For a year and a half, I had the fortune to be running my company from Maldives. My father-in-law is Vice President there and a relative, if by marriage, of the President, Mohamed Nasheed. I’ve never had anybody in my family that I know of play in politics and my father-in-law, a Stanford graduate (PhD), is an exemplary politician. Unfortunately, he isn’t in the media a lot with regards to Maldives but with the news that the President there detained 60 people during the latest protests about the massive cost of living increase, well, it’s probably a good thing that the protestors are only calling for the President to resign, and not his resignation as well.
As a result of being in Maldives for so long, I was fortunate enough to meet with other politicians, business leaders and even a former Prime Minister. Very smart, courteous and educated, the politicians I met defied the stereotype common in American culture that “those who can’t make it in business, get into politics.” Truly, the reason these men are involved is the burning desire to make a difference. Before the latest regime change in Egypt, the former Maldivian president was one of the world’s longest running dictators and a serial abuser of human rights. The change in Maldives was the first peaceful transition for a mulsim country from a dictatorship to a multi party democracy, which is why Robert Blake came for a visit after the current president detained members of the opposition last summer.
What does all this backstory on a tiny island nation have to do with internet startups?
Well, I’ve got Robert Blakes business card in my wallet. He told me I could email him “anytime” but, my daily work and life has nothing to do with the USA foreign policy. So other than to say, “hi” I can’t think of anything I need to share with him at this time. If I come across something, I’m sure I’ll send it to him. Likewise, through my family, I can reach all sorts of political leaders and business leaders the world over. The stories they share are fascinating – just like the stories you might share with your friends. The term ‘viral spread’ is so entrenched in modern marketing that I think we neglect to remember that the human networks we are all apart of are based, not on sales, but relationships. Trust. Proximity. A quirk of fate.
According to sociologists, 50% of your friend circle will go out of date over the next 7 years.
I can’t call Robert Blake or Mr. Nasheed friends, even though they both seem like great guys. My father-in-law could certainly call Mr. Nasheed a friend, and through him, could claim friendship with world leaders, dignitaries and ambassadors the world over. If you believe in the six degrees of separation notion, with very few leaps, the trust I hold among family could spread an idea globally among the most powerful people in the world. Wow.
Most ideas only go so far before they die out, however. If I sent an affiliate link, for example, to the people in my contact list, my twitter feed or my facebook page, how many people would pass it on? Very few. However, if I sent a compelling story, with a touching ending that made people feel uplifted, encouraged or amazed it would spread that much farther. Perhaps even reaching Presidents and Heads of State. The ability to reach out, engage and change the lives of our fellow humans has never been greater. To read the news, though, we’re faced with riots, instability and suffering.
It’s not all about the doom, gloom and fear. Sometimes it’s about hope, wonder and excitement for change. That’s the platform that both Obama and Nasheed used to get elected, hope for change, hope for the better and a dream of a tomorrow where the world is even more amazing than today. That’s the kind of story that drives pass a long, the kind of story that gets the digg votes or the youtube views, or facebook fans. When you share something, if the sharing benefits you, as a “sharer” then it’s selfish and won’t go far. However, as Seth Goden has written often about the power of real gifts, if the sharing of something benefits the people who you share with, it will grow, spread and reach more people now than it could ever have reached before.
Here’s to hope, that Maldives protests will calm down and the world will be a better place with lower energy costs, higher standards of living and more freedom of expression today and tomorrow, than we had in days past.