A tale of two Wall Streets
As many TNL.net readers know, I’ve been walking across two different worlds for most of the last decade: on the one hand, I’ve been working on trying to get people in the financial world to act more like startups, and on the other I’ve been helping startups understand some of the difference between wall street and the financial world.
However, it wasn’t until the 2008 crisis that I fully understood where I was wrong about my message: people outside of the financial world look at it as a single industry but there are a lot of different components to it and I would group them into two wide categories: speculative Wall Street and plumbing Wall Street.
The speculative Wall Street is the one everyone is currently mad at. Their job is to build tools that mostly make more money out of existing money and the world they live in is seldom overlapping with main street. It is a world of derivatives, stocks, and mergers and acquisition. It is a world where fortunes can be made in a very short time and value can be destroyed almost as instantly; a world where appearances and proper marketing are an important part of a product’s success.
Plumbing Wall Street, on the other hand, is touching everyone’s life several times a day. It’s a world no one really thinks of or hears about and its main goal is to ensure that money and credit still roll around properly. Plumbing Wall Street is who people face out to when they take money out of an ATM, pay with a credit card, write a check, or received their paycheck via direct deposit. Plumbing Wall Street is a world where the focus is on stability and reliability. It’s not a very glamorous world as no one really believes in the value of a strong infrastructure until it breaks.
A tale of two development worlds
The funny thing is that the speculative Wall Street vs. plumbing Wall Street divide also exists in other areas. In the development world, the frictions that exist between developers and system administrators are very similar to the frictions that exist between the two wall streets.
On one hand, you have a group that is trying to push the envelope, stretching their product to its limit and sometimes breaking things along the way. On the other, you have a group of people who see change as the enemy as it increases instability, making their jobs that much more complex.
The developers push new ideas (or work as idea marketers in that concept) and the system administrators push back while they try to figure out how to lower the risk those new ideas can pose to the stability of the existing systems.
A tale of two marketers
The amusing thing in the relationship developers have with system administrators is not dissimilar to the relationship social media marketers have with developers. In the case of social media people, they try to push the edge and are often pushed back by developers, who in this case, put on the hat of makers as they are the ones implementing whatever product or solution is pushed by the marketers. The developer as marketer of software ideas is displaced, in those cases, by the marketer of product ideas, or ways to make money that may break the software.
In those cases, one can see some of the conflicts that can arise as marketers may push for ways to make money that are incompatible with the social norms of the times. The makers generally work as a buffer in those cases, pushing for something closer to the normative models (eg. the fight within google over use of tracking cookies; or the fight within facebook over privacy; or the current fight over net neutrality).
A tale of two governments
In a similar way, there are two governments in most democracies: on the one hand, you have the marketers of ideas, who try to sell their view of how the country ought to be run to the electorate. We know those people as politicians but their role is mainly to be chief marketers of ideas, properly packaging the messages around how the country is running or should be run. And with every election, citizens get to choose which set of ideas makes more sense to them.
The marketers, in this case, set the agenda, and provide a direction for the rest of the government to follow.
Meanwhile, the bureaucrats are a group of people who generally are in working in government no matter which party is running the country. Their job is to keep the country running as efficiently as possible, no matter who’s in charge. They make laws and policies that are then sold by the politicians. Once again, we’re dealing here with the makers who keep things running, no matter what the political winds are. (on a side note, the relationship between bureaucrats and politicians was made into a very funny BBC series called “Yes, Minister”, that I would encourage anyone to watch).
A tale of two businesses
Time and time again, you see the same kind of push/pull. What happens in those case is that the makers are protecting the commons while the marketers are trying to push for business models that can protect the shareholders. This type of friction exists in every industry and the net result is that progress is made as a result of the friction, with each camp cooperating to give some ground and move things forward.
Marketers push the edge, and force us to reconsider our previous assumption. Makers build great things and ensure that it doesn’t have a negative impact. Both are equally essential to progress but, for the most part, we tend to ignore the makers.
Appreciating the makers
Our society is very focused on praising the marketers. As a result, little room is made to allow some level of appreciation to the makers. For example, as you’re reading this, consider the software program you’re reading it in. Then consider how this post went from the server on which it is located to you. It’s a jaw dropping achievement when you put your mind to it. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have worked to build out the internet, software, and hardware infrastructures that got this simple note to you. Do you know the name of any of time?
So if you know someone who makes something, instead of just marketing it, why don’t you go thank them today for their contribution.