If you hear a man drawl from the South, and he speaks in pseudo-Zen koans of love, success, and family, while analyzing life’s moments according to his inspired moral roadmap traffic lights, chances are it’s Matthew McConaughey.
The actor-turned-author, whose best-selling memoir of 2020 Green light charted his personal escapades and the fluctuations of his career, has become something of an autonomous spiritualist since the publication of his book. (For the uninitiated, a green light is essentially an action taken in the present that will help your future self. The book is also jam-packed with folkloric aphorisms, like “I’d rather lose money having fun than making money being bored.” Now, perhaps in search of even greener lights, McConaughey has taken his distributed to the technology industry.
Earlier this month he was a featured speaker at Dell Technologies World, the computing giant’s showcase event, in Las Vegas, where he discussed his vision for the technology in front of a live audience with Dell’s chief marketing officer, Allison Dew. McConaughey’s inclusion at a Dell-sponsored event isn’t as unusual as it might seem at first glance: it’s actually a active player in technology, with investments in companies such as MoonPay and 1Password.
Shortly after the Dell Expo, we chatted with McConaughey via email about his personal green lights and how he thinks Austin can continue to grow as a tech hub without losing its sense of cool. (It should be noted that his answers were sent in all caps; for the sake of our readers, we have reformatted his answers to a standard sentence case.)
You’ve talked in the past about how “green lights” can take many forms; sometimes it’s as simple as refilling the coffee maker overnight, and other times it’s a tough long-term investment. So, I’m curious: what are your green lights today? And for those bigger decisions, how do you know in the moment – and not just after the fact – when something is a green light? (For example, if the investment you make turns out to be a bad investment, isn’t that a yellow or even a red light?)
My green lights today are mostly long-term investments – in my family, my relationships, my job, my health, and my businesses. Being the best father I can be for my children is an investment in their future, taking the time to listen and advise a friend is an investment in the future of my brotherhood, writing daily is an investment in a future book, eating well and exercising is an investment in my future health, and investing in catering businesses is an investment in the future of civilization. My goal is for all the investments I make in my life to have a philosophy that is synonymous with value.
As to whether they are all green lights? Sometimes you know, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s sacrifices today for greater rewards tomorrow; select the hardest choice now to create more value later – that would be an intentional yellow or red that I invest in and bet to turn green later. Other times, green lights are obvious low-hanging fruits – something that serves me immediately and will continue in the future.
Green light made you something of a spiritual teacher to all kinds of people, including many people in the tech industry. You also talked about technology as a tool – and perhaps a reflection – of humanity. How can people use this tool more responsibly? Is it simply a question of personal responsibility?
Technology is a lot like fire. It can make us more comfortable, it can help us see and show us the way, and it can be quite destructive. Industry and technology leaders should take it as a personal responsibility that the technology we create is a constructive force for good. When shaping the future, which is what technology does, it’s easy for leaders to say, “The algorithm will tell us.” Well, I think that’s a brilliant and deeply chilling answer. As has always been the case with how humans interact with technology, the question, responsibility and opportunity lies in our answer to “What are we programming into the algorithm?”
Which one can bring us the most money? What gives us more access, speed and data? Alright, great, but if that’s it, then technology won’t ultimately win because humanity will lose. The access, speed and data that technology provides should be directed towards avenues such as curing disease and generally providing not only faster but deeper insights that can improve humanity such as we know her. I believe the tech industry needs to take personal responsibility to program algorithms and systems that create more life force. Technology is a tool, and I hope those who develop and use it believe that people are still our greatest asset. What are the values that we can all agree should be programmed into systems that humans rely on to make our lives more meaningful?
If and when technology stimulates, inspires and activates human potential, then it becomes something more than a visionary revolution that we must be responsible for – it becomes the art of evolution that we want to choose.
Choice is key.
You speak with love in Green light about Austin as a place where ‘all you have to be. . . is you.” You’re also an active participant in the tech industry, speaking this month at Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas. Given the influx of tech companies of all sizes to Austin, fear Are you worried that the city you love will one day become unrecognizable to you? Or, more simply: Are you worried that Austin will stop being “weird”?
I do it. Whenever a place or a person, for that matter, experiences such rapid growth in such a short time, its identity is put to the test. Austin is a city of authentic soul: how we treat each other, what we expect of each other, what we value. With the massive technology migration to our city, we are going through natural growing pains – the soul of Austin is being challenged, and it’s up to Austinites, new and old, to look in the mirror as we navigate this growth spurt. I implore new tech companies to see their residence as more than just a tax haven in the state of Texas, but to invest in the fabric of this unique and classic American city called Austin. We have companies like Dell Technologies with a 38-year history in Austin that have laid the foundation for our city’s growth as a technology hub, but the public and private sectors must continue to work together to ensure that the community and the Austin’s culture remain intact. With growth comes change, but hopefully technology can help Austin address some of the growing challenges we have like traffic, housing, and homelessness, to name a few. Let tech companies look at Austin and Austinites, and see what they can perhaps learn from our city and from companies like Dell that are advancing education, infrastructure, and workforce development, so they don’t try to turn here into why they went there.
More than “weird”, Austin thrives on his authenticity – the freedom to be yourself, to respect and trust yourself, are social contracts that are an Austin legacy.
You spoke at the Dell event about the importance of ethical investing and green thinking. You also talked about how your travels have shaped you. How to reconcile these two feelings? How should we, as people who (presumably) want to do the right thing for our fellow human beings, weigh our desire to see the world and experience other places against the huge toll of emissions from such exploration?
Stay a little longer wherever you go.
You also stated that you invest in companies that subscribe to your own values and cited “catering” as a big North Star for your investment principal. Can you elaborate a bit on that? What are the issues that guide your decisions as an investor? And what industries are you most excited about right now?
Society is in a rut. America is in a rut. What values have we forgotten that we must restore in order to progress and evolve? As I said when answering a previous question, how can technology help us get out of this rut and into a more evolved future? I am interested in sustainable innovation, that is to say innovative ideas that can meet long-term needs.
When it comes to restoration, I look for businesses that aim to uplift, empower, build, redefine, and bring new or renewed health to individuals, communities, and systems. Some of my investments in private companies and partnerships with public companies include:
- Be together : Creates a restorative link between health care and social services so that people get the health outcome they need rather than just something that doesn’t solve a problem.
- Residence : A restorative system empowering small businesses on Main Street and hourly workers in small towns across America, reducing stress on their business and employees with tools typically reserved for large corporations.
- Workrise: Improves the skills of traders and restores the path to the middle class for those who build America.
- Selling power : A company with a shared commitment to restore and create the values of customer service, equal opportunity, sustainability, innovation and trust.
- Austin FC and the Moody Center: Both are restorative to my local community because, through music and sports, they create a culture of joy, excitement and camaraderie within our city.
- Moon Pay: Democratizes access to the crypto economy by making Web3 technology and tools more accessible, changing the way creatives, artists, and athletes approach art, fan engagement, and property management intellectual.
- 1Password: Gives users access to software that stores their passwords securely, alleviating worries about data and breaches, and restoring peace of mind.