How to De-Escalate and Calm an Angry Person – Fast (with Resources)

We all encounter people who are irrationally angry.  They can be confusing, frightening, concerning, or all the above.  Here’s what you can do to deescalate their anger fast.

Go Over the Top

First, the anger needs acknowledged.  The person who is angry wants and needs to be validated. Acknowledging their anger in a way that is over the top is better than just matching their intensity, because their natural inclination to correct you will kick in.  If you start sharing that you believe to be angrier than they are, they’ll naturally try to correct you – and in the process, shrink their anger.  The trick is to go just a little bit over the top – too much, and they’ll just be confused.

It may feel as if acknowledging the anger in an amplified way would cause them to become angrier, but in practice, the reverse is almost always true.  Most of the time, you can respond with, “It seems like you’re very angry,” even if they don’t seem that angry.  If you perceive them to be very angry, you can go even stronger to something like, “You seem filled with rage.”  Sometimes, you’ll get a response like, “Damn right, I’m angry!”  That’s okay – that’s an acceptance of your acknowledgement.  They may vent some more and need to be validated again, but you’ve already started the de-escalation process.  Before the next step, we need to understand anger.

Disappointment Directed

In Eastern philosophies, particularly Buddhism, anger is disappointment directed.  When someone is angry, they’re conveying their sense that they are disappointed – in someone or something.  Sometimes, that someone is themselves.

To deescalate the anger, we need to identify what or who the other person is disappointed in.  What is it they expected to happen that didn’t – or didn’t expect to happen but did?  Sometimes, discovering this and acknowledging it causes the anger to evaporate, like a bubble that’s been popped; other times, it’s necessary to move deeper to the formation of the expectation itself.  Either way, the discovery of the disappointment is the next step on completely diffusing the situation.

Formative Expectations

Most of our expectations aren’t conscious.  Most of the world expects to drive on the right side of the road – and walk on the right side of the mall.  No one ever told us to walk on one side of the mall or the other, but we instinctively did it, because it mirrored our expectations of “traffic” flow.  If our anger comes from disappointment, our disappointment comes from invalidated expectations about the way the world works.

We build expectations on the way that we expect the world should work.  It’s a combination of our values, our beliefs, and our perceptions – and they’re sometimes wrong.  The key to being able to address the disappointment is in our ability to understand it and where it came from.  Understanding the expectations and the components on which they’re based allows us to connect with the other person – even if we don’t agree.

Understanding and Agreement

Some people who are angry will want to convince you that their way of seeing the world – their perceptions – and their beliefs are the correct way to interpret reality.  They’ll insist that you see the world as they do to move forward.  It’s tricky but possible to acknowledge that you understand how they can and do perceive the situation – without necessarily agreeing that it is the only way to see it or the correct way to see it.

Often, you can defuse the situation further by asking for time to consider their perspective to see how it can be right.

Feelings of safety

With the anger addressed, it’s time to focus on preventing it from recurring.  The best way to do that is to eliminate fear.  It’s fear – conscious or unconscious – that converts disappointment to anger.  The greater degree to which you can help everyone feel safe, the less need there will be for anger.  You’ll still have the natural disappointments – but those are much easier to deal with.

Additional Resources:

Paving for Change

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person, she didn’t expect that racial disparity would disappear overnight.  When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech, he had no illusions that the segregation, prejudice, Jim Crow laws, and hundreds of other unfair practices would end immediately.  When we seek to initiate a change of sweeping proportions, we can’t expect that we’ll see immediate changes, nor should we shy away from big challenges just because we can’t tell how far we’ll be able to push forward the change.  We’ve got to find small wins and build upon them if we hope to change our organizations in a meaningful and lasting way.

Toes in the Water

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a childhood staple.  It was also a vision for a brighter, better future, where people would develop the emotional intelligence to live together with more peace and harmony.  When Fred Rogers invited a black character to join him in a kiddie pool, he likely had no delusions that his small act would eliminate racism – nor the fact that black Americans and white Americans weren’t allowed in the same swimming pool.

Gene Rodenberry likely didn’t expect that an on-screen kiss between Captain Kirk and Uhura would change people’s minds about interracial marriage.  However, by demonstrating a way forward, we pave the path for forward motion.  We normalize it and thereby make it more acceptable.

After the Ball

The book After the Ball took a more aggressive and pointed stance trying to insist that gays would be more accepted in the 1990s.  It took a little longer and there’s still much more to come but progress was made.  The strategies that were recommended in the book in many ways focused on making gays seem more normal than they did at the time.  It encouraged gays and allies to help deal with the logical inconsistencies which drove the bigotry towards gays.

It’s not unlike the approach of the Jesuits as described in Heroic Leadership.  They found ways to be accepted in foreign cultures by bending their traditions, accepting the traditions of others, and encouraging those around them to want to be more like them – and thereby become curious about Christianity.  The Jesuits spent decades in cultures that tolerated them but didn’t embrace them.


We all get discouraged when we seek to bring a new project to life, and we don’t see instant acceptance and uptake of it.  It’s natural and normal.  However, there’s something to be said for accepting that the really big changes will take time.  It takes time for people to accept new ways of thinking and doing things.  The trick is to find ways to keep making some – if uneven – progress along the way.

It’s important to realize that sometimes the dominos that you start running may take a long time to get back to you.  It may take time for the hearts and minds of your organization to shift from one of hardware sales to that of consulting – as was the case for IBM during the Louis Gerstner timeframe.  Moving from an organization focused on selling “stuff” to selling time isn’t easy – nor is embracing free software when you’ve made a lot of money selling software to organizations.

These things take time – and they’re not easy to accelerate.  In fact, acceleration of these slow-moving changes often causes heartache and violence.  It’s easier to slowly put forth a consistent effort than to focus on overnight transformation.


The materials you use to pave the path towards your change should give a little – more like asphalt than concrete.  It should find specific, high-leverage, high-visibility events that can help to crystalize the kind of new thinking and believing that the changes require.  With these sorts of marque moments, you can absolutely pave the path towards change – even if it may be a long road.

Fear of Success

One of the oddest barriers to getting people to change their behaviors is their fear of their own success.  Instead of looking forward to the new utopian view of the world, they ponder –either consciously or unconsciously – what being successful will really mean to them.  In some cases, people are appropriately worried about losing their position, their authority, or their power.  However, in many more cases, we fear simply how people will see us or what they’ll expect if we are successful.  Here’s how to understand it and what to do about it.

Understanding Fear of Success

Suppose for a moment that your goal is to play at Carnegie Hall.  Certainly, there will be fear of failure as you’re trying out for the positions that would have you playing at Carnegie Hall but there’s often an insidious problem that remains unseen.  That is, the nagging feeling that your life will suddenly become purposeless once you achieve your goal.  If you succeed, then what?  What goal could compare with the goal of Carnegie Hall?  Consciously, or more frequently unconsciously, we may resist the efforts necessary to reach our goals, because we’re concerned that we won’t find the next challenge.

We may also be concerned about how our success may reflect our relationships.  Instead of being the musician that a friend played band with at high school, suddenly you’re in a different class of people – and maybe that class of people isn’t seen favorably or isn’t seen as accessible.  Initially, people react to the fact that I’m a published author with a bit of amazement.  What happens next isn’t always predictable.

For some, authors are aloof and superior.  Instead of judging me by our conversation, they connect author with things that aren’t really associated with me.  Others can feel confused when I interact with them like anyone else would.  There’s an uneasiness as we share a meal or simply a conversation.  I didn’t realize that these changes would happen before I wrote my first book, but I’m very aware that people treat you differently when you’re successful – even if the success came only through hard work and persistence.  (Book projects are often only accomplished through persistence and sheer force of will.)

Addressing Fear of Success

Both the aspects that contribute to fear of success are addressed like any other fear.  We evaluate the probability, impact, and ability to cope.  In terms of not finding a new goal, it’s easy.  In every case, there’s a new, larger, goal that can follow.  If you’ve played at Carnegie Hall, then perhaps the next goal is the Sydney Opera House.  Even exceedingly rare cases like being an astronaut can lead to getting to set foot on the Moon – or being the first in line for a mission to Mars.  The probability of there not being a new goal is low.  The impact is constrained to creating a reason to find another goal, and the ability to cope is generally large, as most big goals involve accomplishments that create time to discover the next one.

The aspects related to others changing their interactions are often relatively probable and will have some degree of impact.  However, experience has proven to me that, in most cases, a simple conversation reminding people that you are still the same person you were before they became aware of your success is enough to address any residual changes to the way that you’re treated.

In the end, you don’t want to allow your fear of success to prevent your success.

Knowledge Sharing Culture

Trapped inside the hearts and minds of its workers, the assets organizations already have are unable to be leveraged.  Instead of copying the success in one group to another, they’re stuck recreating over and over again.  Changes require a large amount of effort, and being able to leverage effort that’s already been expended may just make the difference in your change and in your organization.

Valuable Knowledge

In some organizations, people are valued for what they – and they alone – know.  Bill knows that he can keep his cushy job if he is the only person who can fix the production line when it breaks.  Suzi knows that she can keep the organization over a barrel if she’s the only one who knows how the financials come together.  Keeping people who are valuable for what they know isn’t a bad thing – it’s a good thing.  However, encouraging people to keep their tacit knowledge instead of sharing it and converting it into explicit knowledge creates a friction that can stop any change.

The transition is subtle but powerful.  People need to be valued for what they share – rather than what they know.  Instead of being rewarded for what they know, they must be rewarded for the number, breadth, and degree to which they’re able to help others be successful.

Measuring Sharing

Sometimes, the push towards a knowledge-sharing culture comes with a set of metrics about the volume of “knowledge” checked into official repositories.  This approach, however, often backfires as people are incented to put in things whether or not they are of value.  Instead of focusing on the most important, most valuable, and most broadly reusable content, they’re checking a box, and it ultimately undermines the whole initiative.

After a year or more of people being incented to put content into a central repository, the repository will likely be full – of garbage.  Instead of measuring the content added to the library, it’s important to measure the usage of the material that was added.  Bill checks in some knowledge but doesn’t get credit until someone else looks at the content.  This encourages Bill to check in quality content – and to refer people to the knowledge repository rather than answering the question directly.  While it would seem that getting a direct answer is the best answer – it’s not.

Training Behaviors

More than anything else, change is about changing human behaviors.  By having everyone refer people to the knowledge repository, we’re training the behavior in that the repository has the answers you need, and you only need to reach out to a person when the information in the repository isn’t rich enough to cover your specific needs – when an expert’s tacit knowledge is required.

With enough repetition, you build the behavior of checking the repository, and you normalize it as a part of the culture.  Here, we leverage the repository to get our work done quickly, and we connect with the person who checked in the knowledge if it doesn’t address our needs.

Creating Change

Unless your change project is one of knowledge management or agility, this behavioral and cultural change is likely not a part of the change that you’re trying to accomplish.  However, it can have a profound impact on your ability to accomplish other changes.  Imagine if you had a place where you could ask the hard questions.  Many times, change projects are hampered by their ability to find the right people and get them to share what they already know about how things work today – and what can be done to improve them in the future.  Building the culture of knowledge sharing addresses that critical need.

Shared Delusions

The team has finally finished the work in defining the change that will chart the course for the organization for the next two years.  The resulting organization will be more agile and therefore more capable of avoiding the market problems that the leadership fears.  All is well on the surface, but that’s just the shared delusion that the problem has been solved.  Everyone has a strong desire to believe that they’ve developed the much-coveted vision that will transform the organization – but have they?  And even if the vision is right, will the organization buy into it?

We Want to Believe

If it weren’t so tragic, it would be comical.  The team returns, and each believes they understand the outcomes from the planning meeting – only to find out that everyone has their own view of what was said, the priorities, and the changes that will be necessary in their own and others’ areas.  However, because there is so much emphasis put on the need for a shared vision, everyone blindly ignores the differences in their positions and perspectives.  They fall prey to the cocktail of selective perception, ostrich effect, expectation bias, and subjective validation – and the result is an illusion of congruence where it doesn’t really exist.

The meeting notes and outcomes are filled with platitudes that sound good but mean nothing.  Of course, the organization needs to be more agile – but how will the organization become more agile and, more importantly, what does agility mean?

The Experience

To the extent that there is alignment, it comes not from the proclamations at the end of the process but rather from the process through which the proclamation was formed.  In many business activities, the artifact – the deliverable generated – isn’t the point.  The point is the process that the participants go through to create the deliverable.  The deliverable itself is a distraction from the experience.  It’s a way to create the structure necessary to have everyone do the activities that lead to the understanding and ultimately buy-in with the change.

While it’s rarely possible to put everyone in the organization through the same activities that led to the change vision with the core team, it’s essential to understand that everyone in the organization may need some experience to help to make the results make sense.  If the rank-and-file worker doesn’t understand the need for agility or the challenges that agility solves, they won’t support them – they may not resist either, but you want engagement.

If the team recognizes changes to the markets where the organization works lead to competitors having an advantage or a reason why the markets are becoming more volatile, it’s important that they slowly walk the rest of the organization through these thoughts so they can understand the need to make the changes in their behaviors that they’re being asked for.  Sometimes that’s a conversation, and sometimes it’s an experience.

Dispelling the Shared Delusion

It’s necessary to dispel the shared delusion, to challenge its foundations, and to actively look for places where there are disagreements and confusion before finding ways of sharing both the vision that the change project is to bring about and why those changes are essential.  You can start by asking what the vision of the future really means and how to bring it about before asking the questions about whether everyone knows that these changes are necessary and, if not, what kinds of experiences they’ll need to understand the rationale.  If you want to get to shared vision and not shared delusions, it will take a critical look at what you believe you know about the clarity of the change.

Eliminate Yellow Lights

Songs have been written about how our lives are filled with green light days.  These are the days when we breeze through things without a single hiccup.  It feels like we’ve got the Midas touch.  Songs have also been written about the red-light days.  Red-light days are those that feel like everything you touch will break, and there will always be another barrier to get in your way.  Red-light days are full of blockages, brokenness, and burnout.  However, the yellow light, a word of caution, seems to avoid interest, as it’s simply the transition between green and red.  It’s shorter and therefore somehow seems to be unworthy of attention.  However, eliminating yellow lights could just be the most important thing that you do for your change initiative.

The Scarce Resource of Attention

The Industrial Age ushered in the prominence of materials and energy.  The Information Age ushered in the prominence of information, but as we continue through this age, we’re beginning to realize that it’s not information that’s the limiting resource.  We can generate billions of data points for artificial intelligence to comb through.  We develop new algorithms and approaches that convert the data we already have into useful insights – if we can pay attention.

Seeking planets outside the Solar System had been a goal for a long time.  Some were skeptical that we’d ever find them.  The distances are so vast and the barriers to visibly seeing a planet made it a long shot, yet astronomers still stared into the sky hoping for the elusive look at a planet.  Then something odd happened.  It was an idea.  What if a super-massive planet was close to a star?  Wouldn’t the star wobble as a part of the orbit of the planet – and because of the doppler effect, shouldn’t the star’s frequency of light oscillate just a bit?

That’s what astronomers Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail found in 1992 when looking at a pulsar.  Their discovery of an exoplanet (a planet outside of our Solar System) triggered a wave of attention to the data that we already had and the discovery of many super-massive planets orbiting far-away stars.  The problem wasn’t the data or information we had.  The problem is we needed the right kind of attention to the problem to get to a solution.

In our more mundane world here on Earth, we’re bombarded with information.  Estimates place the amount of information we see in a year on par with what our grandparents saw in their lifetime – and many believe this is an understatement.  We simply don’t have the mental capacity to process everything that is going on right outside our skin.

Consider your current situation.  Your eyes are skimming the text while your ears are taking in sounds that you’re mostly ignoring.  Your body feels the pressure of gravity, but until I mentioned it, you were likely unaware of it.  Filtering is a fundamental function of the mind.  We need to see only the salient.

Caution Is a Call for Attention

The problem with yellow lights is they’re a signal for caution, and caution is a call for the precious attention that we don’t have enough of.  When we’re working with our change initiatives, we need to minimize yellow lights, because those yellow lights are sucking up the most precious resource we have: our attention.

Yellow lights in our change initiatives come when people are unwilling to come out in support of or in opposition to our initiative.  The argument that some make is that it’s better to have someone on the fence than someone opposed to your initiative, so why push them?  This misses the fundamental point that, whether you are aware of the opposition or not, it still exists.  Not knowing doesn’t change the reality of the situation – only your awareness.

When working with individuals and groups, a “maybe” or non-committal answer is actually worse than a negative answer.  With a negative answer, at least you know where you stand.

If you want to be successful in your change, get rid of the yellow lights.  Even if you find some red lights, get clear on who is on board – and who is not.

Degree of Support

Sometimes, the greatest challenge in getting your change initiative accomplished is knowing whether people are really on board with the change – or if they’re just giving you the answers they think you want to hear.  However, there are two techniques that you can use to measure the degree to which people are bought into your change: count the number of “nots” they use and evaluate whether they’re making specific commitments or not.

Count the “Nots”

You’re trying to determine what you need to do to get someone on board.  Their support is critical to the initiative, but you’re struggling to understand what it is that they’re really looking for.  You can hear them describing what they want – sort of – but you can’t seem to put your finger on what the gap is.  There’s a reason: they don’t want you to.

They start talking about what they don’t want as a part of the end solution.  They speak of what it shouldn’t look like.  Pretty soon, you realize that all they’re talking about is what it shouldn’t be.  We all have times when we need to talk out what we’re looking for, and some of that will contrast with what we don’t want – but the difference is that we don’t stop there.

If you’re hearing all about the “nots” and you’re not hearing about the things they really want, then you may find that they’re not on board.  They don’t really want to accomplish your change.  What they want is to give the appearance of being helpful without actually being helpful.  If you want to get a sense of the degree to which people are really committed, count the number of times that they say the word “not.”  The more you hear the word, the less committed to your change they are.

Specific Commitments

Another tactic that is used when people don’t want to commit is to make vague statements.  “Have your people call my people” is a Hollywood cliché for “I don’t want to meet with you” – but every organization has their version of this sentiment.  We know the people who are always for whatever you want to do when you’re speaking with them, but they don’t seem to answer your call.  The challenge is in creating situations where the vague sense of support is replaced with a specific commitment – or a statement that indicates a refusal to commit to anything.

Often, the argument is made that there is no specific commitment you want from the other person, just a general sense of support.  However, people don’t work this way.  We can say we’re committed to a big-picture idea, but until we’ve made the first step, it’s really just a wish.  If we want to get people to commit to your change imitative, give them something small to do to demonstrate their support or at least compliance.  Small commitments lead to bigger commitments.

Most people believe that a red light is the worst light in a stoplight.  After all, green means go, and yellow only means caution.  However, in your world, caution requires precious attention – and that’s both hard to develop and hard to maintain.  We want to get to a clear yes or no – so at least we know where we stand.

Rogue Ripples

They’re called “rogue” waves.  They have no identifiable cause, and they can be deadly.  They catch people off guard, because they’re not expecting them nor prepared for them.  In Iceland, they’re known as “deadly sneaker” waves.  In change initiatives, they’re the reflected energy of the change, often in harmful form.

Making Ripples

Every change you make has both the intended effect as well as many unintended effects.  Sometimes there are effects that are, as you expect, totally trivial.  You decide to change the steps of a process to eliminate time-consuming and wasteful steps, like work done to notify other groups that is seemingly unused.  It’s only after the implementation of the change that you realize the notification had driven some other important process that is now broken.

Sometimes, the ripples are smaller.  People no longer gather around the water cooler before the 8:30 stand-up meeting because most of the work force is working from home.  The impact may be a general loss of knowledge about unrelated projects or an increasing feeling of being disconnected, because they don’t get to hear about one another’s children’s sports activities or the latest antics of the animals.

Even the most trivial changes will have unintended consequences – and most of the time, those consequences aren’t a big deal.


One of the concepts that is being explored for the formation of rogue waves is the idea that they are shaped by the shape of the ocean floor, and geography can focus the energy of waves into a single space, thereby creating a rogue wave with magnitude several times that of a regular wave.  This follows a similar line of reasoning to knowing that, when things resonate, every little bit of power added amplifies the primary wave.

In our change initiatives, we’ve got to be on the lookout for the ripples that may be growing.  Instead of ignoring and expecting that nothing will come of the unintended consequences of our changes, we’ve got to look for the waves – particularly those that seem to be growing quickly.  We’ve got to develop an early warning system that detects problems before they occur.

Early Warning Systems

While there’s no warning system for rogue waves, there is an early warning system for tsunamis that consists of seismographs, sea-level gauges, and buoys.  The system moves from a relatively early signal with low confidence that it will create a tsunami to a clearer message sent by the more detailed buoys and sea gauges.  Similarly, we should be using layers of signals in our change initiatives to identify possible problems and systems capable of ensuring that we’re aware of actual issues quickly.


The first step in the early warning system for rogue ripples in a change initiative is to listen to the chatter that’s happening.  That means listening for people who are describing problems with the change initiative – and focusing on what it is that they’re having problems with.  It’s possible that you knew these problems would happen – or you can learn about new potential problems that were never considered.


For those areas where there seems to be a great deal of chatter about concern, it’s time to invest resources in discovering the extent of the problem.  Is the problem a frustrating hassle or an organization-ending problem – or somewhere in between?  Quantification can be done by examining the business impact or by surveying everyone directly about the problems.


With listening and quantification comes a response.  In most cases, the issues, while undesirable, aren’t particularly problematic.  For those that are, you’ll need to catch the ripples and address them.  While not easy, at least they won’t capsize your change initiative – if you catch them quickly.

Don’t Let Your Change Be a Hurricane

It’s August 29th, and a hurricane is bearing down on the Gulf Coast of the United States.  The exact location of landfall isn’t known, but the general vicinity is.  People have been told to evacuate – but they’ve been told that before.  Some leave and some stay.

It’s not that much different than the way that we sometimes approach change.  We communicate generalities and the need to change, but many don’t listen.  They expect that they’ll be able to ride it out and wait for the next change.  This one won’t be the one that will get them involved.


For the Gulf Coast, many residents had been through dozens of hurricanes.  They’ve survived the prior hurricanes – why should this be any different?  The people whom you need to make changes may be thinking the exact same thing.  They’ve seen the same story replayed dozens of times, and they’ve never had to make a change, so they didn’t.

When warning about particularly severe weather, public health officials try to communicate the difference – and they’ve heard that before too.  For your change, the key is to explain why things are different and how things are different as well as what makes them different rather than broad, sweeping generalizations, because it’s too easy for people to believe that it’s just another scare and nothing will really come of it.  The more the message is specific to them and specific in terms of reasons and behaviors, the more likely they are to act.

The Change

Some changes are small and subtle, while others are large and monumental.  However, most are some mixture of both depending on who you are.  August 29th was no different.  In the Midwest, hundreds of miles away from the Gulf Coast, the hurricane promised a few rainy days in the future.  Perhaps a few picnics would be cancelled and a few weddings would be held indoors, but nothing compared to the devastation to come.

With any change, it’s important to communicate the impact and scope of the change.  It’s from this that individuals can judge how they should respond.  If the change is monumental for someone, it necessarily will command a big response – or, for those tangentially impacted, less so.


Hurricane Katrina, the costliest storm in history, made landfall just east of New Orleans.  The storm’s loss of human life was over 1,900 people, and billions of dollars of assets were wiped out.  For weeks afterwards, houses in New Orleans were underwater.  When the waters receded, entire towns were wiped out.  Waveland, MS lost all but one solitary building – an old schoolhouse that was badly damaged.

There was no question about the devastation and the forced change for people across the Gulf.  The question was what would happen next.

The Response

While the federal government was widely criticized for the poor response, non-profit and humanitarian groups were not.  They sent people and supplied wave after wave of outpouring of support to those who lost everything.  The good news for this hurricane was the way that people from across the country came together to support those who needed it.  They didn’t have to.  They chose to.

When you experience change in your organization, it’s not just how the part of the organization that’s changing responds, but it’s also how the broader organization reaches into the impacted areas and supports them through the transition.

While you don’t want your change to come in like a hurricane, devastating lives, you do want to find ways to get everyone to come together to support each other in adapting to the changes it brings.

Seeing Around the Corner

It was slightly more than 20 years ago when my friend Jason Dunn and I got into a rented car with our Pocket PCs, GPSs, and maps, and set off in search of a cybercafé.  This was the time before Wi-Fi was ubiquitous and hotels had high-speed internet.  Roaming around a big city in small car and freakishly large devices, we found something, but not what we were looking for.

Technology Changes

The wireless networks weren’t fast.  They were stuck between 2G and 3G with coverage in the hills of L.A. that was spotty at best.  We had predownloaded our maps into the tiny capacities of our devices.  The maps took nearly half of the 128MB that the devices had.  It felt like we were a sort of modern equivalent of Conestoga wagons; we were blazing new trails.

Today, high-speed internet via Wi-Fi is ubiquitous.  Cellular networks are on the cusp of 5G coverage.  Phones sport integrated GPS and a terabyte of storage – and nobody carries a separate portable digital assistant (PDA).

The contrast is stunning, but the technology changes aren’t the ones that mattered.


I had a home cybercafé.  It was NetHeads, and it was a place where you could play games on their computers or just hang out and have a coffee.  It was a place that I knew I could get high-speed internet access and, more than anything, was something I could share with my friend as an experience.

Today, cybercafés are history.  The few that remain are either gaming centers or coffee houses that haven’t changed their names or the signs out front.  Businesses predicated on the uniqueness of offering high-speed internet have fallen prey to the commoditization of the internet and a plummeting price that makes it easy for every business to offer high-speed internet as a normal amenity to their guests.  (Remember when you had to pay for Wi-Fi?)

Around the Corner

We never did find the cybercafé we were looking for.  It either had already gone out of business because it couldn’t make the business model work – they may have been too early – or because we simply got lost, even with the GPSs.  However, it taught us some interesting lessons.

  1. You never know what’s around the next corner. I saw parts of Los Angeles I never would have seen that day.  I also spent time with a friend that was precious – even if it was crazy and wild.
  2. Adapt. Had we gotten too focused on the cybercafé destination, we would have missed the city.  We ultimately called our search based on time, the lack of remaining battery power, and the willingness to recognize that what we were looking for may not have been there in the first place.
  3. It’s not permanent. No matter how good the change feels, it’s not permanent.  The destinations change and disappear.  The tools you use to get to destinations change.  When you’re planning for change, you’ve got to realize they’re not the final answers.  They’re just the answers for now.