Greetings, Mr. Local Business Titan (yes I used “Mr.” on purpose as the majority of Local Business Titans are 50-65 year old men).  And by Titan I mean someone who has mastered the business game usually by being an outstanding manager. More and more, there are local late-in-life business and institutional executives (with a manager mindset) getting involved with using their power and position to create and support entrepreneurs.

Welcome to the effort to grow a startup community!  We have been waiting for you.

But fair warning community-building newbies – you will be susceptible to quick-fix solutions as your years of problem-solving success will trick you into thinking that this same manager mindset that generated your success in business will work here.  It will not. Yes, you may get a few small quick wins (and you all will certainly celebrate those in big ways). But 6-12 months later those “wins” will look small and inconsequential. 

For the last few years Ian Hathaway, Brad Feld, Victor Hwang and I have been making the argument that startup communities and entrepreneurial ecosystems are complex systems. This is in contrast to complicated systems which more of you are used to operating within.

Complicated systems have eventual engineered solutions (no matter how difficult). That is what makes them a complicated system. And the well-known institutional executives who have mastered these types of systems unfortunately view every challenge through the lens of their complicated system experiences.

If I were to attach a label to you and your career, I would label you a manager. No disrespect, you are/were very very good at it.

But startup communities do not need managers for many reasons including:

  • It’s not a company where you can assign tasks and create carrot/stick accountability. No manager skills needed,
  • There is not one perfect engineered solution that works for all of time. Managers fail when solutions and processes are not critical.
  • Communities and ecosystems are based on trust and the exchange of social capital (knowledge, access to people and resources). You can’t manage trust.
  • Business strategies do not work in communities and ecosystems. Disruptive personalities needed, not managers.
  • The concept of competition to form strategy and tactics creates negative outcomes. Managers love competitive motivations, comparisons and charts.
  • Measuring community outcomes is squishy and fraught with more negative outcomes. Managers love to measure and the very act of measuring creates bad strategies.
  • There are no known or fixed processes that create the desired outcomes (especially across different cities). Managers create repeatable processes.
  • There is not a CEO or President of the community. Managers love hierarchical structures.

How do you adjust your complicated mindset and evolve over to a complex mindset? Get familiar with complex system approaches and then begin to apply some of those suggestions in your activities.