Nick Hanauer, a “High-Functioning Contrarian,” on How to Think About Breakthroughs in Business and Society (Part 2)

3/30/10Follow @gthuang

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have to pay sales tax. He wanted that tax advantage. Washington—no people, no problem. The second reason was it had to be a place where you could hire development talent; Microsoft was here, and he figured he could get some good people. The third reason was it had to be physically near to a major book distributor; there was Ingram, a huge warehouse in Roseburg, Oregon, which was close enough. And that was it.

X: We haven’t even talked about aQuantive yet. What are your thoughts on the future of online advertising?

NH: I’m bored with that, other than my big bet with Marchex. I’m actively avoiding investments in that space. I feel like I did it. Been there, done that, it’s just not intrinsically interesting enough anymore for me. And P.S., it’s done. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong, but plus or minus, the online advertising ecosystem is baked. Yes, you can incrementally improve something here, or maybe somebody will do something slightly more interesting over there, but it’s done, it’s just over. Google, Bing, whatever, who gives a [bleep]? So I get all these plans about “we’ve got this new ad optimization blah blah blah.” You know, open a chicken farm, right? That’s being unfair. What they’re doing isn’t bad, it’s just not intrinsically interesting to me. I just feel like there are so many domains where there’s more innovation space, more convention to turn upside down.

X: Given all your experience, what one question would you ask the God of Business?

NH: What’s the best way to get people to change their minds? That’s what I’d want to know, if I could know anything.

X: What kind of answer would you be looking for?

NH: Well, I reckon I’m a very persuasive person, so I have a better fix on this answer than most people you will meet. So I’m being glib. Clearly it’s not that easy. The answer comes down to changing people’s metaphors. If I can get you to start thinking about the market as a garden, then it’s super easy for me to get you to change your mind about regulation. Even the word “regulation” is already living in a world where the market is perfectly efficient. The word “regulation” relates to understanding the market as a machine. You regulate machines. It’s intrinsically a pejorative term. Regulation is intrinsically a failure. Whereas “tending” or “weeding”—these are not failures, these are obligations. Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” So I think the answer is something like that. Some omniscient advice on this, I would love.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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