In this month’s issue of Wired Magazine, writer Ted Greenwald described the trending Silicon Valley meme, “WDYDWYD or Why Do You Do What You Do?” calling it the “hottest team-building meme since Outward Bound.”
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The meme originated in 2004 at Burning Man by artist Tony Deifell who posted photos of strangers answering the questions on the Ning social network. The inspiration behind the meme originated with a call he received late one night from a young student working on a school project. She blurted out, “Why do you do what you do?” Deifell was quite taken a back, and like many people faced with the question, he embarked upon an existential meditation.
I couldn’t get the words out in a clear way. I tried to refigure how to make my answer more essential. I realized I needed to be more deliberate in my choices in the world. It haunted me.
Deifell has since carried WDYDWYD from the festival to the Silicon Valley boardrooms of the National Holistic Institute, Google and Twitter. The site, which he describes as an open-sourced art project, is still growing steadily on Ning.
Student Joe Moloughney founded the WDYDWYD Facebook group, calling it a worldwide community art project with 1,500 members. Their Twitter page has over 1,000 followers. Artists like photographer Bill Kennedy, author/cartoonist Hugh MacLeod and French performance artist Séverine Carminati have all got involved.
But this meme is still primarily just on the West Coast. So, what would the East Coast answer? I asked a few prominent East Coasters, “Why do you do what you do?”
Here are their answers:
“To someday be able to answer this question.”
– Ashley Casselman, Senior Associate at the World Economic Forum.
“I am an insecure short girl from Florida. I never considered myself enough.”
-Laurel Touby, Founder and SVP, mediabistro.com
“I do what I do because of the thrill of discovery. And becuase the world is changing at an incredibly rapid rate, and somebody needs to be there to chronicle it.”
– Seth Porges, an Editor at Popular Mechanics
“I love the Internet, sure, but I mostly do what I do because of the people in my industry. It’s a world of movers, shakers, api-makers. Everyone is smart, and on the cutting-edge of what’s next. It’s simply the most exciting industry to work in, and also the most fun.”
-Soraya Darabi, Co-Founder of Foodspotting.
“Because I can’t stop…and I’m not sure I want to.”
– Julia Kaganskiy, Editor of The Creators Project and Founder of the ArtsTech Meetup.
“Because making the world suck less is SO MUCH FUN.”
– Alexis Ohanian, Co-Founder of Reddit and Head of Marketing for Hipmunk
“I do what I do because I’m a huge nerd. At RJMetrics, we use technology to solve complex, interesting problems for some of the fastest-growing companies in the world. This makes for nerd paradise, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other job.”
“In my case, the answer comes down to “enlightened self interest”. I am truly focused on the long-term goal of leaving the world a better place than I found it (the wonderful concept of ‘tikun olam’). As a pragmatic capitalist, I believe that can best be done by harnessing the powers of free market forces, and as a believer in democracy, I believe that society then needs to work collectively to tweak the margins to guide humanity in the right direction. As a result, I have created a unique and strange personal world surrounding me…like a high tech PeeWee’s Playhouse. I am an entrepreneur, angel investor, teacher, mentor, speaker, father, futurist and political activist, all of which taken together occupy me 16 hours a day, seven days a week, with an insane work and travel schedule. But I truly believe that I am having more pure fun in life than almost anyone else I know, and this combination of pleasure and purpose is Why I Do What I Do.”
What makes our New York answers resemblant of our city? A touch of irony perhaps? A grittier sense of responsibility? A necessity to be edgier?
After asking so many of my peers, I gave it a think. I do what I do because every writer requires inspiration. So my fellow East Coasters, WDYDWYD?