Why you must live life in beta

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The first in a “live life in beta” series, Conrad looks at what the phrase means, and why we need to start doing it.

“Live life in beta” is one of those phrases bandied about by hoodie-wearing modern tech entrepreneurs. Like many of them, it might seem quirky, cuddly, friendly.

Except it’s not a fluffy phrase when you dig into it. When you live life in beta, it’s a turbulent, nail-biting ride that demands you embrace uncertainty and change. You are considering yourself an unfinished work until the day you die.

And it’s a phrase that I think you have to etch onto your brain with a permanent marker.

Where “live life in beta” comes from

The phrase “live life in beta ” comes from the idea of a beta test. That’s the test software developers often use just before they take a product out to market. Most of the product is fine at this point – it’s just that they will make tweaks based on the needs and demands of the people who will use it.

It’s now a given in the videogame industry – where they make several times the revenue of the movie business. There, a beta phase can take months – and changes can be introduced during the beta phase as well.

The payoffs for this can be enormous. Two of last year’s best-received games – Overwatch and Battlefield 1 – cultivated a fan base by allowing people to rigorously test the gameplay. Many of those same people rushed back to buy the finished game once it hit the shops.

So, in short, how do you live life in beta? Today’s post is more about the pressing reasons why, but I’ll give you an overview right now. The idea is that – like an unfinished product test-launched to the masses – you embrace change over stasis, uncertainty over stubbornness. The effects can be dramatic and bring with them greater personal and professional success.

Sounds like an interesting lifestyle choice. Except it’s not. You actually have no choice BUT to live life in beta from now on.

Life is moving at a rate of knots. And soon ‘knots’ will be a dead metaphor. Maybe lightspeed, warp or hyperspace will suit us best.

There’s a reason for all of this. I’d like you to imagine this reason as a coin. On one side there is a series of revolutions. On the other there is evolution.

Accelerating change and you

Side one of the coin is all about how the tools we use are rapidly evolving. All part of an ongoing and ever-disruptive evolution.

As humans, we are noted for creating tools … and then creating more tools to effect the first tools in order to do a job. We don’t just prod something with a stick anymore: we set up a complex series of operations. Take a car for example. A combustion engine moves a series of parts which turn the wheels which move around the chair we are sat on. That car has a tonne of tools all working at the same time (heating, radio – perhaps sat nav or anti-collision AI, the chassis which protects us from the elements etc).

And we don’t build cars, or anything else for that matter, in isolation. We put our thoughts together either as research or as a “supply chain”. You’re using this site as a tool for research of your own using work I’ve gathered. That’s put on a  website someone else has invented and that’s using servers someone else has built – all melded together with software another person has created.

All this – collaboration and advancement – influences ideas. Ideas to create new and exciting things using ever more complex operations – as people put their heads together and build on the endless dizzying achievements which came before. And this has stepped up dramatically since the rise of modern computing. Compared to how we were developing before computers, some think we’ll see 20,000 years’ of advancement in the 21st century alone.

Thanks to technology, ideas are replicating. The revolution is going viral.

The pre-beta you

Which is interesting, because on the flip side of the metaphorical coin our bodies are evolving. Evolving in a way that is ill-fitted to the exciting ideas we have. We have evolutionary hangovers from the past which no longer count – like getting stitches and sighing. We have fear responses to things that are not threats to our life. It may not be that you snarl and try to blend in with the pot plants when your boss tells you off, but on some deep level your body prepares you for that. And it does so with all the disorientation and possible internal damage to you that it causes. Fight or flight.

And the psychological disconnect between our old bodies and new tech can be lethal. It might seem cute or funny when you switch on the TV and your baby becomes absorbed by the television … but put those TVs into the pockets of adults and you have a huge problem. Cell phones are creating huge numbers of fatalities on our roads. Try as we might, we can’t cope with new technology as well as we want by treating it like everything that has gone before.

And it’s not just computers. Our diets have altered dramatically – since the late 70s and the rise of mass-produced processed food there’s sugar in most things on the supermarket shelves. That upturns millions of years of evolution in the last three decades. If you think our fear reflexes have been warped by moving from the wilderness to the office, wait till we see the long-term impact of home delivery on hunter-gathering instincts.

All this means we need a change in mindset to grasp the new era of constant flux. To embrace it, safely, and take advantage of it. To start to live life in beta.

The crux of this is because life is no longer predictable. Routine is no longer a thing – a quirk in technology will disrupt it time and again. We need to adapt and be aware of every fresh new thing. We need to be excited and awake for it.

And we need to harness it whilst understanding the risks.

The beta workplace is an alpha beast

Meanwhile, how do we pay to keep up to date with all this change? How do we finance the cell-phone in our pocket, or buy our same-day delivery online groceries?

Work.

And you have no choice but to prepare for for change. There is no job for life anymore because business moves on too fast. Titans fall into irrelevancy, traditional firms shut major outlets. Those that are still standing will lay you off or move you into an area you may not have imagined when you first sent them your CV.

This is because bosses have no choice but to think like Darwinian beasts – they have to adapt to survive. Drop appendages they can no longer keep or re-purpose them for another life-preserving task.

So you have to be ready. Boss or worker. You have be ready to adapt.

You have to be an unfinished and improving product for the rest of your personal and professional life.

So how can you do this? How can you live life in beta?

Well, that’s the theme of tomorrow’s blog – come back then and I will talk you through some great examples.

See you then. Conrad.