world won’t have seen them yet.

But oh boy, is it satisfying when history proves you were right all along. When others show up in the desert looking for a spot, and you’re the welcoming committee.

Galileo was accused of heresy for maintaining that the earth orbited the sun. Back then holding alternative views wasn’t just uncomfortable, it was life-threatening. Michael Servetus was executed for discovering the pulmonary circulation of blood not long before. New revelations have always been a great way to get you hated. They still are. Even if they’re less likely to get you killed now.

When the city finally does expand out into the desert, however, then it’s the crazy bastards camping out there that become the heroes. They’re the guys who figured out how to irrigate the barren wasteland and make it tenable. They’ve prepared the way and sacrificed their own comfort to make it easier for others to join them. People who laughed at them before will rely on them now. Even the guys who failed in trying to camp out there will be celebrated for blazing the way.

Thing is, there aren’t enough of us trying. It’s too easy to play it safe and no one will blame you for doing so. In fact, they’ll commend you for your rational decision making. Fuck that.

There’s too much that needs fixing. We’ve got storms building on several fronts and they’ll wipe us out if we don’t move on soon, to say nothing of the fact that more than half of us on this planet still live in antiquity. We’re dealing with an ebola outbreak in the twenty-first century for fuck sake. Yesterday an eight-year-old showed up at my gate with a Jehovah’s Witnesses pamphlet. How is that still a thing?

Ideas aren’t sacred. They don’t deserve respect. The truly insane people are those who defend our old ways of doing things. And we're screwed if they win.

Arguably the most famous advertisement of all time is Apple’s “Think Different” commercial from 1997. It stated, beautifully, that, “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

They’re the only ones who ever will. So instead of talking about it, let’s get to work. The weather out here is harsh, but we’ve no end of sunshine - and you should see the stars at night. The good news is you’re not the only kooky fucker at this party. It’s a small group to be sure, but there’s no finer quality of company or conversation. So pull up a chair.

I'm a writer and broadcaster who also designs apps and strategies for disruptive startups in the financial world. Find out more on my about page.