Esther Dyson

I thought Esther and I had a lot in common: I worked on the same physics problem as her father, we're both interested in Eastern Europe, and are active in traveling, writing, technology, and business. But, as you can hear in this interview, we had a hard time communicating. Part of this is her reticence in revealing her feelings, but we also think differently. We have less in common than I thought.

The world of high tech entrepreneurship has superstars, and Esther is one of them. She travels almost constantly, and her name appears in print in newsletters and Op Ed columns all over the world. Most people are not sure what she actually does, and her description of herself as being a professional member of numerous boards of directors does little to clarify. Nor does this short but typical bio that appeared on the web:

"Esther Dyson is editor of Release 1.0, and serves as court jester to the online world, as loving critic, angel investor, long-sighted analyst and enthusiastic participant."

For the record, Esther acts as a "meta-CEO" for 24 companies. She also acts as a large and involved shareholder in 32 others. Imagine what it would be like to have detailed knowledge of, and wield significant authority in 56 companies simultaneously.

Rather than the court jester, as she describes herself, I'd describe her as The Pope: she exercises strategic authority with limited responsibility. She's a big advocate of leverage, but in her case it's more like "uber leverage": other people do all the work and she has all the fun. At least she thinks it's fun; it seems like a crazy life to me.

Interview Excerpts
Read the full interview :

"I felt my college work was fundamentally useless because I was reading stuff that had already been written, and writing stuff that people already knew… I wanted to be a journalist, and to ask good questions. I didn’t almost flunk out, but I definitely graduated without distinction…

"Checking facts is God’s work. Before you write stuff down you need to make sure it’s accurate. I think that should be one of the Ten Commandments. There really is no better way to learn stuff than to have to write it down for other people and stand by your work…

"I feel self-directed… I have a sense that I want to do what’s useful. Not that I never sit around and experience pangs of regret, but in general I feel I’m doing things that are useful. I do things that I can learn from, and that’s what I like to do…

"You have to figure it out for yourself. A lot of unhappiness comes from people using someone else’s ladder. You need to design your own ladder and climb that one. Otherwise you get to the top of someone else’s mountain and you don’t really want to be there."


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