Lost in a Haze of Distraction

By Francisco Dao , written on September 18, 2012

From The News Desk

By all accounts "Bill" is a great friend and an incredible talent, but lately I find it increasingly painful to hear from him. The problem is Bill is an addict. I don’t think he realizes it because his drug of choice isn’t sold on street corners. But there is no question he is addicted. Unfortunately he isn’t alone in his appetite for this drug. In fact, it runs rampant throughout the entrepreneurial community. Perhaps some of your friends are junkies, perhaps even you. The addiction that Bill can’t shake, that has derailed countless aspiring entrepreneurs, is the addiction to noise.

Noise, or “distraction” if you prefer, comes in many flavors, but its core appeal is stimulation. We all crave stimulation. It’s part of the reason many people choose to become entrepreneurs. But the actual grind of building a company is rarely as exciting as the dream. So instead of committing to the process, those who are addicted to noise constantly seek out something new.

Sometimes the drug of noise looks like a conference that promises all the latest and greatest. Other times it’s the steady drip of social media gossip that keeps them doped up on distraction. And when they need a really big fix, it presents itself as a project that they convince themselves won’t take up any of their time, but which in reality pulls them away from the work that matters. All the while, their addiction to noise keeps pushing them further off the track of accomplishing their goals.

The most deceiving, and therefore the most dangerous, flavor of noise is the one known as “possibility.” Those who are addicted to possibility want to get high from every opportunity they see. For them, everything that looks like it has a shot must be tried. Without the self control to pick and choose from the options put in front of them, they mix up a cocktail of different pursuits until they are lost in an incoherent daze.

Unfortunately for Bill, and many others like him, the current technology space with its triumphant culture, its blogs announcing every funding round, and its incubators promising shortcuts to success, seems to sell the drug of possibility like a Colombian cartel. The result is an insatiable scourge of possibility junkies who are only interested in getting high from the dream while they ignore the reality of the work.

Noise, like other drugs, is always seductive but never satisfying, because it is based on chasing the first high, the initial rush. It’s the first kiss without the relationship, the first workout without the training regimen, and the first day of school without the homework. For the addict, it’s the easy way out. They can say they moved on to something new instead of committing 100 percent and facing the possibility of true failure. Ultimately, they accomplish nothing except for an endless stream of temporary highs.

Some of Bill’s friends and I have talked about staging an intervention to help him break the cycle of addiction, but like all addicts, every attempt at reaching out has been met with another excuse, another justification of why the next idea, the next fix will be the one that changes everything.

Meanwhile the days that Bill wastes turn into weeks and then into months and years. Since I first met him four years ago, Bill has started over a dozen “companies”, but of course they weren’t really companies at all. Looking back, each abandoned start was nothing more than a case of him looking for a new flavor of noise like an addict seeking ever stronger drugs to replicate the bang of his first hit.

I’ve finally given up hope that he’ll ever break the cycle. I wonder how many other people in the tech industry are also lost in the same haze of addiction wasting their lives smoking, sniffing, and shooting up on the drug of noise.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]