My 4-year-old son is obsessed with cool. Let’s be clear: His understanding of the concept is limited. He knows it’s positive. He knows his friends say it about carnivorous dinosaurs. He knows its alternate use—opposite of warm—but he’s lukewarm on that usage.

Instead, he keeps asking me: “Dad, is this Lego cool? Is that cooool? Do you think this one is so cool?” I’m tempted to have a conversation with him about value and the human impulse to judge things as attractive, fashionable, or somehow-or-other impressive, but he’s just not quite ready. Maybe when he’s 5. And when he’s 6 we can delve into the pitfalls of grossly overused adjectives.

His interest in cool has come to mind recently because the tech world has the same obsession—and it isn’t always a good thing. One criticism I have of tech culture that applies to money-related startups is that supposedly disruptive ideas and innovations often fail to do anything more than offer already wealthy people a slightly different way to wirelessly transfer value when buying a coffee.

That’s not to say that innovation has to have lofty goals to matter, that it has to be about the bottom of the pyramid and financial inclusion for it to be anything but navel gazing. That would be ridiculous. But there is often a real disconnect between what consumers want and need, and what companies are developing for them. Read more


This post was originally written for Smart Money, a new outlet based in Milan that's bringing fresh thinking to the continent and into its most cash-addicted enclaves. Like Italy, for instance.

AuthorDavid Wolman