Saturday, December 30, 2017

Alfidi Capital at Project HeHa Super Happiness Challenge 2017

The world needs to get happy. Project HeHa has a plan to make that happen. The project held a Super Happiness Challenge in late 2017, so I had to trek down to Silicon Valley and see what it was all about. Tech types are certainly competitive, and the whole point of the challenge was to compete to get happy. There may have been some really happy people in the room by the time this was all over.

I see huge liability issues with so-called "increase your happiness" sites and apps that are not part of wellness programs vetted by board-certified psychologists. These apps are prescribing behavioral changes in the absence of clinical diagnoses. Tech should only go so far in adjusting someone's psyche without expert human intervention.

Project HeHa brought its happy sign.

The Director of the MIT Media Lab gave the keynote. I had a lot of respect for that lab during the 1990s when its then-director had a regular column in Wired magazine. Alas, the lab and Wired bear their fair share of blame for hyping the dot-com craze. Anyway, I grokked the speaker's point about how true happiness thrives in a healthy ecosystem that one person's material success will not destroy. It's easy to say that in Silicon Valley, where thousands of multimillionaires have built an ecosystem completely devoted to solving their unique problems. These are serious problems, like how to get around town without touching poor people on mass transit (Uber), how to get high-quality meals delivered to the office so managers don't have to wait in line with workers (meal kit services), and how to meet like-minded high-powered singles for fun times (dating apps). Yes indeed, the ecosystem must enable everyone's happiness, especially if it prices out unhappy lower-class people.

We must have hard metrics that tell us how happy we are becoming. The World Happiness Report asks people how happy they are for the UN's International Happiness Day. It may or may not have something to do with the UN's sustainable development framework. The Happy Planet Index is a UK-based effort to redirect the global economy from making money to getting happy. Its sponsors want a "new economy" driven by a hodgepodge of philosophies other than capitalism. Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a nascent thought trend originating in Bhutan, with support from the Happiness Alliance. It sounds to me like a slogan for Bhutan's tourism sector, or perhaps a distraction from Bhutan's ethnic cleansing of its minorities. The idealistic, sensitive, progressive people behind all of these concepts should ask Bhutan's displaced Lhotshampa if they are happy to be refugees.

Project HeHa brought lots of happy books.

The startups in the Super Happiness Challenge pitched their tech ideas to the assembled expert panel. They all looked happy to be there. This event was the first time I have ever witnessed a panel of judges emphasize a startup's culture as a key to success. Uber's well-publicized problems must be waking up every VC in the Valley about culture. Someone remarked, "Culture is what's left when the CEO leaves the room," and left unsaid is that the CEO's personal example sets that culture. The praise on hand for diversity was another effect of wake-up calls, or it may have just been more lip service and slogans. Folks, I have been under bad supervisors of both genders and several ethnic origins. No one demographic has ever cornered the market on behavior that destroys happiness.

I am not sure what to make of this HeHa thing and its sponsors. I am quite familiar with the format of US-based startups pitching to renowned investors. I am not so familiar with this particular project's creators and backers. I think the people behind Project HeHa have their hearts in the right place, but I have no further curiosity about their mission. Tech gurus all think they can change the world. The hubris of Silicon Valley is that tech has a cure for everything, even what ails human emotions. I am part of Silicon Valley's culture to find fellow Americans who want to grow the US economy. That makes me happy.