Priorities versus Incentives

I came across this tweet earlier today criticising the state of inequality within the goldfish bowl that is Silicon Valley:

The older I get, the more I realise that life really isn’t about priorities. Priorities are more of a lagging indicator. In reality, the things you do, the things you wish to do more of and the things that you feel guilty about not doing, can all be explained by one word.

Incentives.

Regardless of your views, marketplaces govern every area of our lives as humans, extending well beyond simple financial transactions. For example, the simple act of spending any time focused on one activity inevitably comes with the opportunity cost of the thing we didn’t have time to do as a result. Each of us takes part in hundreds of transactions every day – and very few of these will ever have a monetary value.

So maybe another way forward is for us to stop thinking about priorities per se. Let’s move away from the wishlist politics which is rolled out with each new election cycle and doomed to fail by virtue of the short-termism of government representation.

Perhaps placing homelessness in the Valley at the top of a list of hard problems that need to be fixed is similarly doomed to fail – because it is little more than an attempt to tackle a very important issue in a back-to-front way. Instead, what’s needed is to focus on defining the incentives. For each of us. And many of them will be different according to each individual.

These incentives don’t have to be financial – and probably won’t be. But we do need to find work at finding those triggers that make us all want to tackle the hard problems that are out there.  Because without that spark from deep within us, we’re going to end up with the best technology shared amongst the fewest in humanity.