Unrig It Yourself! A New Year’s Intervention of Hope – for Doers

(This is a re-post of Steve Faktor’s viral original article on LinkedIn)

matt damon - ideafaktory.comMatt Damon recently said “the system is rigged.” Immediately, I felt horrible. If the world is against this handsome, famous multi-millionaire, what hope does a business hobbit like me have?

He’s not the first to repeat this feel-bad, defeatist mantra. It was a cornerstone of the 99% protests and famously reiterated by Elizabeth Warren, now Senator Warren. (And brilliantly rebutted by Adam Carolla). It’s not just the left. On the right, an anarchist flavor of the same pessimism is brewing. Conspiracy ringleaders like Alex Jones are quietly mobilizing an angry, disenfranchised army. In uncertain times, it’s easy to succumb to paranoid defeatism. Why? Because it excuses failure. It de-stigmatizes the shame of not trying. It justifies hating the other guy’s success or telling those with nothing to fend for themselves.

Let’s say the system is rigged and everything is a conspiracy. Now what? Keep stocking your bunker with guns, canned goods, and homemade jerky? Or, sleep until noon on mom’s couch – then rail online against your oppressors – in your underwear? Instead, why not focus on the incredible list of things we can control? In fact, the only time better and more empowering than today is tomorrow. The real revolution already started, but an entire generation of young, able-bodied Americans is about to miss it. Here is their recipe for The Great Unrigging – and to never accepting excuses again.

I’m not unsympathetic to the struggles of millions of Americans. I immigrated to the US at age six from the Soviet Union. Though I spoke no English, I already knew that the Pravda newspaper was not nearly as absorbent as Charmin. My parents sacrificed everything to start with nothing in the exotic land of Brooklyn, New York. There, I grew up wearing hand-me-downs and irregular underwear from the 99-cent store. We lived in a one bedroom apartment in a sketchy neighborhood where I developed back problems sleeping on that rod in the middle of a fold-out sofa. You know, the one with the luxurious two-inch thick mattress. This never felt like a great recipe for a future author, Fortune 100 executive or entrepreneur. Somehow I always knew that to escape. I had to be that much smarter, more resourceful, and harder-working. But I never had any of the amazing tools available today…or a G.I. Joe with movable arms.

Consider the incredible rise of Asian and Indian Immigrants. Who unrigged the system for them? They now earn more than any other group, including Caucasians, who now flail impotently in a world they ostensibly rigged.

Perhaps it’s not the system.

Perhaps people aren’t so powerless.

The Future: You’re doing it wrong

Humor me and please itemize the things around you now. You’re probably surrounded by consumption devices – your phone, computer, iPad, TV, fridge, couch… We are on a massive binge – constantly sucking in knowledge, food, entertainment, and products. But why aren’t they filling that emptiness inside? Because we’re not putting enough back in.

Of every item you own, how many were you – or anyone you know – involved in making? Of this dwindling list of things you do make, how many of them make the world better – or even different? Now scale this up to 300 million people and you see the makings of a national malaise.

In my book Econovation, I wrote about the end of consumerism and rise of “producerism” – and how to capitalize on it. (Yes, an ex-American Express, Citi and MasterCard executive said that…) It won’t happen because an entire nation suddenly wakes up with the urge to build the next Tesla. Our economy is structurally imbalanced. Re-balancing it will take an army of makers – both analog and digital. I’m not saying we should stop consuming. I am saying that a personal re-balancing will fuel a national one.

The first part of the answer is winning the outer battle. It’s the adult equivalent of “go play outside”. Track how many hours you spend sucking in TED Talks, watching Michael Bay explosions, or sharing Kim Kardashian Tweets… Then, commit to spending an equal or greater amount of time making something. It doesn’t matter what. Write, build a tree-house with your kids, plant a garden, or learn how to fix your own car.

The second part is winning the harder inner battle. That’s where every excuse for inaction dies with extreme prejudice.

Exit the Delusion

The web can spread revolutions, economic opportunities or wardrobe malfunctions. But lately, I’ve noticed its more subversive power – spreading half-truths, illusions – and worst of all, the illusion of action.

Millions use social media to share articles about the world’s injustices – from crumbling urban schools to rapes in India. It’s followed by a self-congratulatory, “Yes, I’ve done something!” Great, get yourself a cookie – while the rest of us go patrol India. At best, this sharing is a trite, meaningless form of awareness. At worst, it’s a lie that pardons you from taking substantive action in the real world.

Onto the illusions.

Did the Koch brothers rig our economy?

Will Monsanto seeds turn us all into The Fly?

Is Adderall a profiteering conspiracy…or a great babysitter?

Is Evil Obama coming for our guns and gold?

Does homeopathy cure cancer or just sell us dried up mouse droppings?

None of it matters. Time spent debating these questions is part of our national paralysis. It’s time not spent choosing or creating alternatives…or changing the world.


Enter the Real Revolution

Beneath every shared cat photo sits a powerful engine – in neglect. We’re using a Lamborghini to pick up groceries, instead of supermodels. The internet is the greatest Anti-Rigging device ever invented. It puts immigrants on par with rich kids. It puts local banks on par with Citibank. It creates jobs where none existed. Instead of using it to save $40 on a flat screen, let’s use it to learn new skills, produce something of value, and offer it to others.

Want Gub’ment Reform?

We live in an era where change agents can make it into office powered by lots of tiny donations. Want a government that works? Organize and crowdfund your campaign like Sacramento’s Steve Hansen. Use these tools to get school reforms like Zack Kopplin did. Or, create a list of demands and organize to vote out every incumbent until they’re met. Apathy gets us the government we deserve.

Hate greedy bankers?

Use any number of low-fee credit unions, regional banks, or web banks. Use customer-owned Vanguard Group for investing. Encourage friends to do the same. Or, start your own. Simple, Smarty Pig, and GoBank did.

Think a handful of corporations control the media?

So what? In the last few years, several successful, independent media companies started from scratch. Pete Cashmore blogged for years from his mom’s house. By age 26, his site Mashable was one of the most popular tech sites on the web. Similar independent successes include Gawker Media, The Verge, TechCrunch, Huffington Post, TWiT, Adam Carolla, Nerdist Network, Revision3, and arguably Twitter and Facebook. Even Newark Mayor Cory Booker created an alternative news company. Tools like WordPress, Tumblr, and podcasting equipment are cheap and abundant. Not using them for change makes the problem ours, not Disney’s or Time Warner’s.

No jobs?

Don’t wait for government or replies on Monster.com. We’ve entered an era where we’ll need to create our own. It goes by another name – hustle. The minute Hussein’s regime crumbled, Iraqis were selling TV’s and cell phones on the streets. No one even knows how they got inventory so fast. Imagine what they’d achieve with our stability and infrastructure… We need to re-discover that kind of scrappiness.

There are plenty of options:

Almost 50% successfully fund their dream project on Kickstarter.

Companies like Shapeways let you design and sell your own 3D printed products.

Quirky develops top product ideas for you and hands inventors 30% of the profit.

Countless sites help you sell everything from photos, to art and crafts, to every imaginable freelance service.

For the unemployed, the web is a powerful way to find others succeeding at something they’d love to do. Volunteer to help them for free. Most won’t turn down free labor. You’ll learn a marketable skill and might parlay it into a job or your own business.

College is too expensive? 

Wikipedia, alone, has more information than everything that existed when I was a kid – combined. Classes on every imaginable subject and skill are available free online. Today’s most marketable skill is tech development and design. Codecademy can teach it to you for free. I have friends who’ve used it to start a business or find projects on talent markets. You could become the next Markus Frind, who created the most popular dating site on earth while teaching himself to code. An 11-year old built his own alternative to Facebook called Grom. And Dalton Caldwell raised several hundred thousand online to build a fee-based Twitter alternative called app.net.

Not everyone needs to be an entrepreneur. There are plenty of jobs for engineers and coders – and places to get accredited engineering degrees. I bet there are people in your life who’ll help you finance it. At Upstart, you might even get a stranger to help pay off your loans as an investment in your future income.

Do it!

It’s never been about them or “the system”. It’s always been and always will be about us.

We are “the system”. And we can change it.

You can get that dream job. You can build that dream life. And only you can stop forest fires.

So go ahead and make this the last article you share – then get on with the business of unrigging.

* * *

More interventions: