By Pranav Manie
(TL;DR – A case for more movies, books, and games.)
Mark Zuckerberg [why the obsession with him?] and hit strategy video game series Civilization have quite a relationship! Apparently, playing games like Civilization are what got him hooked on to programming. He also went so far as to say:
“I definitely would not have gotten into programming if I hadn’t played games as a kid.”
And the Facebook founder isn’t the only one who has been deeply influenced by imagination fueled by mass media. Pop culture has played quite a vital role in shaping the minds of the entrepreneurs of today and giving the world a whole array of inventions that we wouldn’t probably have received otherwise.
To view how pop culture has been so influential, we must start with the stuff of dreams that becomes reality – science fiction. Isaac Asimov, Robert A Heinlein, Philip K Dick, H G Wells, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson and a bunch of other crazy, imaginative writers visioned weird worlds way ahead of what they were. And yet, certain off-the-hook people thought that such worlds were possible.
Be it artificial intelligence, surveillance, virtual reality, planet colonization, all of which seem quite close now, all of it started with such thinkers.
Hell, Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel were discussing the cyberpunk book Snow Crash a week before founding PayPal!
That’s just books of science fiction. In the 1970-80 period, television shows and movies spawned up as the stuff of legends. By TV shows and movies, the first two examples are painfully obvious – Star Trek & Star Wars. Aerofex, a startup in California, has developed a motorcycle-like hovercraft, which is quite fast. Wait, that also sounds like a Speeder Bike!
Martin Cooper invented the mobile phone while still an employee in Motorola, and he was inspired by communication devices of the like used in Star Trek (“Beam me up, Scotty!”). One could argue that the Hyperloop is inspired by a similar concept of a sub-shuttle used in Star Trek: Genesis II. Despite such evidence looking a bit circumstantial, there’s no denying that consumption of such variety of media has played a part in the thought process of innovators and entrepreneurs.
More often than not, certain movies induce some kind of drive in the viewers to create something new or be a part of something. While not strictly entrepreneurship-related,
The movie Wall Street got a lot of people talking, and wanting to be stockbrokers.
Charlie Sheen was approached a lot of times and asked, “How do I become one?” The Social Network is a good example. Despite saying that the film is false on a lot of fronts, Zuckerberg said that he was interested to see the kind of effect it would have in the field of entrepreneurship because it was the kind of movie that made you:
“grab your laptop and build your own empire”.
A more recent example would be TheViralFever’s hit web-series Pitchers. It outlines the troubles and triumphs of growing a start-up, which, in a way, was symbolic of TVF’s own story of rejection. Arunabh Kumar was ejected from MTV. Now he has made something more relevant.
On similar lines, Silicon Valley would be an influential TV show. All about tech culture in the land of premier innovation, it shows not just the fun of creation, but also the disappointment of rejection, the shock of losing leadership, and what fun it is to be in an incubator run by a has-been entrepreneur.
How about entrepreneurship influencing pop culture?
Reed Hastings was 6 weeks late in returning his rented disc of the movie “Apollo 13”, and owed $40. On his way to the gym, later on, he observed their business model, where for a fixed monthly rate, one could work out as much as one wants. That, right there, evolved into Netflix, which again evolved into the streaming service it is. I mention this incident because of the circumstances involved in the founding of the company – they’re absolute “eureka!”
Now, he has us hooked to paying INR 650/month or so for pure entertainment. The intense need for consumption of pop culture led to instant supply, not as single items, but as a service as a whole. Going back to TVF – Arunabh Kumar identified a key market – teens who have no time to watch television because they are occupied with studies, and voilà, created a whole new genre of entertainment.
This is how my argument makes sense – the more you observe, the more you know, and hence grow.
The power of pop culture to motivate in order to create can’t be underestimated at any cost.
If more research were conducted on this influence, it is possible to achieve great heights of achievement, provided that the motivation were directed towards meaningful efforts. Our imagination can take us to places we’ve never known, and pop culture is what can assist us in taking us there.
Pop culture is one of the ways, to quote a famous TV show,
“to boldly go where no man[or woman] has gone before.”