Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:

I.

Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi on leadership:

“The fundamental role of a leader is to look for ways to shape the decades ahead, not just react to the present, and to help others accept the discomfort of disruptions to the status quo.”

Source: My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future

II.

Gaurav Bhatnagar and Mark Minukas on fear:

“Fear is neither good nor bad. It is merely an emotion you feel when you get an outcome that is different from what you expect. The story we create about fear matters more that the fear itself. We control those stories and can craft either a negative one of doom and gloom or see fear as a cue for growth. When we are able to do the latter, fear becomes a path that leads to a better future.”

Source: Unfear: Transform Your Organization to Create Breakthrough Performance and Employee Well-Being

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Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:

I.

Scientist Edward O. Wilson on the unification of knowledge:

“The ongoing fragmentation of knowledge and resulting chaos in philosophy are not reflections of the real world but artifacts of scholarship.”

Source: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

II.

The late professor and writer David Foster Wallace on focus:

“Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about “teaching you how to think” is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

Source: This is Water

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Be Where Your Feet Are

Be Where Your Feet Are

TOO OFTEN we are busy looking for the next thing. The problem is our experiences tend to be shallow. We miss out on the richness of being in the moment. To counteract this, we try to find balance. But balance doesn’t create greatness.

The solution is not balance, says sports executive Scott O’Neil in Be Where Your Feet Are. The answer is to make “the most of each moment and ridding ourselves of the toxic habit of constantly looking forward to the next thing.” Finding balance is “like aspiring to be in the middle.” On the other hand, “being resent, focused, committed, and hardworking at home and at work is the path to finding success and fulfillment.”

To that end, O’Neil offers, through the use of stories both personal and from scores of others, seven principles to keep you present, grounded and thriving. The stories and the grounding principle he draws from them really make each of these seven principles come to life. I offer one of the insights from each.

#1 Be Where Your Feet Are

With so many distractions, it is harder today than ever to be where your feet are. It has also never been more important.
I don’t believe the good life is about finding balance between work and home. It’s about living the moments we have where and when we have them.

To be more present, O’Neil offers a four-part process:

Find Perspective “Perspective is the foundation on which we build a life where we can be where our feet are.”
Seek Authentic Feedback “How you live is truly a choice. What you’re going to do and who you are going to do it with, those are choices only you can make.”
Cultivate Reflective Strength “Our ability to have more meaning is right here in front of us, but so are the distractions, and too often the distractions rule the day.”
Live Your Leadership Constitution “Committing in writing to life and a way of living matters. Whether we have family rules or values, whether we have a morning mantra or a leadership constitution, we need guideposts in our lives. We need reinforcement in terms of what we stand for, what matters, and what we prioritize, and through those things we can be where our feet are when it counts.”

#2 Change The Race

In those times when we feel stuck, unable to get out of the funk we are in, we need to change the race:

Recognize That You Have a Choice to Change Your Situation
Run Toward the Storm Instead of Away from It “I’ve already spent too much time in the gray. I choose to throw all of my emotion and soul into everything I do because it should all matter. It should matter because the alternative is that you have no life or hope or joy or future.”
Find Your Center with The Help of People You Care About and Who Care About You

The most critical things to keep in mind include knowing when you need to change the race you are running and not shutting down—remember that isolation is your kryptonite when things are going badly. Engage people in your life and do not let ego or pride get it the way of good decision-making or getting help.

#3 WMI – What’s Most Important

The world is filled with universe moments, which is when things happen for a reason and people, places, and events seemingly drop into your life with purpose.
Today the world moves faster and there seems to be more chaos than calm, it’s likely worth exploring your own centering force—whether that’s faith, church, prayer, meditation, running, yoga, or anything else that helps enhance your level of peace, increase your level of calm and provide a more centered life.

#4 Fail Forward

Failure is a better teacher than success. Failure is a more effective teacher than success. It’s rarely enjoyable, but it is critically important to be a student of life.
Stop competing, stop pressing so hard, and start opening yourself up to people and learning. Stop trying to prove what you know and begin to express that you’re intellectually curious. Be interested versus interesting.

#5 Be The Purple Water Buffalo

Be an extraordinary teammate. Hold the team above self.
The purple water buffalo attitude can also be summarized in this expression: if there is a piece of paper on the ground, bend over and pick it up.
We have to solve problems when we see them. Don’t wait. If something goes south, fix it.

#6 Assume Positive Intent

What if you assumed positive intent from those with whom you connect, no matter how many alternative and less generous assumptions were possible?
Why? Because we often have preconceived notions about what other people are thinking and what their intentions are, and typically these preconceived notions are negative. More importantly, they are at best clouded and at worst wrong, and they always impact your ability to be effective.

#7 Trust The Process

In a world dominated by instant gratification and obsessed by the spotlight of now, Trust the Process is the commitment that you will keep the long-term view at the forefront of your planning and decision-making. Trust the Process is about understanding the mistake and taking the time to revisit what went wrong and why, and then leverage that information to get smarter and make better decisions in the future.

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Time Smart

TECHNOLOGY was supposed to give us more leisure time, but instead, it distracts us. We are pulled out of the present and into lists of things we feel we should be doing. Instead of getting time away from work, we take our work with us. It’s a trap to make us feel time poor.

Time Smart by Ashley Whillans helps us to move from time poverty to time affluence. The key is how we think about time and money.

Would you rather have less money and more time or work more for more money and have less time? We tend to overvalue money and undervalue time. Because we tend to spend as little money as possible, we rarely think of trading money for time. We make trade-offs between time and money all of the time. “All of these decisions powerfully shape the happiness we derive from moments, from days, from our entire lives.”

Whillans identifies six traps that make us time poor. That is too many things to do and not enough time to do them. To become time smart, we need to recognize these time traps in our lives: technology (constant interruptions that fragment our time), a money/work focus (I’ll work hard now so I can afford more leisure time for a later that never comes), undervaluing time, busyness as status, aversion to idleness, and saying yes believing we’ll have more time later than we do now.

How do we begin to turn this around? Whillans says to start with determining whether you are more money focused—willing to sacrifice time to have more money—or time focused—willing to sacrifice money to have more time. One is not better than the other but, “people who value money, and are in a position to be happier that way, still benefit from making time-related choices.” Our focus can change over time. The older we get, the more time becomes a major focus.

We should make leisure time, but it should be the right kind. “Free time devoted to active leisure—activities like volunteering, socializing, and exercising—promote happiness far more than spending time engaged in passive leisure activities like watching TV, napping, or online shipping.”

Fund time by outsourcing tasks or parts of tasks that you don’t like. Do less comparison shopping (we spend hours of time to save just a few dollars), or driving two miles out of your way to save ten cents on a gallon of gas. Account for your time.

Even though research shows that “people who value time are happier, healthier, and more productive than those who value money over time, turning all of this into time-affluent habits is not easy to do let alone wrap our minds around it.

Whillans offers eight strategies to become better at prioritizing time:

1. Address Your Why
Ask why you are doing what you are doing. If it is just to kill time or for no reason, then stop doing it. One exercise that she had that stood out to me in this regard was the substitution list. Add activities that are a better use of your time. Like this:

Phone games before meetings / INSTEAD: Chat with colleague
Website surfing before and after lunch / INSTEAD: Walk for 15 minutes before lunch, do nothing after.
Looking through, choosing Spotify playlists in the morning / INSTEAD: Get on the road, let Spotify choose playlist.

2. Allow (or schedule) Slack Time
While you want to substitute in time-affluent activities, you don’t want to pack your schedule with them. Slack time allows for spontaneity. “Prioritizing efficiency makes us more likely to miss opportunities to connect with weak ties: people who are likely to bring us creative ideas and new opportunities.”

3. Know Your Calendar Mindset
Whillans is referring here to two calendar mindsets: Clock-Time People and Event-Time People. Clock-time people don’t move to a new activity because it feels right, they do it because it is time to do it. On the other hand, Event-time people allow events to shape their schedule. There is a time for both. Know your basic approach and follow through on your plans accordingly.

4. Create Intentions
Be intentional about how you spend your time with specific action statements. If you want to read more books, say, “I will use my commute to listen to books on tape.”

5. Implement Rewards and Punishments
If your time goals are going well, reward yourself. If not, you need to implement a cost. Apps like Beeminder “takes $5 from your credit card for every goal you don’t meet.”

6. Engineer Defaults
Turn off your notifications. Check less often. There are also apps—Freedom and Ransomly—to help you do this. Just say no. “Several of my colleagues already do his by engineering an auto-response in email to say, ‘Thank you for your message; as a rule, I check email once a day at 8:30 a.m.’”

7. Recognize and Fight Mere Urgency
When faced with important tasks, we sometimes procrastinate and work on simpler, less important activities as an avoidance mechanism. If it is not urgent and important, schedule it for later or delegate it to someone else.

8. Make Leisure Leisurely
Are you actually enjoying the leisure time you have created? Separate the value of the activity from the cost. “Do not think about how much the vacation cost or whether the house cleaner was worth the financial investment. Instead, think about how nice it is to spend extra time with your friends and family.”

We need to take the long view of our lives. Whillans says, “You need to look ahead five to ten years and think about how big life choices will influence your time choices.” In a study of graduating college students, they found that “students who prioritized time were happier than those who prioritized money.”

Time is not money. Money is time. And we all have only so much of it. It’s time to make time a priority before we run out of it.

How did it get so late so soon?It’s night before it’s afternoon.December is here before it’s June.My goodness how time has flewn.How did it get so late so soon?— Dr. Seuss

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Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:

I.

Margaret Wheatley on dealing with change and developing new capacities:

“It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another.”

Source: “When Change Is Out of Control” in Human Resources in the 21st Century

II.

Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness on the downside of obsessive passion:

“Those who are most focused on reaching some external barometer of success are often the same people who struggle most to enjoy it. That’s because they’ll always crave more. More money. More fame. More medals. More followers.”

Source: The Passion Paradox

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Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:

I.

Steve Farber on doing what you love in the service of people:

“It doesn’t matter whether the leaders are in the front or the rear. What matters is the way they are leading the pack. In either case, the leaders are serving other members. The leaders in the front are forging the path, providing direction, and making it easier for others to go where the pack needs to travel. The leaders in the rear are providing support. They are watching over the pack and ensuring that no one is left behind. There might even be some leaders in the middle of the pack because here’s the thing about leaders: they serve others no matter where they find themselves.”

Source: Love is Just Damn Good Business

II.

Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness on how our passion can eventually lead us astray:

“Those who are most focused on reaching some external barometer of success are often the same people who struggle most to enjoy it. That’s because they’ll always crave more. More money. More fame. More medals. More followers.
Researchers have found that regardless of the field, individuals who display obsessive passion are more likely to engage in unethical behavior and are at a higher risk for anxiety, depression, and burnout. Their relationship with their passion is likely to erode, and their overall life satisfaction is poor.
They become so obsessed, so focused on and tied to external results, that nothing else matters. It’s not that they are no longer passionate. It’s just that they are no longer passionate about baseball, or energy, or leading a company, or scientific discovery. They become passionate about results, fortune, fame, and winning.”

Source: The Passion Paradox

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Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:

I.

Alan Weiss on the fact that most fears are learned as are leadership behaviors, and we have to understand the causes:

“We cannot create improved behavior contingently, that is, simply patching up leaks and putting on band-aids. We have to prevent the fearful behavior in the future by eliminating the probable causes. The therapist’s admonition to “face our fears” is really an attempt to find the cause of them.”

Source: Fearless Leadership

II.

Brian Resnick on what is reality:

“Our brains work hard to bend reality to meet our prior experiences, our emotions, and our discomfort with uncertainty. This happens with vision. But it also happens with more complicated processes, like thinking about politics, the pandemic, or the reality of climate change.”

Source: “Reality” Is Constructed By Your Brain. Here’s What That Means, And Why It Matters

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Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:

I.

The New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks, on educating yourself:

“The biggest way most colleges fail is this: They don’t plant the intellectual and moral seeds students are going to need later, when they get hit by the vicissitudes of life. If you didn’t study Jane Austen while you were here, you probably lack the capacity to think clearly about making a marriage decision. If you didn’t read George Eliot, then you missed a master class on how to judge people’s character. The wisdom of the ages is your inheritance; it can make your life easier.
My worry is that, especially now that you’re out of college, you won’t put enough really excellent stuff into your brain. I’m talking about what you might call the “theory of maximum taste.” This theory is based on the idea that exposure to genius has the power to expand your consciousness. If you spend a lot of time with genius, your mind will end up bigger and broader than if you spend your time only with run-of-the-mill stuff.
The theory of maximum taste says that each person’s mind is defined by its upper limit—the best that it habitually consumes and is capable of consuming.
In college, you get assigned hard things. You’re taught to look at paintings and think about science in challenging ways. After college, most of us resolve to keep doing this kind of thing, but we’re busy and our brains are tired at the end of the day. Months and years go by. We get caught up in stuff, settle for consuming Twitter and, frankly, journalism. Our maximum taste shrinks. Have you ever noticed that 70 percent of the people you know are more boring at 30 than they were at 20?”

Source: A Commencement Address Too Honest to Deliver in Person

II.

Management consultant and educator Gary Hamel, on seeing the future:

“Companies fail to create the future not because they fail to predict it but because they fail to imagine it. It is curiosity and creativity they lack, not perspicuity. So it is vitally important that you understand the distinction between “the future” and “the unimagined,” between knowing what’s next and imagining what’s next.”

Source: Leading the Revolution

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Pitching Remotely

NOW that almost everyone is working from home, startup founders looking to raise money from investors will need to do so remotely. In fact, in-person pitches may now be a thing of the past.

As both an individual investor and venture capitalist, I’ve taken a lot of remote pitches since the shelter-in-place order started. My impression is that most entrepreneurs aren’t always putting their best foot forward.

Here are five seemingly contradictory tips to keep in mind while pitching remotely.

Tip #1: The Slides Aren’t the Pitch

The first tip will be relevant for both in-person and remote pitches but is doubly important when you are pitching remotely: the slide deck isn’t the pitch. The pitch is the story that you are telling.

So, what do I mean by the story? This is a sequential narrative that captures the main reasons why an investor might want to invest in you. It doesn’t matter how good your slides look; it matters how compelling your story is.

Just like story beats in a movie script, which is meant to evoke responses from the audience, a story in the context of pitching to investors should consist of certain beats that are meant to elicit their reaction.

Paradoxically, the better the story, the worse the slides can be. When I was an entrepreneur raising money, one of the most effective pitches was for the Tap Fish video game.

I only had simple black and white slides with text and no images. If that seems like it violates everything you’ve read and heard about putting together pitches—you are right! Our story was great, so the slides didn’t have to be.

Here is an outline of the basic story, along with the ER (expected reaction):

Mobile gaming is new and taking off
  (ER: Nodding/agreement)
We have a million daily active users
  (ER: Surprise and/or impressed)
Our users love our games
  (ER: Nodding)
We’re making quite a bit of profit
  (ER: Surprise, because most startups aren’t profitable so soon)
Look how much money we’re going to make if we follow our plan
  (ER: Greed and excitement)

A few years later, I was raising a subsequent round for my next video game startup, Midverse Studios. By then, we had a more experienced team thanks to the success of Tap Fish. We had flashier games that were based on the TV shows Penny Dreadful and Grimm. We also had marquis investors, who put money into our seed round, and we had a more impressive set of slides.

Despite the flashy slides, we found it difficult to raise money. The fact of the matter was that the slides were better, but the underlying story wasn’t nearly as good. This was because the market for mobile games had become more competitive, making it difficult to acquire users cheaply. We also didn’t have nearly as many users, and we certainly weren’t even close to profitability. We needed a new story that would captivate users and investors.

The real takeaway from my experience is that before you assemble your slides, make sure to articulate your skeleton of a story that will evoke the desired response from investors.

Tip #2: Use Your Slides in the Remote Pitch

Now, this might sound contradictory to Tip #1, but going through some slides is even more important these days when pitching remotely than before the current health crisis.

In recent times, it seems the trend is that entrepreneurs will email me their slides before the call. But then, during the call, they completely ignore the slides. It’s as if they expected me to have memorized the slides for the call.

Instead of being able to focus on their message with the guidance of slides, I found myself rifling through the collection of slides to find the right one.

Out of my last five entrepreneurial pitches, all five had sent me the deck beforehand. Yet only one actually brought up the slides on the Zoom call and went through them with me. The rest just wanted me to look at them sitting on their desks at home, not wanting to “bore me” with the slides. This was a mistake.

Now I’m not saying you need to go through every single slide on a remote pitch. You can certainly economize and jump around. But the visuals are actually important when you are trying to make a point to an investor who is attempting to understand your story and has been listening to a multitude of pitches. For one thing, it’s harder for an investor to figure out what the heck your product actually does on a remote pitch.

I’m more likely to remember you if there is a catchy visual that illustrates an important point, as opposed to just telling me that point.

So, if you have a deck, bring up the slides while talking to investors on Zoom. Otherwise, they’ll just remember you as another face on a screen.

Tip #3: Don’t Spend Too Much Time on the Product

Traditionally, entrepreneurs love to talk about their product, but investors need to know about more than just the product – the market, the team, competitors, business model, etc.

Recently, I saw an entrepreneur’s deck that was 30 slides long, with 10 slides about the product (features, roadmaps, videos, and screenshots). This was too much. Try to keep your deck to 10-15 slides (with extras you can draw upon if necessary).

Some pitches have too little about the product, and some have way too much. The best pitches have “just enough” so that an investor can understand what their product offers and why it might be special.

One or two slides about your product are enough if you do it right. Then it’s time to move on to why it’s better than other solutions, followed by the business model and how you are going to make money.

Tip #4: Explain What Your Product Does

Some entrepreneurs go too far in the other direction and make it really hard for the investor to figure out what their product does clearly.

This has led to pitches that are “market heavy,” such as many slides of data about the market. To be honest, if I took your pitch, I am probably already interested in the market. So the market slides are somewhat important, but you don’t need more than 2 slides on the market, so don’t dwell on them.

For example, if your startup is in esports, you’ll have the obligatory slides talking about how many hundreds of millions of viewers of esports there are. However, as an investor, I probably already know this, or I wouldn’t have taken the pitch.

What I really need to know is your segment of the market, what your product is, and why it’s better or different than others.

If I had to pick the one thing that takes the most time in remote pitches, it is figuring out what the heck an entrepreneur’s product actually does! Many entrepreneurs get to 2/3 of the way through the slides and start talking about the business model and financial projections while I’m still won-dering exactly what their product does and what makes it unique. Having a screenshot or two displayed while you explain your product helps tremendously.

So remember Goldilocks—having too little or too much on the product can both be big problems—you have to get it “just right.”

Seems obvious, right? You would think so.

Tip #5: Identify a Killer Slide Investors Will Remember and Repeat

I always tell entrepreneurs that whether they are conscious of it or not, an investor leaves with a positioning in their mind about you and your company. This is how the investor will position your company to their partners (if they are a VC) or to other investors, or even to their spouse (if they are angel investors).

If you aren’t clear on what they positioning will be, it’s likely you aren’t clear on your story, which brings us right back to Tip #1.

The best positioning is usually the single strongest point that you have in your presentation. Typically, it is about your team, market opportunity, technology/product, or market results/ traction.

You can go through 15 slides, but in the end, there is one slide that will get an investor. I call it the killer slide.

If you are in a new market and don’t have anything to show yet, but have a team that has had real success before (by selling a company), or you are a team that worked together at Google, then the killer slide is the team slide.

These days it’s become fashionable for entrepreneurs to put the team slide at the very end of the presentation, which is great for Demo days. But if the team aspect is your biggest strength, then you need to be sure that you establish your credibility up front, so put that first. Because up until that slide, the investor is thinking: “Who are these yahoos, and why should I care about what they say?”

If your biggest strength is your technology or IP differentiation, you better have a simple visual, which makes it easy to understand while also hammering home your IP is so important. It’s important is that the investor remembers the “gist” of why your IP is so special after your conversation. Spend more time on this “killer slide” and hammer in the point.

Sometimes, the “big strength” is a product demo, which isn’t in the slides at all. I recently invested in a VR company whose founder told me that the way he sells investors is to get them to put on VR glasses and meet him “in world.” In this case, it is necessary to get people over the hurdle because the VR market is not as “hot” as it used to be when it was seen as the “next big thing.”

All investors have to justify their actions to someone else (partners, LPs, spouses, etc.). This is why it’s extremely important to not just convince an investor, but to arm them with a positioning they can take to others to justify their investment.

Conclusion

There is, of course, no one way to do a good pitch remotely during these trying times. But for many startups, it’s even more critical that you raise money quickly, at a time when investors are growing more and more cautious.

Almost all good pitches have a good, solid story behind the slides. Moreover, guiding the investor to the right slides is even more important when you are pitching remotely rather than relying on the investor to “get it.” You aren’t there to just chat—you are there to pitch.

Remember to keep a “just right” approach to all the sections of your pitch: market, product, competitors, business model, and team. Ensure that you don’t have too much or too little on any one section.

Most importantly, think about what the investor will say about your company after the pitch. If it’s not what you want them to say, then your pitch needs work!

* * *Leading ForumRizwan Virk is the founder of Play Labs @ MIT and author of Startup Myths & Models: What You Won’t Learn in Business School, Zen Entrepreneurship, and The Simulation Hypothesis. He is also a venture partner at several VC firms. For more information, please visit ZenEntrepreneur.com and follow him on Twitter.

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Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:

I.

A philosopher at Oxford University, Toby Ord explains the risks we are taking here on spaceship earth:

“We have done many things to exacerbate the risk: some that could make pandemics more likely to occur, and some that could increase their damage. Thus even “natural” pandemics should be seen as a partly anthropogenic risk. Our population now is a thousand times greater than over most of human history, so there are vastly more opportunities for new human diseases to originate. And our farming practices have created vast numbers of animals living in unhealthy
conditions within close proximity to humans. This increases the risk, as many major diseases originate in animals before crossing over to humans. Examples include HIV (chimpanzees), Ebola (bats), SARS (probably bats) and influenza (usually pigs or birds). Evidence suggests that diseases are crossing over into human populations from animals at an increasing rate.
“Modern civilization may also make it much easier for a pandemic to spread. The higher density of people living together in cities increases the number of people each of us may infect. Rapid long-distance transport greatly increases the distance pathogens can spread, reducing the degrees of separation between any two people. Moreover, we are no longer divided into isolated populations as we were for most of the last 10,000 years. Together these effects suggest that we might expect more new pandemics, for them to spread more quickly, and to reach a higher percentage of the world’s people.

Source: The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity

II.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt on fear in a time of crisis:

“This great Nation will endure, as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

Source: Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address on March 4, 1933

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