Does the perfect decision exist and can you optimize for more of them?

Complexity Theory is the theory that processes (like growing a startup community) have a large number of seemingly independent agents that can spontaneously order themselves into a coherent system. The scary word in this definition is “spontaneously”. It infers that we cannot engineer or control the independent agents to form a coherent system.

This very idea of complexity – and the burden of how to operate in a complex system – is daunting. How are we as startup community builders and enthusiasts supposed to decide which actions (activities/events) set the table for positive results?

I stumbled upon a Twitter thread of a parable (thanks Justin Benson of Spreedly) that really resonated with me. It may not help you make that decision, but it will take some pressure off of each decision you do decide to make.

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away.  That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe”.

The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!”  The farmer again said, “Maybe”.

The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe”.

The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg.  Again, all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!”  Again, the farmer said, “Maybe”.

We never really know the consequences of most of our community building actions – they could be good or bad. And, they could be good or bad in the short term but different in the long term.

The lesson here is to take action, put energy into what moves you and the rest of the community, and see what happens. The community will eventually vote with their feet on what things are working for them.