Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Social Proof: High School All Over Again

I've had a lot on my mind this week, and last night I had a dream that sparked memories of other dreams, as though they're all part of the same mystery.

I have no idea the meaning, but there was conflict without resolution, which is somewhat similar to parts of my waking life. The great thing, though, was that Dad was in it, and although we were in conflict in this one, it's always good to see him since his passing in '96. (Ah, unresolved issues, son?).

Why am I telling you this, you think to yourself. I have no idea, but I'm in a contemplative mood after watching the sunrise, listening to the birds and getting a head start on a big push for HN.

Ok. So. Social Proof.

Today Fred posted about "social proof", which has become the accepted currency of angel investing, and basically means that, well, if Fred is in then I'm in. 

Fred doesn't like social proof, by the way, and if Fred is in, I'll take a look but I'm not going to invest in anything without vetting it (were I investing again).

As a founder of things, I absolutely hate social proof. I don't like how it makes me feel. I was never with the in crowd growing up. Or ever, really. I created my own in crowd and ignored the others (pretended to, anyway).

I even felt awkward within my own in crowd. I'd put people together from different parts of my life, and assumed they'd just like each other as much as I liked them, and no, it doesn't work that way. It took me years to realize that.

I was socially awkward growing up, and still am. I'm outgoing but introverted, and I take social risks that simply make the inevitably painful assumption that others assume the best of me, that I have good intentions, or that they'll, well, accept me.

And a lot of times that approach is not understood, and so I take my hits in the subtle ways they're delivered--the silences, the exclusion, the absence of a greeting or invitation. I got an invitation last week and was surprised how much it meant to just be invited.

I make the mistake of thinking that everyone understands what I'm talking about, or is even interested. And they aren't, mostly, which is expected given the narrow niches I talk about (search, street kids, community enterprises).

But I've never figured out how much to say, or what to say, or when.

In business that's not a terrible thing; you need the gumption to try to make a sale to someone or raise capital, etc. Gumption (or perhaps it's courage) opens doors. Sometimes it closes them, though.

Social proof is terrible for me. I don't know the "in" crowd that much. It's just like high school, it feels. I know a few people in it. Out in the Valley I know very, very few, and social currency is everything in the Valley. And it makes me uncomfortable to try to appeal to the 'in' crowd. I'm not conventionally unconventional, I'm awkwardly so.

I'd have to immerse myself there and ingratiate myself to a range of people, many of whom I don't agree with, and in doing that my social awkwardness would undermine the social acceptance the social proofers are looking for.

No acceptance, no currency, no currency, no social proof.

I hate it.

So I have little social currency in the angel investment world. I'm not sure how much I have in the real world,  in my community in Lancaster; that's a side effect of speaking out, or talking too much about difficult issues, or perhaps it's just the way I do it.

Not everyone cares as much about your own beliefs as you. That never sunk in with me enough to modify how and what I communicate.

And that is perhaps why I'm more comfortable with the awkward misfits I find at Social Venture Network, or Startup Lancaster, or the startup classes I give occasionally. Bunch of great people, not entirely comfortable in their own skin.

And none of that--none of it--defines my value as a leader and builder of business. But it does have impact on it, and someday maybe I'll figure out how to moderate the awkwardness and feel more comfortable so I'm somehow more accepted and can move more freely among the social proofers.

Or not--it might be better to stop caring about that and simply get on with the work.

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