I recently had an impromptu conversation on the nature of trust in my tumblog with my fellow ‘social catalysts’ (more info coming soon). I’m fairly new to exploring this topic in this way so really appreciated the depth of responses.
The insights I’m left with are that there are essentially 3 dimensions to trust in facilitating a connection. Each dimension is a range that might be expressed as follows.
The person (from “they’re not a sociopathic stalker” to “they walk on water and you’ll want to be their best friend”)
The subject (from “i don’t think it will hurt anyone” to “they’re going to save the world and I’m devoting my life to their work”)
The fit (from “it won’t be a total waste of your xyz” to “it’ll be the best investment of xyz you’ve ever made”)
Of course the scale might be worded a little differently but I think you get the idea.
I wonder, if I received a LinkedIn request with 3 ‘sliders’ on each of these dimensions how would it change the process for me? Would I be able to make decisions much quicker? What if those sliders also came with histories from that recommending party – e.g. where do these slider positions relate to the average positions of their past recommendations? Where does this rank in relation to overall value/or value on each slider compared to other connections they’ve recommended? etc..
And how would it change in what went into making the connection before it got to me? Would there have been more thought? Would that help filter connections? Would I lose some valuable connections somehow?
It’s an interesting area that I’m looking forward to exploring and testing in practice through a project that I hope to announce soon. In the meantime – the more perspectives the merrier.
First, I see the commons containing three interdependent realms:
Accomplishments are the product and desired outcomes of every venture. They are also a great catalyst of conversation. Conversation, in turn, is a great catalyst of connections – connections to ideas, resources, people etc. And connections, in turn, catalyze accomplishments – new resources to help get things done better, faster, etc. Of course it’s not that linear but I do sense a compelling interrelationship and even flow there.
From the participant perspective I see the main players are:
ventures (those tackling issues directly, those that invest in those ventures, and those that serve them)
individuals (those that are directly involved in the ventures, and those that are individually engaged or interested in ventures or their accomplishments)
A the center of this is this idea of portfolios. Ultimately, whether you are a venture or individual in any of the above category, you are building a portfolio of accomplishments. These can be accomplishments that you are interested in and those that are you are contributing to. It’s much more granular than the organizational level and if the connections and conversations link back to the accomplishments it could be a very interesting ‘portfolio’ incredibly rich with meaning and relevance to the ‘owner’.
The pracitcality of how this will unfold will emerge over time – from doing more than anything – but this seems like a good starting point. There are also a couple of other core components that are operationally important to engage or nurture the connection between key players in the community. These include things like facilitating the creation of ‘forum groups’ – a central component of the Entrepreneur Commons and other networks like Enterpreneur’s Organization, Young President’s Organization, and World President’s Organization. And for investors (of all kinds) there is the ‘transaction commons’ with resources to support efficient and cost-effective investment transactions. While important I think they seem to be subsets of this overarching rationale – a rationale that seems new but comfortable for me.
I’ve been working with some fantastic colleagues (Duncan Work and Duncan Holmes) on ways to harness social capital (the relationship kind vs. financial kind). For me, the interest is applying it to ventures that are working toward a just and sustainable society – but, more generally, I believe it is our most underutilized form or capital and is becoming increasingly important in the current economic downturn and the new mode of organization that I see emerging.
I’ve also been playing with other ways of communicating in presentations and taking some cues from VizThink which I’ve recently been introduced to. The converegence of these two things has led to the presentation below. It’s pretty basic but I’m curious about how people respond.
Micro-funds: making small, flexible, intuitive, low-cost, high-leverage investments. Features:
Short life: fully invested within 3 years or less
Small, high-leverage investments: invest financial (e.g. $25-50k) and social capital in high-leverage ways – core capacity, incremental engagement, financial seeding
Low or no fee: offset with performance based incentives for financial and impact returns appropriate to the fund
Light-weight and dynamic operations: led by individuals or organizations that have a unique position or perspective on the ‘frontiers’ – run as a ‘side-car’ to existing occupation
Commons interdependent: fund and individual investments must spark and support a conversation and generally contribute to and engage community to mitigate risk, improve success, and demonstrate returns
Social venture commons: convening and catalyzing capital, community, conversation. Features:
co-created infrastructre: enable self-service deal support, reporting, and portfolio tracking for micro-funds and their investees
nurture conversations: technical and financial support for stimulating micro-fund and investee conversations
harness social capital: help develop, weave, and harness social capital among funds and investees
strengthen community: seed and support unique, focused community gatherings and capacity supports including ‘forum’ style monthly entrepreneur groups
The key in this lies in the interdependence between the micro-funds and the commons. The commons nutures and convenes community. Funds add some fuel and spark by investing and catlyzing conversations. The ventures serve themselves through supporting each other and participating in the commons.
I’m continuing to refine this as I move toward a working example and will continue to think out loud as I go. And if you haven’t checked it out – take a look at the Entrepreneur Commons being led by Marc Dangeard. He’s farther along and is tackling similar issues as he goes. The similarities and even more so, the differences, are interesting and good fodder for conversation.
Off the cuff, I’ve been talking about building a ‘social capital supercharger’ over the past few months. It’s actually something that I’ve been working more deeply with Duncan Work (DW), Duncan Holmes and few others.
Well DW has launched a simple survey to start capturing some experiences around using LinkedIn and Facebook in organizations. Needless to say we’d be very interested in how you use them. If you’re up for taking 5 minutes – you can take the survey here.
We’ll share the results we come up with as soon as we can.
Having been doing nothing but early-stage venturing from all sides of the table for more than a decade I decided to start a series of conversations to explore what works and what doesn’t.
From this initial set of conversations, primarily with investors working on ‘the frontier’ (social change and social tech) here are some of my initial observations.
1. Being on the frontier increases “complex ambiguity” (we don’t really know what we are doing, and if we think we do it’s probably a false sense of security)
At the frontier, complex ambiguity emerges in each of these areas:
The ultimate goal/objective is difficult to clarify in conventional quantitative terms
The approach needed to accomplish that goal is unsure/unconventional/untested
This leads to challenges in measurement and therefore tracking progress. It also has something to do with why stories are being found to be more effective in describing impact, progress, and learnings.
Complex ambiguity is a source of opportunity and risk, can and should be focused, but reduction/minimization results in a corresponding reduction in potential
There is a strong connection to the notion of ‘requisite variety’ in general systems theory and it’s application to organizations that is worth pursuing
The root questions then seem to lie in what we need to understand in terms of goals, approaches, and measures in order to be able to determine our interest, track performance, and orchestrate support.
2. Effective handling of complex ambiguity requires particular attention on requisite competencies and internalized responsibility.
Competencies required to handle complex ambiguity are not of the conventional functional variety
What they are is an important question going forward
Complex ambiguity should in no way confuse or obscure the need for the conventional competencies required by the venture
E.g. Just because you’re trying to change the world doesn’t mean you don’t need to get the accounting done.
Responsibility for handling the ‘complex ambiguity’ can be carried only by those that are committed to sorting it out AND are sufficiently connected to the fields related to it
E.g. a conventional business partner is not likely to strive to achieve anything beyond what is specified and required – which implicitly means they are not actually dealing with the ‘complex ambiguity’
Commitment to ‘sorting it out’ is strongest in the person(s) that is (are) deeply connected to the purpose/values of the organization
‘Sorting it out’ is accelerated through explicit attention, should be oriented around taking action, and cannot be at the expense of the viability of the venture
This critical balancing point is the key determinant of the ultimate success of the organization. Too much of a focus on the ambiguity and nothing happens, too much focus on viability and the potential impact is diminished.
3. Successful investing on the frontier is subject to the same challenge of handling complex ambiguity.
Considering the points in 1 and 2 above in the context of managing a fund on the frontier is another stream of inquiry
4. Successful investment practices on the frontier address complex ambiguity among investees.
Some examples include:
Actively building networks of connections around and among investees. A network of venturers on the frontier are more likely to share and have access to appropriate competencies for venturing on the frontier and are inherently all engaged in exploring complex variety. Optimization of this is a significant opportunity.
Focusing the ambiguity down on core goals such as employing the unemployed (e.g. partner with those that have/run complementary businesses that could benefit from that employment). What does this do the potential and how where/how is the responsibility internalized?
Minimizing/simplifying legal agreements helps to internalize responsibility for the relationship between investee/investor (encourages greater dialogue)
Supporting entrepreneurs to make time for exploring their purpose/goals/approach.
Creating events to bring together venturers on the frontier.
Mixing conventional and mission-based investment team members.
Going forward I want to probe further into:
where risk is most often perceived going into a deal?
where does risk actually end up coming from?
what activities have led ventures on the frontier to success?
how did those activities come about?
From there I’m eager to dig into exploring potential areas for practices and shared services that could improve the success in investing on the frontier. Possibly framed by this matrix, the goal would be to find one thing to start experimenting with:
Exploring complex ambiguity
Internal practices affected
Internal practices envisioned
Outsourced/shared services affected
Outsourced/shared services envisioned
This sure has been fun so far and I’m curious to see where it goes… particularly as it turns to action.
Of course this cannot be a rigidly linear/sequential process but rather is an iterative co-creative one. It is also a continual process of capital investment: intellectual, social, and financial… done in an integrated co-creative style. And that’s what I’m working on now.
Over the years I’ve been collecting management theories and practices that I found useful in venturing and found myself starting to organize them into a map. That map started painting a picture that has now become the Venture Vortex model.
It’s primary strength is in providing a platform to organize thinking around the process of building a venture and I am using it both as a design and a diagnostic tool.
Broken into 4 primary regions: internalities; externalities, core ideology and the vortex itself, the arrows and chevrons show of sequencing of rational thought in the design process. Of course, no venture is static but rather an ever evolving mix of people and activity amidst a shifting environment. The model seeks to acknowledge the foundational element of any venture as the core ideology itself which is connected to the key people through values and the calling through purpose.
The core ideology in fact is the fulcrum around which everything pivots. It is the ulitmate basis against which any planning or activity can be checked for congruence. In fact, the organization can only do what it’s true purpose and values will allow — which also means we can’t ‘make-it-up’… as the actual purpose and values will always express themselves.
Uncovering the true core ideology then is a critically important task if we are to most effeciently build an organization to serve it. Doing so is about deep questioning of the personal intentions of the key stakeholders and the calling that is bringing them together. Finding the answers is often thought of as having statements that look a certain way. My experience though has been more about it being a felt experience. There is no right answer or right structure but the feeling is undeniable when it arises.
From that point moving up the venture vortex is a process of increasing rationalization within shortening time horizons up until the highest level which is the realm of near-term planning activities. The challenge in this, particularly for ventures working on systems-depth shifts or consciousness change is conducting the planning process in a manner consistent with the ideology itself. Conventional approaches often reflect the systems that the ventures seek to change. Now that’s not to say conventional approaches are not at all applicable but rather must be managed and applied from a grounded values perspective.
The most effective model I’ve encountered in business system design is Stafford Beer‘s Viable System model which is essentially the application of systems science to organizations. For strategic and action planning I’ve found nothing that comes close the power of a truly co-creative approach with a broad mix of participants — another thing that fits well with systems science — but more on that in another post.