There are at least two reasons. The first lies in the headwinds/ tailwinds asymmetry, a psychological phenomenon named by researchers Shai Davidai and Tom Gilovich. The asymmetry suggests that we pay far more attention to our barriers (or headwinds) than our blessings (or tailwinds), which leads us to believe that we face more opposition than we actually do. Davidai and Gilovich illustrate the idea with the case of a Scrabble player who draws unfavorable letters. Imagine getting the tiles U, U, I, I, I, Q, and W. Unless you sacrifice a turn to draw fresh letters, you'll be stuck with those tiles for many rounds. Each time you try to make a word, you'll ruminate on your bad luck. In contrast, a good draw doesn't last long. You play the tiles as soon as they hit your rack. The same is true in other contexts. If you're driving in heavy traffic and pick the slower of two lanes, you'll watch with frustration as dozens of cars zip by in the other lane, whereas if you were in one of the cars zipping by, you'd be focusing on the road. We also devote more time and energy to barriers because that's the only way to overcome them. You can't improve your Scrabble performance or make up for lost time in heavy traffic unless you consider and act on your options.
Davidai and Gilovich also found that while we're focusing on our own barriers, we tend to overlook the hardships that plague other people. In one experiment, the researchers asked pairs of Cornell University students to play a trivia game. Some of the questions for each contestant were drawn from easy categories—like TV sitcoms and famous cartoons—whereas others were drawn from difficult categories, like Baroque music and Russian literature. After the game, the contestants did a much better job of remembering their opponents' easy categories than they did their opponents' difficult categories—a bias they tended not to show when recalling their own questions. This pattern holds in other domains, too. For example, in another study Gilovich showed that people tend to believe taxes and regulations hurt them more than they do other people—even when that isn't objectively true.
The second reason we believe our barriers are unusual is that it's difficult to see others' struggles. People tend to wrestle their demons privately, either behind closed doors or within their own heads, and what we ultimately see is the polished outcome of that process. We see Brie Larson's Oscar, but not the decades of struggle that preceded the award. Meanwhile, the media devotes far more time to titanic success stories—Roger Federer and Serena Williams; Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg; Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis—than to the billions of strugglers who are more typical and therefore less interesting. Our social media accounts are similarly cluttered with the most glossy and popular accounts, and even the micro- influencers we follow share refined versions of their lives that skim the best moments and leave the wrinkles behind. Struggle is harder to see in other people's lives, so we mistakenly believe it troubles us more than it does them.
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In early 2021, Airbnb's market capitalization topped $100 billion, making it one of the hundred largest publicly traded companies in the world. Its three cofounders, Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk, were worth more than $13 billion each. Of those three, Chesky is the face of the company, and its CEO. Like Brie Larson, Chesky has been transparent about Airbnb's challenges, and his own sticking points as the company grew.
Airbnb was born of necessity. Chesky and Gebbia met in college, and after graduation Chesky moved to Los Angeles, and Gebbia moved to San Francisco. Their postcollege jobs were uninspiring, so Chesky moved into Gebbia's apartment in San Francisco so they could try their luck as tech entrepreneurs. "At the time, I had one thousand dollars in my bank account and I drove to SF," Chesky recalled during an interview at Stanford University in 2015.
This was in 2007. Upon arriving in San Francisco I had learned my portion of rent for the place we had was twelve hundred dollars, so I literally didn't have enough to pay rent. At the same time, there was this international design conference coming to SF, and on the event page it showed all of the nearby hotels were completely sold- out.
We had this idea that the designers coming to attend the conference needed a place to stay. We had no money, so what if we created a bed-and- breakfast for the design conference? The problem with this idea was we didn't have any beds—however, we did have three inflatable air beds. This is where we came up with the name Air Bed and Breakfast, and our first site was airbedandbreakfast.com. We ended up hosting three people in our home during the conference, and at the time we thought this was a cool and funny way to make some money.
After this experience, Joe brought in Nathan Blecharczyk—one of his old roommates—and we decided to do this as a company. The core idea was, What if you could book someone's home just like you could book a hotel room, anywhere in the world?
Put this way, the idea seems like the sort of dinky "business" a few postcollege guys might throw together on a whim. Even Chesky laughed when he began the interview by admitting that a number of people had told him, "Airbnb is the worst idea that has ever worked."
At first, the company faltered. "We launched three separate times in 2008," Chesky remembered. After the third launch, the team was introduced to fifteen angel investors. "Seven didn't respond, four said it didn't fit with their thesis, one said they didn't like the market, and three just passed." Chesky and Gebbia funded the company with a string of credit cards that they stored in a baseball- card sleeve and were soon bogged down with more than $30,000 in debt.