Comfort is a Drug.
Your friends, Andy Warhol, Anna Wintour, and Poverty
Kunal Shah is the founder of startup CRED, one of the first Indian unicorns. He’s an avid angel and Venture Capital investor and a public intellectual, of sorts. He’s a deep but fast thinker and throws off pithy one-liners that hold your attention for days.
In a recent interview with The Knowledge Project he expounds on his idea that “Your group of friends affects how fast you compound.” The interview opens with this line and I hit pause and thought about it almost nonstop for 2 weeks before going back and listening to more.
Everyone’s mom preached about surrounding yourself with good friends. Almost all of the trouble I ever got into as a kid was because I was hanging with a group that had different values, and different destinations in mind for themselves and their tribe. In corporate life, it has largely been the same truth.
We also hear:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
— Jim John
I knew it to be true. I didn’t know why it was true. Now I do.
Shah explains that the things that create value in our lives do so only in compounding fashion. Geometric growth, not linear growth is the only growth we recognize. Surrounding yourself with people who are doing more, thinking bigger, willing to push/drag you along for a period of time, will create growth in your life.
The uncomfortable part is what comes next. We must continually be evaluating those people in our lives and the impact their presence is having on our becoming. I’m not suggesting that each month you publish a ranking of friends and allies. I’m not suggesting that you brutally prune people out just because they aren’t providing profitable growth for you.
I’m suggesting that we must be cognizant, focused, and determine to people the stage of our lives by characters who advance the storyline. Spend time with those who compound your growth.
Andy Warhol doesn’t do it for me.
Pop Art is ok but is sort of like intellectual bubblegum. I get the point immediately and the flavor doesn’t last. Great art should challenge you at the level of your identity. This is why for 3 years I’ve been seriously buying protest art. Art that expounds a message with which I fundamentally disagree.
Warhol was a genius, I’m told. He was a critic in the best sense of the term, turning the spotlight onto things and holding them up for analysis and deconstruction. He was a category-creator in our contemporary parlance. When I saw an article on his thoughts about America, I wasn’t prepared to find anything positive.
I was surprised:
“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
In Europe the royalty and the aristocracy used to eat a lot better than the peasants—they weren’t eating the same things at all. It was either partridge or porridge, and each class stuck to its own food. But when Queen Elizabeth came here and President Eisenhower bought her a hot dog I’m sure he felt confident that she couldn’t have had delivered to Buckingham Palace a better hot dog than that one he bought for her for maybe twenty cents at the ballpark. Because there is no better hot dog than a ballpark hot dog. Not for a dollar, not for ten dollars, not for a hundred thousand dollars could she get a better hot dog. She could get one for twenty cents and so could anybody else.
Sometimes you fantasize that people who are really up there and rich and living it up have something you don’t have, that their things must be better than your things because they have more money than you. But they drink the same Cokes and eat the same hot dogs and wear the same ILGWU clothes and see the same TV shows and the same movies. Rich people can’t see a sillier version of Truth or Consequences, or a scarier version of The Exorcist. You can get just as revolted as they can—you can have the same nightmares. All of this is really American.
The idea of America is so wonderful because the more equal something is, the more American it is. For instance, a lot of places give you special treatment when you’re famous, but that’s not really American. The other day something very American happened to me. I was going into an auction at Parke-Bernet and they wouldn’t let me in because I had my dog with me, so I had to wait in the lobby for the friend I was meeting there to tell him I’d been turned away. And while I was waiting in the lobby I signed autographs. It was a really American situation to be in.”
Anna Wintour is a British-American journalist based in New York City who has served as editor-in-Chief of Vogue Magazine since 1988. She’s the person who the book and movie “The Devil Wears Prada” was based on. She’s the person who has arranged the Met Gala for so many years and turned it into such a spectacle that seems important to a lot of people.
I like her and I loved the movie and the way Glenn Close played her as Miranda Priestly. You’re surprised I liked that movie, aren’t you? In fact, one of my most quoted movie lines is “Why is no one reaaaa-dy?” something my team doesn’t like whether or not they know the provenance of the quote.
I signed up for MasterClass during the pandemic with a goal to complete a handful of those classes while I waited for propaganda and hysteria to recede into memory. I have little interest in fashion but I signed up for Wintour’s course because it was largely about managing creative forces in a corporate space.
It was very good and I took copious notes and journal entries. I’ve incorporated several of the tips and tricks (e.g. when assigning creative work, be specific about what you want and ask for it, but also ask for its polar opposite, and then ask for the creative’s own view of how it should look. The answer is in the fusion of all three).
One of the best things she said in the whole 4-6 hours I watched was:
“Choose a boss, not a job.”
— Anna Winter
I steal this all the time now. When younger people ask me how to be successful, or how to get the right job, or what path they should take, this is the first thing out of my mouth.
There is a ton to unpack here. To choose a boss, you have to do your research on who that person is, what needs she has, what you can learn, what value you can contribute. You have to work really hard to get into a position to address those things with her head-on. You must present yourself in a way that no one else will to get the position no one else has.
In effect, rewatching The Devil Wears Prada with this quote in mind gives you an entirely different telling of the story.
The world is all doom and gloom. People who watch the news (you’re not still one of them, are you? OMG how embarrassing for you!) don’t get the real story. The real story is that globalization economics in play for the last 40 years have reduced global poverty from 40% to 15%.
In 1980, 4 out of every 10 humans lived in poverty. Now it’s 1.
You can say “Yeahbut, yeahbut.” Nah, man. It matters. Especially if you’re one of those 3 people who aren’t living in poverty now.