Victims of their success

The original seed of this post came from my experiences at Los Angeles and Heathrow airports last year, but the seed germinated recently when I read about the troubles ordinary people have in living in San Francisco, and the commotion around Dan Lyon’s critical book about HubSpot and the Silicon Valley culture.

Starting with the airports, however, last year was the first time in 12 years that I travelled through London’s Heathrow airport. I actually first flew in and out of Heathrow when I was a boy in the 1960s, when the airport was smaller and was purely functional, ie, no coffee shops or refreshment points. Before last year it was Terminal 4 that I remember using, and I became quite familiar with its layout. So arriving at Terminal 5 was a new and not entirely pleasant experience, as it seems the terminal is cut off from the rest of the airport – I was used to the terminals being next to each other. But it was the hugeness, impersonality and busyness of Terminal 5 that struck me; traversing around Heathrow as I tried to find my way around and out made me yearn for the smaller, more human version of Heathrow that I used to know, before it became one of the busiest airports in the world. When I flew out of Terminal 5 I tweeted:

Then I landed at Los Angeles.

Los Angeles International Airport, more commonly known as LAX, is the largest international airport on the US West Coast. Unlike Heathrow, however, my experience of LAX was that it was an airport that boasted about being one of the busiest in the US without having grown to accommodate the growth. The result for me is an over-crowded, poorly architected and organised airport. In fact on my return to Johannesburg I tweeted

For me, both airports are symbols of things becoming a victim of their success.

salary-to-buy-a-houseAnother victim of its success is San Francisco. When I worked in Silicon Valley in 1995, San Francisco was a cosmopolitan city that symbolised the free spirit of the 1960s. Now I’m seeing an increasing number of articles that say it has become a city where only the wealthy can afford to live. A Washington Post article shows how much you need to earn to buy a home there.

My last ‘victim of its success’ is the software company HubSpot. I have used their marketing automation software at two companies and thought it was a good product (until the pricing became ridiculous). It has been one of Boston’s startup success stories, that is until a book by a former employee came out. Now it sounds just like any other

“hard-driving workplace full of old-fashioned office politics and backstabbing”

that also can’t deal with people older than 30.

Perhaps if the HubSpot founders, and property owners of San Francisco, had heeded the teachings of Jesus about humility, and the advice by one of his greatest followers, Paul, in the letter to the Philippians:

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.”

they might not have reached the situation they find themselves in now.


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