An Amsterdam Kind of Life
Several conversations have brushed up against each other in interesting ways recently.
Last week I tooted that everyone knows the word “startup”, which refers to company that is young and trying to grow rapidly, but we don’t even have a word for one that is mature and trying to sustain itself at its current size. Adjectives like “sustainable” don’t quite capture the idea; terms like “lifestyle company” feel dismissive, and “static” implies unchanging or unresponsive, which is just plain wrong. The Japanese use the word shinise (literally, “old shop”) to describe a restaurant that has been serving satisfied customers for decades or a hotel that has been in operation for over a thousand years. I think our industry (and our society) would be better if we celebrated the act of keeping things going rather than chasing the illusion of perpetual growth.
Several of my friends got divorced during the pandemic. One said to me that after a year of being cooped up with their partner, they realized that they weren’t growing any longer. That comment didn’t strike me as odd at the time, but looking back, I wonder if they were stuck in the same paradigm trap as most tech companies—if they believed that everything is either growing or dying because that’s what late-stage capitalism drums into us. I enjoy novelty, but I also enjoy listening to albums I’ve heard a hundred times before or re-reading a particularly good book.
Startups and new relationships are exhilirating, but I don’t want to climb a new hill every day forever—the mere thought of it is exhausting. That doesn’t mean I want to see or do the same thing every day, though, and it certainly doesn’t mean I have to. The stewards of a shinise face new challenges all the time; they just don’t believe that growth is the only way to meet them. I can enjoy wandering around Amsterdam without thinking, “Damn, I wish there were more hills.” And as I said five years ago, I am content now to play the standards.