e2 Principles – 4
In the wake of Brad Feld’s seminal book Creating A Startup Community In Your Town I attended one of a number of seminars concerned with the subject matter of the book. While there I met three people from the same town who all knew each other well and were inspired by what appeared to be taking shape in London and other large towns and cities and were determined that they may make the same happen in their small provincial town.
After a short while each had made sufficient headway within their respective spheres of interest that small section of the small town they hailed from began to take on the appearance in part of being a hub of innovation with multiple gatherings and small events at which the ubiquitous trendy, hipster, tech savvy looking types would appear.
The local authority literature proudly proclaiming the towns recent emergence as a centre of innovation. In reality with the ink on the newly printed literature barely dry, the innovation community and divided in to three main segments each of which had sub divided further with groups dedicated to emerging trends and obscure themes within their general interest. With each group fiercely protective of their niche, identity and associated customs they began to question the relevance of their connections with others within their general sphere, while having nothing at all to do with those in the other main or splinter groups.
While the individual members of each group faced the same issues re finding resources, discovering customers and developing sales funnels, entering markets, attempting to change consumer behaviour, registering patents and regulatory compliance, the enterprise culture such as it was within the town, was not predicated on the sharing of information and pooling of knowledge in an organised way. The irony being while viewing themselves as innovators, the one innovative hack that they most sorely needed, that of knowledge aggregation and dissemination, should have been the most easy to attain, and would have gone a long way to sustaining their nascent ecosystem, but it was missing.
In environments where the culture has evolved to the point of understanding that knowledge is king and democratisation of access to it God, it is the custom that discoveries made by a company operating in one area are to be shared with the intent of raising the collective awareness and functional dexterity of the hub community and its overall capacity to create value, generate and attract capital.
As it transpired individual entrepreneurs and many of the groups that had formed in the new town had begun to compete among themselves and existing charitable and 3rd sector groups for the limited statutory funding allocated to their region.
Over the next two or so years the new town ‘innovation community’ ticked along at the same rate as it had since its inception, with new members joining full of hope and leaving despondent shortly thereafter, and whose common lament was ‘nothing was really happening’. It was hard to point out any real advantages to have resulted from the initiative. There were no big success stories, happenings, socio-cultural advances or innovations to emerge, what was worse, the divisions among the various factions seemed to have deepened and their protectionist behaviours ossified to the point where there was no cross over activity at all between the sub groups.
At last count the three individuals I had met at the seminar are no longer in regular contact, with two having given up on striving to achieve anything like the original vision, being concerned with how to secure employment at the major new shopping complex that had been underdevelopment since the time they had first conceived the idea, and was to open in the town within the next few months.
At its crux this failure to communicate and facilitate a culture of sharing, openness and access to information, was the problem with the whole initiative. Had they taken the view that the entire community was in effect a startup with all of its constituents needing to remain informed about new methods, best practice, how best to contribute and collaborate to create value and enable sustained momentum, they would have achieved their collective and individual goals.
The takeaway here is that when planning or implementing any kind of initiative intended to serve as a self sustaining, innovation community, whose creative output either or both targets commercial markets or social impact, prioritise the means and quality of communication by and to the community across its membership. The extent to which this can and should be done has very few limits in the age of big data and digital communication.
Thereafter it requires the community constituents to view the aggregation and relay of such information between themselves as sacrosanct to their community culture and imperative if they are to retain their ability to not only stay ahead of events but continue to shape them.
Most crucial of all on the individual and collective level is to observe and adhere to the tenet that is the title of this article: Do Not Build Silos!