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It’s been in the works for awhile and I now think we’re really starting to make a connection between web tech (2.0+), venture investing, social innovation. That connection is going to unleash some tremendous innovations and a surge in the activity directly working on the challenges facing our civilization. It feels like the emergence of a new domain that will take some very different approaches to change and influencing the course of civilization. It seems inspired by open source, technology innovation, financial risk taking, a venturing culture, and now a deepening and deeply felt realization that there are more important tasks to tend to.
I’ve been digging deeply into this for a while (Venturing on the Frontiers, Open Everything <site>, and The Great Remix) and these two posts (Umair Haque and Fred Wilson) have me feeling that something just shifted. What I love is that this isn’t just the same old folks getting into this AND that they are coming at it from an understanding of how systems emerge. Umair uses the language of DNA and Fred is living it through his investment approach in web tech companies.
Maybe what it is, is that all the different groups I’ve been working/having the conversations with (MaRS, SiG, CSI, Renewal Partners, Communicopia, Causeway, Tides Canada, and Good Capital) are using different language to talk about the same things.
I’m not sure. What do you think? Is this just a personal moment are others sensing that some thing has shifted too?
Cross posted from my tumblog.
In the conclusion of “Just Another Emperor” by Michael Edwards, he poses the above quote which I think is a great description of what ‘open’ is actually playing at. Full context here: “Philanthrocapitalism offers one way of increasing the social value of the market, but there are other routes that could offer equal or better results in changing the way the economic surplus is produced, distributed and used: the traditional route that uses external pressure, taxation and regulation; the philanthrocapitalist route that changes internal incentives and gives a little more back through foundations and corporate social repsonsibility; and the more radical innovations in ownership and production that change the basis in which markets work. We don’t know which of these routes carries the greatest long term potential, though all of them rely on civil society as a vehicle for innovation, accountability, influence and modified consumption, and especially for getting us from reformist to transformational solutions.”
One of the interesting things coming out of OPEN everything (Toronto) was the idea that open projects are driven by what we were calling ‘benevolent dictators’. That phrase, while abrasive to some, seems to be resonating in a number of different conversations that I and others are having.
What it seems to do is counter the notion that open is a touchy-feely, everyone has to agree, happy place where everyone gets along. At the same time it reinforces the important and evolving role of leadership. What I’m starting to try and tease out is what are the qualities of open leadership that we’re really getting at? And which of those are core values – and which are situational reactions?
So far I’ve been seeing some aspects such as:
- willingness and authority to make quick decisions based on intuition and sense of purpose and values (the DNA of the project)
- a relentless focus on near-term goals vs. controlling tasks
- ability to command/wield social capital vs. financial capital
So what do you think? What are you experiencing? What’s different?
Photo credit: invisible consequential
Well, it was only a few months ago when Jason Mogus, Mark Surman and I chatted on this concept of the event series that is now underway. It started as an exploration as to a new Web Of Change event at Hollyhock this year and Mark has taken it to what is going to be an amazing series that is going to push our thinking and the thinking of the ‘open’ community even further.
For more information, check out Mark’s opening post here, and the openeverything wiki.
Today, Toronto kicks off Open Everything: a global series of six (or more?) events about the art, science and spirit of open. We’ve got 60 amazing people registered who come from computer programming, community development and everywhere in between. It’s gonna rock.
There are going to be a few bloggers and hopefully a few twitters going live today and putting their follow-up thoughts out shortly thereafter… and I’ll do my best to link to them as they come available.
I commented on Fred Wilson’s Looking Forward post yesterday and he reblogged a part of my comment in his tumblog here. Tt’s been generating a few emails to me so for those that are interested, here are a few other links that follow that theme…
– A few of us are convening an event that is digging deeper into that mindset that riffs off open source openeverything.net.
– Ervin Laszlo’s Macroshift – a book about the evolution of civilization and the interplay of technology and mindsets (my highlights and links to the book – additional post here)
– A post of mine on this phase we are in that I’m calling “the Great Remix“. Additional posts here and here.
– Stafford Beer’s work on information design of systems in an organizational context (my highlights and links to his book and work)
That’s right, Social Tech Training is happening this June in Toronto. Here’s the link and a quick blurb. Check-it out and sign-up if it catches your eye. Coming from Web of Change and MaRS it’s bound to be an excellent event!
No one working in social change these days can afford to ignore the opportunities offered by the web. Most organizations get stuck, though, on “How do we do it?” “Where do we start?” and “Who can help us?” Interest in high, but the talent pool of people equipped to understand, prioritize, and implement these tools and ideas remains limited.
We’ve gathered the best and the brightest leaders in this sector, and we’ve put together an agenda
that will help take your organization to the next level. Each participant will emerge with new technical, creative, and leadership skills, a powerful network, and a customized, comprehensive “Web 2.0 Plan” for their organization.
This training is an excellent opportunity to connect to the big picture, develop practical skills required to execute, and network with both leaders and learners in this emerging space. We are excited to be part of this transformation of the social change sector. Please join us!
There seem to be two types of bets that investors make when doing a deal. A bet on the team. A bet on the plan. The closer to the frontiers (early stages and deep change) the greater the emphasis is on the team. And rightly so. We all know that plans don’t last on the frontiers.
So how can we get better at investing on the frontiers? Surely betting on the team alone isn’t a sound investment strategy.
From my conversations the current practices seem to be either focused on ‘rolling up the sleeves’ and getting involved directly (few, high-cost investments) or being a hands-off patron (many small investments). Either that or back off from the frontiers and use conditional investment to achieve specific results (e.g. disadvantaged employment or other enviro-social activities). The limitations in each of those should be fairly self-evident.
So what else could we make bets on? Well if venturing is a process, we could bet on the process they are following. If we know plans are not static, what is the venture doing to continue the process of framing, planning, and connecting?
And what other practices could we employ? Well if one of the biggest chips an investor brings to the game is their social capital, well then how can that capital be better employed in the task of connecting? Going back to the image above, we can see that at minimum it requires a venture to have articulated simple and accessible spaces. I wonder – how many entrepreneurs and their investors would truly describe the primary spaces of their venture in the same way? How about in your venture or your portfolio? My bet is that’s strongly correlated to the difference between friction and luck.
Summing up, that leaves us with making bets on:
- a team;
- their venturing process; and
- their spaces (accessible and simply articulated).
And it means bringing our social chips into the game to make the connections the venture truly needs (more in a future post).
Now that’s an investment space I’d bet on.
I wrote about the gist of this image here. Now I’m turning to the implications for venturers.
Quite simply the essence of venturing is a process. A process of creating spaces for things to happen (some call it ‘luck’). The simpler and more accessible the space, the easier it is to get people engaged and get things done (some would say ‘the luckier you get’).
Sound simple? It should be, but can you simply articulate the 3 primary spaces for your venture? Do you have a time and place to think about and evolve those spaces? Why are people connecting to you? Do they know what they need to meaningfully contribute in ways you may not have asked or may not be expecting? How often have you been ‘lucky’?
So how can ventures get better at “gettin’ lucky” on the frontiers?
Step 1: Define your spaces (framing)
Get out you favourite notebook or stash of napkins and start framing each of your primary spaces separately: founding agreement, magic box; and realms of relevance. Keep them separate. Keep them simple. (more on this in a later post)
Step 2: Get your team together and get to it (planning)
Revisit planning as a team – those who control the resources and those who do the work. In the context of your spaces, figure out what your going to do for the next meaningful chunk of time, making the most of what you have, and getting what you need to move you most towards fullfilling your purpose.
Step 3: Connect with purpose (connecting)
Make connections throughout your spaces to better understand and define your spaces, and to get done what you need to get done. Do it with purpose and give it space to let something happen.
Step 4: Repeat (venturing)
Take a look at what you did for steps 1-3 and do it again – but better. This becomes the process of venturing. Find what works for you and your venture. There is no right way. There is no right answer. In fact, there really are no answers… just keep asking questions, keep moving forward, and keep at the process.
You can’t know where exactly you’ll end up but you’ve got a much better chance of “gettin’ lucky”!
Venturing on the frontiers is about the early stages of taking on big challenges. It’s a space where conventional models to planning and management prove ineffective. It’s the place where entrepeneurs trust their ‘gut’ and face the challenges with an unrelenting push forward. And it’s the place from which the greatest change can come about.
I’ve been tapping my own experience, researching into systems science and talking with some of North America’s leading venture investors who are themselves pushing the frontiers. Through all of that I’ve emerged with an understanding that I’ve tried to capture to the right. Essentially it describes a venture as a set of spaces (‘founding agreement‘ which gives rise to a ‘magic box‘ which operates within certain ‘realms of relevance‘). Venturing then is the process of ‘framing‘ those spaces, ‘planning’ immediate action, and ‘connecting‘ to get things done and evolve the spaces. Collectively that led me to the following set of principles for venturing on the frontiers:
- Create spaces for things to happen
- Make it simple and accessible
- Tend to connections and connecting
- Keep venturing
I’ve published the image under a creative commons license so please feel free to use and build from it accordingly. And as always, this is but a snapshot of understanding and bound to evolve… so please do get in touch with your reflections, experiences, and suggestions.
I’ll publish future posts on the implications for ventures and venture investors who are pushing the frontiers. Don’t expect magic bullets, but rather a prompting of some productive questions. If anything this has reminded me is that there are no answers, only questions… and asking the right ones can make all the difference.