If you hear a man speaking in a Southern drawl, and he’s talking in pseudo-Zen koans about love and success and family, while also analyzing moments in life according to his traffic-light-inspired moral roadmap, chances are he’s Matthew McConaughey.
The actor-turned-author, whose best-selling 2020 memoir Greenlights charted his personal escapades and career fluctuations, has become something of a self-help spiritualist since his book’s publication. (For the uninitiated, a green light is basically an action taken in the present that will help your future self. The book is also stuffed with folksy aphorisms, like “I’d rather lose money havin’ fun than make money being bored.”) Now, perhaps in search of even greener lights, McConaughey has taken his repartee to the tech industry.
Earlier this month, he was a featured speaker at Dell Technologies World, the computing giant’s showcase event, in Las Vegas, where he chatted about his view of 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 may seem at first blush: He’s actually an active player in the tech space, with investments in such companies as MoonPay and 1Password.
Shortly after the Dell exhibition, we talked 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 responses were sent in all caps; for our readers’ sake, we’ve 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 filling the coffee maker at night, and other times it’s making a difficult 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 simply after the fact—when something is a green light? (For example, if the investment you make turns out to be a bad one—isn’t that a yellow, or even red, light?)
My green lights today are mostly long-term investments—in my family, relationships, work, health, and businesses. Being the best father I can be to my children is an investment in their future, taking time to listen to and advise a friend is an investment in the future of my fellowship, writing daily is an investment in a future book, eating well and exercising is an investment in my future health, and investing in restorative companies is an investment in civilization’s future. My goal is for all of the investments I make in my life to have a synonymous ethos of value.
As far as knowing if they are each green lights? Sometimes you know, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes they are sacrifices today for greater rewards tomorrow; selecting the harder choice now to create more value later—that would be an intentional yellow or red that I’m investing in and betting on becoming green later. Other times, the green lights are obvious low-hanging fruit—something that immediately serves me, and will continue to in the future.
Greenlights made you into something of a spiritual teacher for all sorts of people, including many in the tech industry. You’ve also talked about tech as a tool—and perhaps a reflection—of humanity. How can people wield that tool more responsibly? Is it simply a matter of personal responsibility?
Technology’s 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. The tech industry and leaders should take it as a personal responsibility to have the tech we create be a constructive force for good. When shaping the future, which tech is doing, it’s easy for leaders to say, “The algorithm will tell us.” Well, I believe that’s an awesome and deeply scary answer. As has always been the case with how humans interact with technology, the question, responsibility, and opportunity lie in our answer to, “What are we programming into the algorithm?”
That which can make us the most money? That which gives us more access, speed, and data? Okay, great, but if that’s it, then tech won’t ultimately win because humanity will lose. The access, speed, and data that tech provides needs to be put toward avenues, such as curing diseases and generally providing not only faster, but deeper, insights that can improve humanity as we know it. I believe that the tech industry has to take a personal responsibility to program algorithms and systems that create more life force. Technology is a tool, and I hope those developing and using it believe that people are still our greatest asset. What are the values that we can all agree should be programmed into systems humans rely on to render more quality meaning in our lives?
If and when tech drives, inspires, and activates human potential, then it becomes something more than a visionary revolution we need to be responsible for—it becomes the art of evolution we want to choose.
Choice, that’s prime.
You talk lovingly in Greenlights about Austin as a place where “all you have to be . . . is you.” You’re also an active participant in the tech industry, speaking just this month at Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas. Given the influx of tech companies of all sizes into Austin, do you worry at all that the city you love might one day become unrecognizable to you? Or, put more simply: Do you worry that Austin will stop being “weird”?
I do. Anytime a place or a person, for that matter, experiences such rapid growth in such a short time, their identity is tested. Austin is a city of authentic soul: the way we treat each other, what we expect of each other, what we value. With the massive tech migration to our city, we are going through natural growing pains—the soul of Austin is being challenged, and it is up to Austinites, new and old, to check ourselves in the mirror as we go through this growth spurt. I implore the 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 down the foundation for our city to grow as a tech hub, but the public and private sector must continue to work together to ensure that the Austin community and culture remain intact. With growth comes change, but my hope is that tech can help Austin tackle some of the growing challenges we have like traffic, housing, and the homeless, to name a few. That the tech companies will look at Austin and Austinites, and see what maybe they can learn from our city and from companies like Dell that are driving progress through education, infrastructure, and workforce development, so that they don’t try and turn here into why they left there.
More so than “weird,” Austin thrives on its authenticity—the freedom to be yourself, to respect and trust each other, are social contracts that are an Austin heritage.
You spoke during the Dell event about the importance of ethical investing and eco-minded thinking. You also talked about how your travels have shaped you. How do you square those two sentiments? How should we, as people who (presumably) want to do right by our fellow living beings, weigh our desire to see the world and experience other places against the huge emissions toll of such exploration?
Stay a little longer wherever it is you’re going.
You also said that you invest in companies that endorse your own values, and cited “restoration” as a big North Star for your investment principal. Can you elaborate on that a bit? What are the issues that drive your decisions as an investor? And what industries are you most excited about right now?
Society’s in a rut. America’s in a rut. What values have we forgotten that we need to restore in order to progress and evolve? As I spoke of in answering an earlier question, how can tech help us build our way out of this rut and into a more evolved future? I am interested in sustainable innovation, meaning, innovative ideas that can fulfill long-term needs.
As far as being restorative, I look for companies that have a purpose to uplift, empower, construct, redefine, and bring a new or renewed health to individuals, communities, and systems. Some of my investments in private companies and partnerships with public companies include:
- Unite Us: Creates a restorative bond between healthcare and social care so that people get the health outcome they need versus just a piece that doesn’t solve a problem.
- Homebase: A restorative system empowering small Main Street businesses and hourly workers in small towns across America, reducing stress on their business and employees with tools typically reserved for large corporations.
- Workrise: Upskills tradesmen and women and restores the path to middle class for the ones building America.
- Salesforce: A company with a shared commitment to restoring and creating the values of customer service, equal opportunity, sustainability, innovation, and trust.
- Austin FC and the Moody Center: Both are restorative for my local community because through music and sport they create a culture of joy, excitement, and camaraderie within our city.
- MoonPay: Democratizes access to the crypto economy by making Web3 technology and tools more accessible, which is shifting how creatives, artists, and athletes approach art, fan engagement, and intellectual property management.
- 1Password: Gives people access to software that safely and securely saves their passwords, mitigating the worry around data and breaches, and restoring peace of mind.