“That guy can make the trains run on time”, is a common refrain in the business world. At some point during a startup’s growth curve, board members, founders and advisors will nudge the company CEO to bring someone on who has those skills and experiences, usually a COO. It is a nod to the complicated systems mindset where optimization and efficiency is prioritized.

For startups exiting their initial phase of growth and deep into their scaling phase, this is a natural state that clearly needs to be managed.

Are startup ecosystems just the aggregation of a bunch of startups?

If so, should we apply the same thinking of scaling a business to scaling an ecosystem?

If so, will startup ecosystems reach a point where optimization and efficiency are required or at least prioritized?

The answer is definitely NO to all three of those questions. Not only is that thinking not productive, it can frequently create a negative impact on your community.

Startup ecosystems are complex systems where the unknowns outweigh the knowns. It is a constant game of discovering what is needed and the right tool (in the moment) to address that need. Then things change all over again.

Complex systems are primarily human driven. Humans have different motivations. Humans are not rational. Humans change. Humans take on multiple roles at the same time. Success in complex systems are more about creating opportunities for humans than an attempt at optimizing humans.

Ecosystem leaders who bring a more rigid methodology to their community run the risk of pushing me (and others like me) to other communities where we are free to operate in a less restrictive environment. We don’t get excited about your efficient ecosystem.

Do you want to help accelerate your startup ecosystem? Start by removing the optimize mindset and embrace the more chaotic mindset. Eliminate thoughts of over-coordinating activities. Rethink your approach to creating efficient systems (aka a factory) to process startups. Want to accelerate your startup ecosystem? Simply ask the entrepreneurs what they need then find a way to address that quickly with a series of tests and experiments.