Are Dot Com Entrepreneurs Stuck in La La Land?

A lesson that you should come to embrace very early on in your career is that inspiration and insight can come from just about anywhere. You could be out having a cup of coffee and there’s just something about the cafe that strikes you. Maybe it’s how they designed the menu. Maybe it’s a passing comment made by the barista. The important thing to note is that you should always have your eyes and ears open.

And even though we may choose to write them off as little more than popular entertainment, Hollywood movies can oftentimes offer these tremendous nuggets of wisdom. And these nuggets of wisdom can be applied far beyond the context of the film’s premise, which is exactly the experience I had when I watched the award-winning movie La La Land.

The basic premise of the film is that of a romantic comedy with more than a healthy dose of musical theater and drama thrown in for good measure. There’s the cliche of the struggling actress working in a coffee shop and there’s a charming young musician who values his craft more than his paycheck. He’s a purist and he’s not willing to sacrifice his principles to achieve some greater success.

Somewhere along the way, we are hit with this line:

“How are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist?”

The musician, played by Ryan Gosling, yearns for the golden age of jazz and he mourns its slow and painful death. He wants to open up his own jazz club where the classics can play true and clear, but everyone around him basically says this is a massive failure waiting to happen. Everyone around him says that he needs to move forward.

I’m not going to spoil how the film turns out, but if we consider that line of dialogue in isolation, we can see how loudly it rings true. You can’t move forward if you keep clinging to the past. This doesn’t mean you need to abandon tradition entirely. What it means is that you can derive inspiration from it, but to be a revolutionary, you need to offer something completely and utterly new.

To the point where people will call you crazy. But here’s to the crazy ones. Here’s to living in la la land.

Steve Jobs was a revolutionary. Bill Gates was a revolutionary. Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are all revolutionaries. They may have started with ideas that weren’t 100% original, but they twisted them in such a way to provide the world with a solution they had never seen before.

Another incredible example is Wikipedia. You have to realize just how positively insane of an idea this was at the time. When there is a whole industry to sell multiple volumes of encyclopedias for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, here was a website that was going to do it for free. What’s more, the content of this website wasn’t going to be written and curated by experts. It was going to be publicly accessible and publicly editable.

Anyone can contribute. Think about how the traditionalists at the time would have reacted to that. How can you possibly rely on the knowledge and contributions of the public en masse? It would be complete and utter anarchy! But somehow it works. And now the traditional encyclopedia business is all but dead.

So, as you move forward in your own online career as a dot com entrepreneur, you have to ask yourself one question. If you’re going to make it big, if you’re really going to change the world, will you dare to be a revolutionary? Or will you allow yourself to be shackled by tradition, clinging to a past that is getting further and further back in the rearview mirror?

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