Marc Andreesen: Scenius

Here’s another highlight from Brian Koppelman’s interview with Marc Andreessen on The Moment.

This time they’re talking about the importance of ‘scenes’ – groups of people working on similar ideas, sharing inspiration, encouraging each other and pushing boundaries and promoting each other’s work.

This seems to be true in art, technology and politics, and I think it’s true of sciences and other research communities. There’s huge value in a network of colleagues sharing work, building on each other’s ideas and cheering each other on.

See also Where’s the scene?

This extract is from a little after five minutes into the podcast. You can listen to the episode here, download it here or read the transcript here.

Marc: So, Brian Eno has a term, you may have heard, called “scenius”, have you heard this term?

Brian: No, but I love Eno’s work.

Marc: Okay. So Brian Eno has this term called sceners. Kevin Kelly and Stewart Brand and others have talked about this at length and I think it’s right, which is, it’s this… Let’s start with it is it’s an amazing coincidence. It’s an amazing coincidence how when there’s a major new artistic movement, it’s an amazing how there’s a scene. There’s quite literally a scene. And so Hemingway was part of a scene… There’s an example —

Brian: Patti Smith’s book talks about this, right? “Just Kids” talks about it in a great way, being in New York at that time.

Marc: I mean, one great example, you know, I’ve spent a lot of time with our friend Michael Ovitz over the years understanding kind of how this has worked and how creativity works in entertainment, and he says, basically, he says 100% of the time it’s a scene. So for example, he cites the great scene in comedy, when he was coming up was “Saturday Night Live”, you know, The Second City/ Saturday Night Live phenomenon in the mid 70s. And it was it was this, you know, Saturday Night Live shows up on TV in, you know, 1975 and people are like, Oh my… you know, this is like a brand new thing. Like, where did this come from? And it turns out, it was all these people. It was, you know, Chevy Chase, and Gilda Radner, and Bill Murray, and, you know, John Belushi, and all these… Lorne Michaels —

Brian: And the Canadians, the SCTV scene —

Marc: Yes, the Canadians, the SCTV scene, exactly right. And like, they all knew each other; they all knew each other coming up. And basically you find this — like, comedy is actually a great example of this, you just see this — inevitably, like, there was the Judd Apatow scene, like, there was a set of those people; there’s like the Seth Rogen, you know, kind of they’re at the center of these networks. And then these people then spin off and they do their own work and they became become very successful. Um you know, most recently like the Tina Fey, Amy Poehler kind of thing was a scene. <Brian: Sure. Absolutely.> Upright Citizens Brigade [Theater] and Second City. And so, it’s this… these are clearly creative geniuses on their own, but like, they weren’t out in the wilderness somewhere.

Brian: Well, what I took from the article — I didn’t read the study but I saw the Times article about it — was that artists will recognize other… Part of what happens, this amplifying effect is that, if you’re good… if you’re really good at this stuff, don’t necessarily think about people, always think about the buyer. People are always like, “How can I get an agent? How can I get a buyer?” As opposed to, “How can I show my work to other artists who can help platform it?”

And that’s what I took from that article was that, there are, that in fact, … The best way to get an agent is to have some artist who thinks you’re great, who’s represented by that agent, tell that agent, right? Do you think systems thinking — because like, if you look at Dylan as an example, just to try to put it in my world a bit, right — he did come here, come to New York and then enter and take over this scene that existed. Do you think someone has to calculate that stuff… or do you think there are people who just naturally do it?

Marc: So I think it’s a complex adaptive system. It has feedback loops, what are called feedback loops. You know, and some people get in the position of the feedback loop starts to hit. It’s almost a little bit… feedback loops are funny things… There’s this concept in economics actually derived from something out of the Christian Bible called the Matthew Effect, right? It’s sort of like, in a lot of these fields, recognition begets recognition, success begets success, reputation begets reputation, right? So it’s a positive feedback loop. And you see this when kind of people are on the rise in their careers, right?

Brian: I was with people from Twitter the other day and they were talking about this too, about one of the challenges at Twitter in terms of growing it, right, is that the people who are verified and have a good following are able to very quickly make their following bigger. <Marc: Yah> But for someone who’s just starting, it’s really hard now to amass an audience.

Marc: Just like, by the way, it’s very hard to become a new recognized painter, it’s very hard to write a screenplay that gets made, right? It’s a… these are so-called nonlinear dynamical systems, technically, and they have these feedback loops.

And a lot of this goes back to kind of the human attitude of the people involved in doing the work, it’s like, there’s two ways to look at that. One is, oh my god, life isn’t fair. And like, this is just fundamentally, you know, horrible. And we should figure out a way to, like, reform these systems so there’s a much more equal distribution of, you know, returns and results. Another way to look at it is, it os the human system, it is humanity, it is how… we are social animals, we do care what other people think. To your point, we care what the other experts think. We do care what our friends think. And we respond to those things. And part of what makes a creative project valuable is the fact that people appreciate it. And, just the nature of it is people are gonna tend to appreciate the things that other people are appreciating.

And so it is what it is, and therefore, if you’re going to be a creative professional, you should lean into that you should. You should take that seriously and you should consider that part of the challenge. Because I think that… the alternate path is bitterness. And we see this in the Valley, one of these billion programmers. They’ve been working for 10 years on some project and like they’ve got the code running. It’s all working and like nobody — you know, it’s not out there, nobody appreciates it, it’s sitting on a shelf in a lab somewhere — and they’re just furious, right?

And it’s like, “Well, what have you done to try to inject this into the world?” “Well, nothing.” “Why not?” “Well, because my work is genius and people should appreciate it. And it’s their fault if they don’t.” As an individual, that will poison you, right?, <Yes!> that will destroy you.

And so that’s… why you have to be really careful in these things whether you’re talking about society or whether you’re talking about the individual. Because from a societal standpoint, you can level all kinds of accusations about unfairness. From an individual level, you really want, in my view… individually, you wanna think, “I can do this. I can go change the world. I can go affect things.” It’s going it be real —

Brian: And you’re saying, you shouldn’t just rely on the fact that your work alone privately will do it, you should be proactive in trying to get it out there.

Marc: And part of it is you should get into a scene. So this is part of it. By the way, this also goes to another kind of view of unfairness right now which is like, okay, why do all the great movies and TV shows get made… why do the vast majority get made in LA.? Like, that’s so unfair to people. There are people who, like, try to make movies in San Francisco, and they’ll tell you like, “It’s so unfair. Like, it’s just so much easier to do this in LA. Like, it should be easy to do this…” We get this in the startup world, like, why are a disproportionate number of startups built in Silicon Valley? Isn’t it unfair that you don’t have equal odds of doing this if you’re in Topeka?

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. The other way of looking at it is, if I’m the indiv– you know, I grew up in rural Wisconsin — like, if the job is to get enmeshed into the system, right, into the network, then basically, what you wanna do as an individual is you wanna get yourself into the scene.

Brian: Yah Tony Hsieh calls them “collision spaces”.

Marc: Yeah. You gotta get in the mix, right. And if you’re not willing to get in the mix, it’s not their fault. It’s your fault, right?

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