Founder of Decentralize Detroit & Head of Growth at Commonwealth Labs.
Thom is a futurist, philosopher, and founder of the human pheromone project Pheros and the sexual abuse prevention project Guardian. He is zealous towards products and systems that reduce anti-social behavior while inspiring humans to be better to-and-for one another.
What does diversity mean to you?
To me, diversity is a methodology- a practice of removing barriers-to-entry that are not material to the success of a mission. Diversity benefits the sustainability of organizations while improving the self-actualization of our communities – with downstream effects that I’ll discuss below.
Why do you care about diversity?
My impression of the common welfare enables my sense of personal meaningfulness and well-being. While this sensation isn’t something I have control over, I also understand enough about the social and economic cause-and-effect relationships that impact the progress of our species – namely that cooperation is the most excellent vehicle of our success, and that tribalism undermines our species’ progress by distracting us with often contrived or hyperbolic zero-sum scenarios. In this way of thinking, diversity is the social practice of encouraging a sense of oneness among seemingly disparate groups to correct a systematic vulnerability that tribalism co-opts to instigate violence and hinder innovation.
How can we build more inclusive communities?
At a basic level, I appreciate the data-driven approach that marketing has taken in the last decade; providing blueprints for the successful distribution of social structures as well as goods / services. The ‘steps’ of awareness, consideration, advocacy – these provide an imperfect but useful framework for modifying behaviors en masse. Near-future, I expect incentive-designed systems to promote cooperation even among communities with hostile actors, resulting in more ‘programmatic’-ly inclusive communities, where an individual’s sentiments towards others are less material to ensuring good performance.
I also want to point at self-advocacy. In a recent conversation with Betakit, Arlan Hamilton noted that self-advocacy wears away at barriers- making the journey easier for others to do the same. I think that’s an encouraging and novel way of looking at the beginning of change.
What inspired you to start your current journey?
Speaking openly, the pain of being ‘othered’ and seen as a pariah in my youth. I risk cliché, but later during my undergraduate in Philosophy, several psychedelic experiences required that I examine what leads people to oppress others, even without apparent provocation. That impetus to contribute to the elimination of suffering (unfortunately for my 401k,) is the only thing that motivates me today.
Who is your role model?
This question strikes me- I struggle to identify one. I suppose I’ve never met anyone that genuinely empowered and related with someone like me. I think this results from a lack of representation, but also a lack of ‘moral leadership’ generally.
In lieu, I think it’s important to consider your idealized self: Who would you have wanted to meet in the formative years of your life? Become that person. For myself, I still hope to meet a leader; pro-social, highly philanthropic, dignifying, magnanimous, present, and at their core, wholly compassionate. But perhaps also contrarian, enigmatic, and maybe a bit of a vigilante. So a hybrid of Batman, Peter Thiel, and the Dalai Lama? Is that out there?
That said, I am very suspicious of cults of personality – I try not to subjugate myself to them, particularly in an age of social media-backed perceptions of others – it’s hard to tell fact from myth.
Who is your favorite artist?
Industrial designers and architects are among my favorite – their ability to mold our physical reality and tools are incredible. Software architects and UX talents follow that – but if I focused on traditional media, I’d list musicians Oneohtrix Point Never and Visible Cloaks – deeply emotional and experimental electronic musicians moving the genre forward.
What is one thing you wish you knew five years ago?
That I was profoundly depressed and entirely unaware of that fact. In 2014, I was dismissed from two years of law school and had accrued significant student debt. Through the nature of the disease, I had come to believe I was unmotivated, weak, and melancholic. This insidious tendency of depression – to trick you about your traits – is the one thing I would tell youth struggling today: those thoughts are not yours, and you need to make a practice of identifying these thoughts and taking action when they arise. Anecdotally, I feel that the most significant thing we can do to boost entrepreneurialism in the US is to address mental health and depression, alongside tackling the student debt crisis.
What is your advice to a young person starting their career or entrepreneurial journey?
I’ll echo Naval Ravikant, and say that you ought to learn to build and sell – “You’ll be unstoppable.” Develop product insight, understand a marketing funnel, and realize that goods and services with zero cost of reproduction (books, media, software,) are the most lucrative products you can make. Make your life and mission sustainable by bringing in revenue early on.
Also, you must write. If you are doing something that is hard for certain people to do – the most valuable thing you can do for others is to record your process and enable others like yourself to follow in your success or avoid your mistakes.
Which books changed your life?
I think Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter is not under or over-rated – if only for his exploration of the logician Kurt Godel’s theorems; that Truth may well extend beyond the reach and realms of reason and logic. Making space for error, uncertainty and even a bit of the unexplainable helps restore the wonder of being.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Humans. In part, the crushingly emotional and compelling content of all our communications and experiences – our stories, gestures, actions, successes, sacrifices, hopes, fears, and tragedies. In whole, the overarching legend of our species’ survival in the Milky Way.