People, purpose, and a better future, sooner.

The shifts underway at civilizational and organizational levels are of course happening at the personal level too. That shift, which was touched on in each of Power of Pull, Future of Management and Heart of Enterprise (see last post), is best brought forth in Dan Pink‘s latest book Drive. If you haven’t read the book or seen either of his TED talk or RSA Animation (see below), it’s definitely worth it. 

One of the most popular quotes captures it well:

Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.

He goes on to explain to that this drive also relates to purpose:

The most deeply motivated people – not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied – hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves.

Given that organizations and our civilization are systems of people, this becomes a key perspective in understanding how organizations are changing and civilization might pivot.  It also explains part of the popularity of the mobile, social web and its role in building a better future, sooner.

Personally I’ve benefitted from social communities for running, unschooling, and entrepreneurship. There is no question that I would not have been able to pursue as full a life as I have without them. And for most people who use the social web, I’m sure the experience is much the same. For the rest of you, don’t worry, this is just getting started. Take a look at the video below, think about what drives you and take the plunge… even if it’s just a few clicks at a time. There’s an ocean of awesome on whatever matters to you.

Giddy-up: getting better on the frontier.

Coming out of this first inquiry I’m left with new definitions for venture, venturing, and venturer and also a simplistic grouping that the process of venturing essentially requires agreement, action, and governance. It is important to note that these are a set of observations and interpretations that will continue to be evolved in practice. As such they represent a starting point for a concerted effort to ‘get better at venturing and investing on the frontiers’.


  • Venture: An agreement among people to do things in service of a purpose and according to a set of values.
  • Venturing: The process of creating and evolving a venture.
  • Venturer: A person primarily involved in venturing.

AGREEMENT: The venture profile
In getting better at venturing on the frontiers, it becomes apparent that the first things required in a venture are an articulation of:

  • purpose;
  • values; and
  • agreement, followed by action.

This is particularly so in an effort to address complex ambiguity and so also must include the foundational foci that are effective amidst complex ambiguity, namely distinct, discreet attention on:

These items become the core components of a ‘venture profile’ which is an articulation of the collective agreement on what the venture is.

Another interesting realization through these conversations and above definitions is that a venture, at it’s core, is an agreement. It starts with the first agreement between 2 or more people and grows with the deepening and addition of new relationships. Essentially a venture is ‘simply’ a bundle of relationships. Accordingly the individual relationships should also receive special attention through consideration and articulation of the essential process for evolution or termination of the agreement, and of each party’s:

  • acknowledgment of the other party’s venture profile;
  • their contribution;
  • the manner of contribution;
  • their compensation for their contribution; and
  • any other explicit responsibilities and expectations.

Collectively, the bundle of individual relationships along with each associated agreement form the essence of the collective agreement articulated in the venture profile and could be visualized through multidimensional maps which naturally will evolve as does the collection of individual relationships. Here there is a significant opportunity for new and improved practices in venturing. The collection of individual agreements also forms the basis for financial model. This is not the same as financial projections which are often an exercise in justifying an anticipated outcome but rather they are the basis for being meaningfully able to anticipate the results of the existing and anticipated agreements under certain conditions.

ACTION: A planning process
With the core profile in place we move into the activity of the venture itself which is best determined by those that have the authority to complete the action being determined. This follows from observations in systems science that planning only happens when action is the result and so can only be carried out by those with the authority to act. The most effective planning approaches will be recognized as intentional, co-creative, and iterative action planning. Established approaches from community and software development could be well applied here. For example, the methodology from the Institute for Cultural Affairs Technology of Participation are particularly effective when conducted with short time horizons (e.g. monthly and/or quarterly) within the context of the venture profile which itself is reviewed periodically (e.g. annually with the inclusion of strategic direction planning). Similarly the agile development process is particularly relevant for venturing on the frontiers.

GOVERNANCE: Cohesion and instability preemption

Governance of a venture (collective agreement and the action that unfolds from it) is best fulfilled through attention on the cohesion of the venture and on signals of incipient instability. Going back to the definition of a venture, this is about monitoring the changing trends in relationship status and agreements. This is perhaps the most unique discovery in these conversations. Changes in the tone of relationships is often one of the biggest and most consistent indicators of incipient instability. This by no means implies that relationships should remain static or that relationships should not be allowed to decline, that’s simply a part of evolution. What it does imply is that changes in the trends of relationships status are particularly powerful indicators of change including growth and incipient instability. For example what’s often described as ‘momentum’ is an upward trend in the strengthening and addition of relationships. Or a founder of an organization challenging the direction the venture is taking may be an indicator of a change in the collective agreement, particularly if it was well articulated at the outset (which is rarely the case). Of course, monitoring financial metrics and changes in budget/plans can also signal incipient instability and by no means should be excluded. Rather disciplined attention should be focused on the metrics that indicate potential instability. If the management system is attentive to incipient instability it will be able to minimize its effects or avoid it all together. The other dynamic of effective governance is attention to the cohesion of the venture itself. This means that ensuring that both PIE and CV are being attended to and that the dynamic between them is constructive.

There are of course more detailed design aspects to organizing and operating a venture, several key ones of which are described in Heart of Enterprise, but from my experience, research, and through the recent conversations I believe venturing effectively on the frontiers requires the essence of:

  • agreement and articulation of the venture (venture profile, relationship map, financial model);
  • action through intentional co-creative, iterative action planning (process, budgets, time lines); and
  • governance attentive to cohesion and able to anticipate and preempt incipient instability (future indicating metrics, report card, ability to respond constructively).

Practically, there is significant opportunity in improving upon each of these areas and particularly in the area of relationships with the emergence of new ways and styles of connecting brought forth by virtual communications developments such as social networking technologies. And with that now begins the process of putting this into practice and an open invitation to those who want to embark on this with me.

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Gettin’ it goin’ without goin’ under: cohesion and incipient instability.

With requisite attention being held a natural propulsion will emerge.  The act of managing and nurturing that propulsion is attended to with a focus on cohesion and being proactively aware of the emergence of incipient instability.

These concepts are addressed in depth in Stafford Beer’s viable system model (my reflections here on reading Heart of Enterprise) and are really about holding the tension between future (vision), and here and now (operations) [see last post for more on requisite attention]. Cohesion has a lot to do with articulating purpose as so well described by Collins and Porras in Building Your Company’s Vision. And incipient instability is about monitoring trends in financials, plan performance, and relationship status (after all, ventures are systems, concentrated bundles of relationships), and then spotting changes that indicate that something is becoming instable in a way that could harm the cohesion of the system as a whole. 

Again, both of these concepts seem relatively straight forward, and in fact are things that play out automatically in any natural system including ourselves. But as ventures are intentional human constructs we need to be intentional about them for the system to remain viable. On the frontiers, the pressure to focus on ‘getting things done’ leaves little space for this to happen, and unfortunately the models of doing this tend to come from linear management theory that takes more of an audit and control function which is of little interest to the venturer and begins the dance of storytelling through massaged metrics. Accordingly bringing this into practice needs approaches that are lightweight and constructive – some concepts for which will come in the next post.

(special note: this has been a difficult post to keep short, there are many offshoots and explanations possible in every sentence — something best explored in conversation and specific context)

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