.: on the frontiers of venturing and venture investing :.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Venturing on the frontier: requisite attention

Venturing on the frontiers requires distinctly holding attention on two discrete aspects of any venture:
- Productive, iterative, exploration of the complexity dynamic
- Core venture viability

Simple to say but in practice, venturers who aren't stuck in perpetual analysis and thought, are pulled toward focusing on linear, or hopefully exponential, growth of the most promising aspect at hand particularly after attracting professional investment capital. Stop thinking and just do it right?

Well, avoiding the trap of perpetual analysis does not have to mean stop thinking and exploring, it simply means actively cycling through observation, reflection, interpretation, and decision that moves the venture forward. It means not getting stuck.  There are many models for doing this with the key aspect being that the focus of the exploration tends toward the deeper purpose, that the cycles are measured in weeks and months as opposed to quarters and years, and that the results change the venture in some way.  Explicit attention on this process will ensure that the venture continues to innovate and work toward it's purpose including continually improving upon it's ability to achieve that purpose.  Another important consideration in this exploration is that the greater the chasm between the purpose and the daily activity of the organization (as is the case with ventures on the frontiers), the greater the flexibility the venture needs to be able accept and meaningfully enact the outputs of the process. This flexbilty is informative in understanding what is meant by 'core' venture viability.

Core venture viability at its essence is the ability for the venture to maintain its existence in service of its purpose.  Commonly, and importantly, a key aspect is financial viability. Early-stage ventures tend to be perpetually resource constrained making the flexibility required of the outputs of the exploration process described above, very difficult.  This is where 'core' viability comes in.  The core viability does not have to do with maintaining the venture as it is but rather maintaining the ventures ability to continue to serve its purpose which often does not require doing everything that is currently being done. It could be a subset of what is being done, it could be something entirely new. Usually it boils down to concentrated set of people and relationships and the synergistic activity/supports among operations. Taking this perspective can often illuminate the amount of activity that could be done with out.  It also will enter into decisions about growing operations and help to clarify what actual purposes of growth related activities are.  Another way to look at it might be refined bootstrapping. 

The tension created by these two attentions inherently have the potential to compel the venture toward being more efficient and focused with less risk of failure and higher probability of meaningful achievement of its purpose. And like everything else, easier said than done right? Yup.

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Venture investing shake-up? Really?

An interesting article about a new way of doing deals http://mobile2.wsj.com/beta2/htmlsite/html_article.php?id=1&CALL_URL=http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119889558568757053.html (thanks to Fred @ USV http://avc.blogs.com for the pointer).

What this article really seems to be dancing around is value of relationships in finding and doing deals and in venture success. What also comes is the conventional approach of being hands-off if you are going in early and also the power of being lean/lightweight in early-stage venturing. I'm in the midst of doing a series of posts from my lastest conversations on the frontiers of venturing and this fits... and it's also a good reminder of how little really is changing on the frontiers.

We'll see if what I'm working on will change that any. I sure hope so... we're leaving a lot on the table when it comes to venturing and venturing for good. We really must be able to get better at this as venturing is simply the process of organizing people and actions to get something done. Is that really so mysterious? :-)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The dynamics of the frontier: complex ambiguity

The frontiers of venturing are the places where conventional venturing and planning approaches become least effective. It is the effective limit of conventional approaches to venturing that define the edge of the frontier with the deepest depths of the frontier being the pre-concept stage of a systemically focused venture.

Conventional approaches loose effectiveness the earlier a venture is in the development phase because of increasing ambiguity.  The less that is known the harder it is to do linear modeling and planning.  Choices made continually reduce ambiguity as the venture moves along the development and into the realm where conventional planning approaches can be effectively used.

On the depth axis, the more systemic the purpose, the greater the complexity. As the system changes, so will the problems and opportunities being addressed as will the community addressing those challenges and opportunities. The interrelatedness of planning decisions and planning context can be an all consuming black-hole. The more you are trying to shake things up, the less you know how things are going to shake out.

While all ventures face a degree of ambiguity, the depth of your foray into the frontiers depends on the depth of complex ambiguity being taken on - a function of complexity and abmiguity.  Conventionally, managing this is accomplished either through blind faith in the entrepreneur and management team or by reducing the complex ambiguity by advancing the planning horizon and responding to situational opportunities and problems. Taking the latter approach often serves to reduce near-term operational risk but also severely limits or eliminates the potential for achieving systemic level impacts, while the former approach is limited by the abilities of the entrepreneur/management team in the unique situation of this specific venture. Neither option suggest even modest probabilities of success particularly at the depths of the frontier... which describes the venturing and venture investing community as it currently operates.

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Venturing on the frontiers - Inquiry #1wrap-up

A little over a year-ago I began considering what's next in my journey and exactly 3 months ago I initiated my first inquiry into what's needed on the frontiers of venturing and venture investing. It hasn't been a linear journey of course, with a good deal of my attention going towards getting Causeway going over the last year.

While that was ongoing, I had about a dozen conversations over November and December with some extraordinary social venture investors and funds in North America (including Renewal Partners, Social Capital Partners, Kellogg Foundation, RSF Social Finance, Good Capital and others). To all of you I am tremendously grateful for the generosity of your time, the candor with which you shared your experiences and the enthusiasm with which you've approached this exploration. Each conversation integrated into my own experiences and readings, and into every other conversation. What has emerged for me is a point of summary from which I feel ready to attempt some active experiments into how do we get better on the frontiers as venturers and venture investors.

What follows now is a series of posts on:


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Friday, December 7, 2007

Social blogging

Fred Wilson at USV had a post exploring the differences in twitter and tumblr from other things like blogs and social networks.

I am sure there are a lot of people reading this who think "how is this different than blogging?" I'd like to suggest that everyone try this

I blogged earlier about a simple way to give twitter a try (here and here) and think that both of these need to be experienced to get a sense of what they are like. There's something about the ambient nature of twitter (think the value of fb status updates amped up). It's of course much more than that and I'm finding tumblr encourages me to explore and share creatively. So much of it has to do with the sharing of pictures, videos, music, and quotes that I'm finding it interesting to watch what it is that interests me in what I'm posting or reblogging. I think it keeps me on the frontier - exploring things that I can't quite articulate yet and certainly finding things that have prompted a breakthrough in my thinking in ways never intended.

Give it a try - both twitter and tumblr and add me if you do (igniter on twitter and igniter.tumblr.com on tumblr).

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Measuring incipient instability

I've been thinking about what it is that really needs to be tracked in early-stage and transformative ventures. There certainly is the simple dynamic of financial viability and then there is the concept of productive, iterative exploration in the area of complex ambiguity I raised in an earlier post. I've been digging into what the measures are that actually help indicate the emergence of potential instability - before it's actually happened. That's the trick because learning that ap has exceeded cash + ar at the next board meeting isn't very helpful. And that's not such a rare scenario - e.g. customer holding 80% or your ar is suddenly unable to pay.

So what is it then that could be tracked. In my experience these things are often foreshadowed by either a lapse/misplaced/confusion of responsibility and/or changing dynamic in relationships. Seems to me that consciously tracking the trend in the key relationships (e.g. Strengthening, stable, destabilizing) and mapping the responsibilities for the key drivers/activities of the org may be the most enlightening things to monitor in terms of indicating potential instability. It shouldn't really be a surprise because relationships are the essence of cohesion in any venture particularly in those early stages of development.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Complex ambiguity

In my last post I intoduced 'complex ambiguity' as the stuff in venturing that entrepreneurs are really trying to figure out --- where no-one 'knows' the answer. The deeper the change and the earlier the stage the greater the complexity and the ambiguity. My earlier tumbls about pentagram and that one designer have tweaked me that it's akin to the creative process. Like designing a logo. Except that venturing can be a pereptual series of logos for something that itself is somewhat ambiguous and continuinally evolving. That's complex ambiguity.

The penatagram video made me think about what it takes to build a successful early-stage venture shop, in particular one that looks at tackling big change or new frontiers. Having started a creative shop with some great talent, penntagram definitely seems to have operationalized something important.

One thing I'm sure of is that it's going to play in my thinking on early-stage transformative venturing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Venturing and investing on the frontiers: Intial observations...

Having been doing nothing but early-stage venturing from all sides of the table for more than a decade I decided to start a series of conversations to explore what works and what doesn't.

From this initial set of conversations, primarily with investors working on 'the frontier' (social change and social tech) here are some of my initial observations.

1. Being on the frontier increases "complex ambiguity" (we don't really know what we are doing, and if we think we do it's probably a false sense of security)

  • At the frontier, complex ambiguity emerges in each of these areas:
    • The ultimate goal/objective is difficult to clarify in conventional quantitative terms
    • The approach needed to accomplish that goal is unsure/unconventional/untested
  • This leads to challenges in measurement and therefore tracking progress. It also has something to do with why stories are being found to be more effective in describing impact, progress, and learnings.
  • Complex ambiguity is a source of opportunity and risk, can and should be focused, but reduction/minimization results in a corresponding reduction in potential
    • There is a strong connection to the notion of 'requisite variety' in general systems theory and it's application to organizations that is worth pursuing
  • The root questions then seem to lie in what we need to understand in terms of goals, approaches, and measures in order to be able to determine our interest, track performance, and orchestrate support.
2. Effective handling of complex ambiguity requires particular attention on requisite competencies and internalized responsibility.
  • Competencies required to handle complex ambiguity are not of the conventional functional variety
    • What they are is an important question going forward
  • Complex ambiguity should in no way confuse or obscure the need for the conventional competencies required by the venture
    • E.g. Just because you're trying to change the world doesn't mean you don't need to get the accounting done.
  • Responsibility for handling the 'complex ambiguity' can be carried only by those that are committed to sorting it out AND are sufficiently connected to the fields related to it
    • E.g. a conventional business partner is not likely to strive to achieve anything beyond what is specified and required - which implicitly means they are not actually dealing with the 'complex ambiguity'
    • Commitment to 'sorting it out' is strongest in the person(s) that is (are) deeply connected to the purpose/values of the organization
  • 'Sorting it out' is accelerated through explicit attention, should be oriented around taking action, and cannot be at the expense of the viability of the venture
    • This critical balancing point is the key determinant of the ultimate success of the organization. Too much of a focus on the ambiguity and nothing happens, too much focus on viability and the potential impact is diminished.
3. Successful investing on the frontier is subject to the same challenge of handling complex ambiguity.
  • Considering the points in 1 and 2 above in the context of managing a fund on the frontier is another stream of inquiry
4. Successful investment practices on the frontier address complex ambiguity among investees.
  • Some examples include:
    • Actively building networks of connections around and among investees. A network of venturers on the frontier are more likely to share and have access to appropriate competencies for venturing on the frontier and are inherently all engaged in exploring complex variety. Optimization of this is a significant opportunity.
    • Focusing the ambiguity down on core goals such as employing the unemployed (e.g. partner with those that have/run complementary businesses that could benefit from that employment). What does this do the potential and how where/how is the responsibility internalized?
    • Minimizing/simplifying legal agreements helps to internalize responsibility for the relationship between investee/investor (encourages greater dialogue)
    • Supporting entrepreneurs to make time for exploring their purpose/goals/approach.
    • Creating events to bring together venturers on the frontier.
    • Mixing conventional and mission-based investment team members.
Going forward I want to probe further into:
  • where risk is most often perceived going into a deal?
  • where does risk actually end up coming from?
  • what activities have led ventures on the frontier to success?
  • how did those activities come about?
From there I'm eager to dig into exploring potential areas for practices and shared services that could improve the success in investing on the frontier. Possibly framed by this matrix, the goal would be to find one thing to start experimenting with:
  • Investor Axis
    • Exploring complex ambiguity
    • Requisite competencies
    • Responsibility allocation
    • Deal process
    • Venture support
  • Solution Axis
    • Internal practices affected
    • Internal practices envisioned
    • Outsourced/shared services affected
    • Outsourced/shared services envisioned
This sure has been fun so far and I'm curious to see where it goes... particularly as it turns to action.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

The rest of the macroshift.

Continuing on my previous macroshift post, here are my reflections from the remainder of Ervin Laszlo's book Macroshift.

For me the rest of the book was a lighter read with some simple observations relating to the mindset shift that is called for and clearly already underway. Here are a couple of framing quotes to set the stage:

"In the past, a more adapted civilization evolved over several generations; the rythym of change was relatively slow. This is no longer the case. The critical period for change today is compressed within the lifetime of a single generation."

" A Chineses porverb warns, 'If we do not change direction, we are likely to end up exactly where we are headed.'"

That last one could be classified as 'duh' but it truly is amazing to look to our civilization and how little we get that, particularly in the face of clear indicators that our trajectory is unsustainable and has brought our civilization into a critical state of instability. In the face of the examples presented in the book of the unsustainable relationship among people and generally with the planet, it moves to exploring the new mindset to be created drawing from Ghandi's quote "Live more simply, so others can simply live."

From there comes the call to forget the following obsolete myths/beliefs:

  • "Nature is inexhaustible"
  • "Nature is a giant mechanism"
  • "Life is a struggle for survival"
  • "The market distributes benefits"
  • "The more you consume the better you are"
along with the following lesser beliefs:
  • Order through hierarchy
  • The ideology of Westfalia
  • Everyone is unique and separate
  • Everything is reversible
  • My country, right or wrong
  • The cult of efficiency
  • The technological imperative
  • Newer is better
  • Economic rationality
  • The future is none of our business
"Values and beliefs determine the way we perceive the world and suggest the ways we prioritize the responses to our perceptions. They affect almost all areas of our judgement and behaviour."

From here comes the call for a 'planetary ethic' that is described simply as: "Live in a way that allows others to live as well." where 'others' refers not only to humans but to all the plants and animals and all the living beings that make up the planet's web of life. This ethic asks also that we meet our responsibilities in the personal, business, and civic or political spheres.

"Logos-inspired evolution was materialistic and conquest and consumption-oriented. The alternative to it is evolution centered on human development and development of human communities." This quote frames the remainder of the book which suggests we are moving from:
  • a focus on ends of conquest, colonization, and consumption
  • which were served by technologies that use and transform matter, that generate the power to operate matter-transforming technologies, and that whet people's appetite, create artificial demand, and shift patterns of consumption.
Replacing those ends are the means and ends of connection, communication, and consciousness.

Some of the specific mindset shifts uncovered include:
  • The shift from competition to reconciliation and partnership
  • The shift from greed and scarcity to sufficiency and caring
  • The shift from outer to inner authority
  • The shift from separation to wholeness
  • The shift from mechanistic to living systems
  • The shift from organizational fragmentation to coherent integration
So to summarize, what I took is that we are seeking to emerge a planetary ethic of:
  • "Live in a way that allows others to live as well"
and the means and ends of:
  • connection;
  • communication; and
  • consciousness
And to cap off this post, I'll end with one of the final quotes that described the spirit of this for me:

"To live with and not against each other, to live in a way that does not rob the chances of others to live as well, to care what is happening to the poor and the powerless as well as to nature calls for feeling and intuition; for sensing the situation in which we find ourselves, apprehending its manifold aspects and creatively responding to it." There's a lot in that one as I reread it.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Macroshift (Ervin Laszlo) --- Doomsday or Breakthrough?

I'm only through the first two chapters of Ervin Laszlo's book Macroshift, but thought I'd better post these snippets before I get caught-up in the flow of the week.  I came across this through a client who pointed to this as the best description of what their work is responding to.  I couldn't agree more... and know a few others that will feel the same way... and am hoping more people will join those ranks. 

The Four Phases of a Macroshift are the core theory and pretty easy to follow and digest.  They are also applied directly to our current position here.

Interestingly the book has helped me articulate the relevance of social media to my focus on transformative venturing and restoring balance among people and the planet... and it's that social media represents the first time that technology is encouraging a deepening of connections between people - a key reversal in the trend that technology has been playing since the industrialization wave that has shaped our society into the position it is in. 

One key quote in this is:

"The insight emerging from this four-phase dynamic is simple and straightforward. Macroshifts are triggered by technological innovations that destabilize the established structures and institutions of society. More adapted structures and institutions await the surfacing of a more adapted mindset in the bulk of the population. Consequently, a macroshift is a transformation of civilization in which technology is the driver and the values and consciousness of a critical mas of people the decider."

Anyone get a feeling that social media is going to play an important role?

I highly recommend buying the book - it's a much easier read that the last book I posted on.  In the meantime... enjoy... here are some of the other highlight quotes from the first two chapters.


"... a vital point: the future is not to be forecast, but created."

"... where desire, transformed into the masterful administration of the unforeseen, makes for a selection between a scenario of breakdown and scenario of breakthrough."

"Today's transformation is not just economic, it is a civilizational process."

"The message of this book is that ours is an era of total-range evolutionary transformation that could, and ultimately will, go beyond economic globalization to pave the way toward a shift in civilization."

"Just as the present has emerged out of the past, the future is likely to follow from conditions in the present. After all, where we are going has much to do with where we have been."

"Given the unsustainability of many trends and processes in today's world, the dynamic of development that will apply to our future is not the linear dynamic of classical extrapolation but the nonlinear chaos dynamic of complex-system evolution."

"A macroshift is a bifurcation in the evolutionary dynamic of a society - in our interacting and interdependent world it is a bifurcation of human civilization in its quasi totality."

"...'catastrophic bifurcation'. Here the system's relatively stable 'point' and 'periodic' attractors are joined by 'chaotic' or 'strange' attractors. These appear suddenly , as chaos theorists say, 'out of the blue.' They drive the system into a supersensitive state, the state of chaos."

"The slightest distrubance would shift the evolutionary trajectory of the world's weather from one of the wings to the other. The weather, it appears, is a system in a permanently chaotic state - a system permanently governed by chaotic attractors."

"Living systems maintain themselves in the physically improbable state far from thermal and chemical equilibrium. ... Living systems do not move toward equilibrium, as classical physical systems do, but maintain themselves in their improbable state by constantly replenishing the energies and matter they consume with fresh energies and matter obtained from their environment."

"When a human society reaches the limits of its stability, it becomes supersensitive and is highly responsive to the smallest fluctuation. Then the system responds even to subtle changes in values, beliefs, worldviews, and aspirations."

"The evolution of the dominant culture and consciousness - the way people's values, views and ethics respond and change - determine the outcome of the system's chaos leap (the way its developmental trajectory forks off)."

"The macroshift moves toward a successful conclusion if, and only if, a critical mass of people in society evolve their mindset: if they generate and embrace values, worldviews, and ethics that mesh with the conditions that were inadvertently spawned by the technological innovations of their predecessors."

"The present time was associated with local space, and the future was seen as a continuous recurrence of the rythms experienced in the present. The seasons were known to follow each other, but there were no new seasons; all times had already been experienced."

"These communities had a high level of integration. The individual was an essential part of the clan or tribe, which in turn was embedded in nature and governed by cosmic forces. Nature and humans did not exist in separation, much less in opposition. Humans had empathy with all they encountered. ... In the seventeenth century Europe's mechanically colored Logos culminated in the concept of the world as a giant machine, which was elaborated by Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei. Newton's mathematical demonstration of the universality of the laws of motion confirmed galileo's pioneering insights and provided a basis for embracing a world concept that became the hallmark of the modern age. ...The universe was a divinely designed clockwork that was set in motion by a prime mover and then ran harmoniously through all eternity. It was believed to operate according to strict laws of nature. A knowledge of these lawss was said to enable the rational mind to know all things past, present and future. ... and as Laplace was reputed to have commented to Napoleon, God was a hypothesis for which there was no longer any need."

"... countless civilizations failed to survive, victims of changing conditions to which they could not adapt. This failure is not one we can contemplate today."

"If our Logos-dominated civilizations fails to adapt to the conditions it has itself created, the entire economic and political structure of our world will come crashing down."

"... the macroshift from national industrial societies toward a globally interdependent yet locally diverse world."

"It is the flexibility and creativity of the people that creates the subtle but all-important "fluctuation" that decides which of the available evolutionary paths the macroshift will then follow."

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Friday, October 26, 2007

The early days of the Internet - an original CBC news story.

I just caught this in Beth's Blog

Wow... how far we've come, in such short time, and yet how relevant the social observations remain today.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Higlights from "Heart of Enterprise" --- the Viable System Model

I've been working my way through this tome for a few weeks and have had a number of conversations around it. It's by far the most valuable piece of work I've ever encountered on organizational design --- and for me a critical model in ventures that are on the venturing frontier (early concept stage and/or systemic co-creation -- see graph below).

Efficacy of venturing and investing models and practices

Written by Stafford Beer, this book is a thorough walk-through of the Viable System Model.

The Heart of Enterprise

The key principles can be found here, but will not likely be that helpful without gaining an understanding of the language being used - which is a big part of why this book is so dense. It's also, I think, necessary though to get at this topic in a way that is freed from the conventions that most of us have learned and understand about management and venturing --- those same conventions that seem to fail us the earlier or more systemically focused the ventures are.

A potentially helpful excerpt in terms of practical application in day-to-day decision making can be found here but again the value will
likely mostly be lost without an immersion in the language, theory, and examples contained in the book.

Rather than trying to summarize those - I have a lot more digesting and experimenting to do with this before I can begin to try - I will simply list a series of quotes that most interested me while reading the book. Perhaps that will help serve as some intriguing context.

(oh and by the way... I found the ones at the end to be the most fun).


"... the viability of any enterprise. This is not meant in purely economic sense; it refers to the ability of the enterprise to maintain a separate existence."

"Every viable system contains, and is contained in, a viable system. This conept of an organizational nest is crucial to this account of how enterprises really work, and is contrasted with the orthodox concept of hierarchy."

"A System consists of a group of elements dynamically related in time according to some coherent pattern. ... this System has a PURPOSE ... (which) is you the observer of the System who recognizes its purpose. ... it means that we have to agree on the CONVENTION about the nature, the boundaries, and the purpose of any System before we can agree on what is to count as a fact."

"We cannot successfully handle any system that we are disposed to manage unless we obtain an insight into its nature. That nature, as we have seen, has to do with purposes, with boundaries, and with other matters which are not customarily investigated within our institutions..."

"Every Good Regulator of a System must be a Model of that System"

"Viable: able to maintain a separate existence."

"The metasystem exists to undertake whatever functions are required to procure coherence."

"At any point on the diagram, then, these orthogonal forces (operation, coherence) interact. It is that interaction with DEFINES FREEDOM within the viable system."

"The metasystem must make some intervention, and should make only that degree of intervention that is required to maintain cohesiveness in a viable system. Cohesiveness is however a function of the purpose of the system. ... Freedom is in principle a computable function of systemic purpose as perceived."

"For, if the systemic purpose is subjective, only agreement of the heart will justify a given level of cohesion in any institution."

"... the synergistic formula must lie in the intersect of all the elemental operations."

"... the cybernetic policy of freedom: minimal intervention, in aid of cohesiveness plus synergy."

"Of STRUCTURE there is almost nothing to say, beyond the 'machine for apportioning blame' that the organization chart comprises."

"When two models of each other converge, learning has occurred."

"Money can be made available, one way or another, sooner or later, so long as the system remains (and is observed to remain) viable. That is why I have previously described the availability of money as a constraint rather than as a condition. ... the really scarce resources need for this investment are those of time, talent, care, attention..."

"Closure is the talisman of identity."

"The very notion of recursiveness embraces the notion of local closure at any given level of recursion."

"... plans should be continuously adaptive to fresh information."

"Often some aspect of a matter is measured because that is the easiest aspect to slap a number on, and by now it is the traditional and the accepted thing to do."

"Figures are useful only to the extent that we use them."

"The measures we use do not have requisite variety to absorb the variety of that which they claim to measure."

"Fact: that which is the case."

"Noise: A meaningless jumble of signals."

"Data: statements of fact."

"Information: that which CHANGES us."

"Data become information - when the fact in them is susceptible to action. How can I possibly know that I am informed? -- Only because I have changed my state."

"a manager is a human being who has refined the brain's ability to recognize patterns, and to compare the key characteristics of such patters, in the context of extremely complicated systems comprising men, materials, machinery, and money;

he has become skilled in recognizing a change in his own state, by recognizing information in the data flowing around him and in the ambient noise;

he has the motive, and has cultivated the style, necessary to transduce his own change of state into a change of stat in the extremely complicated system of which he is the manager."

"The manager's job is three-fold: to set the CRITERIA of stability... ; to detect instability... ; to change the criteria."

"The manager's requirement of measurement is that it should measure stability and instability in the system that he (this being his role) has subjectively defined."

"The manager's information, however, is his own recognition of his own change of state."

"... the criteria to which the system answers, in terms of its degree of stability, derive from the criteria of systemic viability in the context of teh total viable system - and in particular they derive from the understanding of cohesion, in which... freedom and constraint are balanced to provide a workable level of autonomy."

"Improvement in the management of complicated systems will not occur until managers give up the dysfunctional concept of causality, and the search for the unique case."

Summarizing a few paragraphs here on what it means in terms of some measure for the system to say 'I am all right':
- we normally <e.g. produce>... speaks to status quo and is measured as ACTUALITY (actuality)
- our plan... speaks to intention and is measured as CAPABILITY
- we wish we could... expresses a will to advance and is measured as POTENTIALITY.
- Ratios of those then indicate degrees of stability: actuality to capability is PRODUCTIVITY; capability to potentiality is LATENCY; and actuality to potentiality is PERFORMANCE.

"... the (senior) manager... must listen to himself doing the job. Here is closure for the viable system. It also is a form of measurement. But it is self-referential, and there is no objective measure for a measurement so defined. In the viable system called 'the human being', this function is usually called conscience."

is the primary characteristic of organization."

"... the process of organizing itself creates a problem of fragmentation which only its capacity to provide cohesion can offset."

"... planning... is actually the 'glue' of organizational cohesion."

"... planning is a continuous process."

"What needs to be reiterated is that planning happens only when there is an act of deicision. This act commits resources now, so that the future may be different from what would otherwise have simply happened to us. It follows that the only planners are managers, namely those people who are entitled to commit resources."

"The argument is to say that planning is a continuous act of adaptive decision that continually aborts."

"...it is an act of decision carried out by managers empowered to commit resources to a different future. Planning is not an activity resulting in products called plans: it is a continuous process, whereby the process itself - namely that of aborting the plans - is the pay-off."

"Plans are the embodiment of intentions subscribed to at each level of recursion: since these intentions are constantly changing, and not in a homogeneous way with respect either to time or to probability..., they must continually abort. The only characteristic worth detecting, measuring, reporting, or doing anything about, is incipient instability in the system."

"The great physicist (Heisenberg) showed that to examine, to measure, to interrogate, something changes its state."

"The model we now have, contemplated at any one level of recursion, comprises two hierarchical stages - and only two. ... stage of operations inside and now, and there is the... stage that constitutes the metasystem."

"And it (senior management) should be characterized by calm."

"... infinity is a process; thus to understand the process is to understand infinity without going there."

"First: there is a very real barrier to modeling the recursivity of viable systems more than one system beyond that over which we have authority. Second: no finite model is possible, because we do not have requisite variety to make it; and all we can do is to contemplate the process whereby such models are endlessly capable of generation. And that is to define the infinite recursion; and that is to explode into self-consciousness."

"There are two features about instability that need a lot of careful consideration. The first is that instability may set in anywhere in the behaviour of the organization, and at any time. the second is that there are always pre-symptoms of the fact. Unfortunately, the typical management information system... is repetitiously reporting on stability - it is in fact challenging the manager to find evidence of this crucial instability in the welter of routine data. If, nonetheless, he finds it, he does so because instability has already set in - it is in fact too late to avert it."

"But suppose that we can acquire data about stability that can be transformed into infomration (which changes us) about the possibility, the likelihood, of incipient instability: then, and only then, do we have a chance to avert it."

"The causal model in a complex probabilistic system does not have requisite variety to predict the future. This can be said with confidence from many theoretical standpoints: epistemological, logical, even theological, as well as cybernetic - wherein the causal model cannot possibly exhibit requisite variety."

"It seems, may we not then say, that calm is a function of alertness. It comes from being poised to read the signs of incipient instability, in the quiet confidence that instability can be averted."

"The senior manager stands as he humanly is: a very finite person. But he holds many privileges, that can extend his human faculties: in expertise, through his staff and advisors; in space through telecommunications; in time through a monitored alertness to incipient instability - whenever it may come. He operates within a metasystem which, though its currency is conflict, generates a special and indeed unique comradeship."

"It is only in the infinite recursion that self-consciousness occurs. It occurs for the man himself, of course... .The senior manager has to embody the self-consciousness of the institution; even if, unhappily, he does not yet know himself... "

"But one feature of the management centre that is quite general has to e provision for the intercommunication of the senior managers that reflects the comradeship."

"It seems likely to me that people are very accommodating to a wide range of styles; what they reject in leaders is especially insensitivity and insincerity."

"The problem is that managers are themselves, and tend to use the response they see fit and the style they see fit as if these two things were unconnected. The variety analysis leads to the conclusion that this is not so."

"The two immediate consequences of these arguments are, first that it is better to teach a manager to know himself than to know what someone supposes (without knowing the circumstances) that he ought to be; and, second, that he should understand the systemic nature of the viable system in which he operates."

"The final diagram shows us how everything is modifying everything else. Its contemplation is rewarding, because it finally demonstrates the foolhardiness of reductionism in senior management."

"If we want to classify the situations in which the manager finds himself, they are dependent on two major parameters. ... The fist of course is variety, and the second is relaxation time."

"Thus in designing a regulatory system for any given situation, the first rule is to follow every significant loop through the systemic diagram, applying the variety rules that have been elucidated. The second rule is to attend to the relaxation time of the system. ... The key point to note is that if the system has not returned to stability before another shock drives it once more towards instability, then the regulation is impossible. So is learning impossible, so adaptation, so evolution."

"The real concern is with the proliferating variety that must needs be absorbed; and with the time that must needs elapse before the iterative loops of the managerial system can assimilate that variety and return the representative point of the system to stability and the psychological state of the manager to its point of calm."

"The parameters of effectiveness... judgment, style, and relaxation time..."

"... we observe him (the senior manager) as personifying the self-consciousness of the enterprise. The clue was that he operates in the awareness of the infinite recursion."

"If the senior manager success in understanding, and legislating for, his own ambiance of calm and alarm; and if he also succeeds in classifying managerial situations and his own decisions according to the tripartite model here set out (judgment, style, and relaxation time), then he may operate closure in the sense defined. And if he does that, in full awareness of what he is doing, then he may embody the infinite recursion as a living process."

"Perception fo the infinite recursion is always the goal. Perhaps the problem is that once a man or woman has reached that perception, nothing matters any longer."

"The contention seems to be that if the informational system is properly deisnged to recognize incipient instabilities, and if there is a management cnetre in which requisite metasystemic variety is shared between comradeship, then the senior management can become aware of what it is really doing."

"... viable organizations produce themselves."

"It is extremely important, when contemplating what it is to count as the management centre, to consider the inter-recursive algedonic signaling equipmnent. Otherwise: either the management centre will go to sleep in trance-like contemplation of the self-consciousness of the infinite recursion, or it will be overtaken by anarchists from the lower recursive levels intent on alleviating their personal pain."

"The suspicion dawns that the enterprise may not only be a system that produces itself, but that this is both its definition and its purpose."

"The heart of the enterprise is embodied in its own people. Consultants cannot catalyse interactions that do not exist, or are persistently and perversely held at bay."

"Life is a process, not a justification."

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Awaiting the accounting revolution.

I've been twittering my frustrations today.  I have a fairly simple financial situation and have 2 companies that I process both Shawna's and my work through.  There's nothing complex with either of them so I've been filing the taxes and handling the bookkeeping myself since the beginning except for a short stint where I outsourced the annual filings. 

My frustration is that doing it myself is harder than it should be. Bookkeeping/accounting software is far more cumbersome and antequated than it should be, and it costs too much for things that should be free (tax table updates and payroll functionality).

Really, all that I need is a basic ability to track expenses to certain accounts, track taxes collected and paid, and as a bonus handle my payroll tax calculations.  The formulas, preferred account structures etc. are all available from the responsible jurisdictions.  I wouldn't even use it anymore for invoicing or time-tracking (I'm already using FreshBooks and Toggl) and it wouldn't even have to worry about importing bank info (I'm using Wesabe for that).  And as far as tax filings, governments are increasingly encouraging electronic filings so that shouldn't even be a big hurdle.

I'm sure I'm not alone. The small business community is growing as we move into a more creative and entrepreneurial economy and established online tools and protocols make interfacing to things like Freshbooks and Wesabe easy.  And when it costs $200-$500 for basic software to cover the range of functions, plus at least $100 per year to keep tax tables updated it sounds like a very attractive online subscription opportunity and generally about $100 per annual return.  I'd easily pay $10-20 per month for something that integrated FreshBooks, Wesabe, and allowed for online tax filings.

With all that I wonder if a big Intuit (Quickbooks) upset is in the works.  With the speed that these services have been made available and they key building blocks in Wesabe and Freshbooks... I'm hoping it's only a matter of months.  In fact, I'm hoping it's before the start of the next fiscal year - even in beta - I'd love to be testing!

Blogged with Flock

A good point - enough with the debate on climate change.

This is a nice argument for stopping the debate on climate change and getting on with it.  I don't believe in the only answer to be policy change but it is an important one.  The basic argument is this:

- we can't know for certain whether or not we are impacting climate change or what will happen
- we can only choose whether or not we are going to do something about it
- that choice really comes down to an assessment of the risk in acting or not
- if we act, worst case is economic downturn
- if we don't act, worst case is economic downturn PLUS other global catashrophies

Pretty 'simple' choice in the end isn't it.

Blogged with Flock

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dress code? Ugghhh...

As time goes on I increasingly consider clothing first and foremost about function and comfort. For me this means jeans as my primary leg wear and then anything that doesn't need ironing for my tops. And for footwear it's either my Crocs or Blundstones for sheer practicality. For some client work though, I still feel the need to at least put on a 'dress-shirt' and some other pants.  On rare occasion - like the social finance forum - I'll break-out a suit. 

Every time I do this though it really makes me wonder.  What's the point?  As long as clothing is clean and not carrying offensive statements, then what's the big deal.  That said, I still feel the need to conform to what I think is expected of me by those that I am representing or dealing with. 

Going forward I'm going to start asking clients about dress codes before I engage.  It's a conversation worth having I think as it will either 1) gain me 'permission' to wear whatever I want, and/or 2) challenge the client into thinking what is important about what someone wears.  I have a feeling that may open up other conversations as to what we think is the value we see people bringing to the task at hand.  I wonder if the task really requires me to look a certain way, if it's really a task I want to take on?

I'm curious to hear what others think about this now-a-days... particularly in scenarios where the task is working on systems level change.  Leave a comment or email me at michael at igniter dot com.

Blogged with Flock

Friday, October 19, 2007

Black Cotton

I've long know a lot about the coffee industry and had heard snippets of what's going on in cotton too... but this sure is a wakeup call.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Venturing forward.

So now with intellectual models for aligning a venture around a purposeful response to a deep calling, and for designing a viable organizational system it begs the question - now what?

Investment. Investment of capital... intellectual, social, and financial.

In ideal clean slate this might look something like this:

  1. identify a calling
  2. gather a group of diverse though leaders and community members to explore/deepen the calling
  3. conduct an 'externalities analysis'
  4. reconvene a modified group to:
  5. conduct an 'internalities analysis'
  6. design the viable system
  7. reconvene a modified group to:
    • craft strategic directions
    • establish near-term action plans
Of course this cannot be a rigidly linear/sequential process but rather is an iterative co-creative one. It is also a continual process of capital investment: intellectual, social, and financial... done in an integrated co-creative style. And that's what I'm working on now.

Viable System Model - the second fulcrum.

The second fulcrum in transformative venturing is the way in which the venture is organized/organizes itself. I've recently been introduced into something that has come closest to describing what it means to build a successful organization. And it's not about outcomes or results - those are simply that, outcomes - it's about the way in which it's done.

(Stafford Beer's) Viable Systems Model, or VSM is a model of the organisational structure of any viable or autonomous system. A viable system is any system organised in such a way as to meet the demands of surviving in the changing environment. One of the prime features of systems that survive is that they are adaptable. The VSM expresses a model for a viable system, which is an abstracted cybernetic description that is applicable to any organisation that is a viable system and capable of autonomy.
I also have the good fortune of being able to apply this model on a deeply transformative initiative with someone who has intimately been involved with application of the viable systems model for a couple of decades. The deeper I get into it the more it rings true --- which shouldn't be surprising considering it is 'simply' based on looking at how all life organizes itself in viable systems. Next time you're faced with some organizational challenges or considering building a venture to tackle something deeply important, do everyone a favour and spend some time with this model and/or people who understand it.

Next post - venturing forward.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Venture Vortex

Over the years I've been collecting management theories and practices that I found useful in venturing and found myself starting to organize them into a map. That map started painting a picture that has now become the Venture Vortex model.

It's primary strength is in providing a platform to organize thinking around the process of building a venture and I am using it both as a design and a diagnostic tool.

Broken into 4 primary regions: internalities; externalities, core ideology and the vortex itself, the arrows and chevrons show of sequencing of rational thought in the design process. Of course, no venture is static but rather an ever evolving mix of people and activity amidst a shifting environment. The model seeks to acknowledge the foundational element of any venture as the core ideology itself which is connected to the key people through values and the calling through purpose.

The core ideology in fact is the fulcrum around which everything pivots. It is the ulitmate basis against which any planning or activity can be checked for congruence. In fact, the organization can only do what it's true purpose and values will allow --- which also means we can't 'make-it-up'... as the actual purpose and values will always express themselves.

Uncovering the true core ideology then is a critically important task if we are to most effeciently build an organization to serve it. Doing so is about deep questioning of the personal intentions of the key stakeholders and the calling that is bringing them together. Finding the answers is often thought of as having statements that look a certain way. My experience though has been more about it being a felt experience. There is no right answer or right structure but the feeling is undeniable when it arises.

From that point moving up the venture vortex is a process of increasing rationalization within shortening time horizons up until the highest level which is the realm of near-term planning activities. The challenge in this, particularly for ventures working on systems-depth shifts or consciousness change is conducting the planning process in a manner consistent with the ideology itself. Conventional approaches often reflect the systems that the ventures seek to change. Now that's not to say conventional approaches are not at all applicable but rather must be managed and applied from a grounded values perspective.

The most effective model I've encountered in business system design is Stafford Beer's Viable System model which is essentially the application of systems science to organizations. For strategic and action planning I've found nothing that comes close the power of a truly co-creative approach with a broad mix of participants --- another thing that fits well with systems science --- but more on that in another post.

Twittering consiousness 2 (tracking)

Twitter just announced the ability to track words in the entire 'twittersphere'. I for example am now tracking:
- systemic
- intervention
- co-create
- venture
- Canada
- Byron

So when anyone does a post with any of those words in it I'll see it. It's interesting to me because I can in a way tap into a broad consciousness flow (comprised of small top-of-mind comments) to see what's happening with these words. Will be interesting to see how this goes - I imagine at lease I'll find some interesting new people to follow - and that so far has proven to be a good thing.

The two (or 3) fulcrums of transformative venturing.

A thought occured to me that there are in essence two fulcrums in the intentional creation of a transformative venture (a venture working on a systems-depth shift/consciousness change) - and those are the purpose and the business system. And perhaps these two fulcrums interplay through another fulcrum - the BHAG.

This is coming to me as I'm exploring the connection between the Venture Vortex model and Stafford Beer's Viable System Model. More posts on these later but this seems like it is starting to come together.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Twittering consciousness

I've been on Twitter for a few months - as well as facebook - and Twitter is the one that is holding my interest in terms of what I perceive as an interesting connection to the movement of consciousness.

People use it in different ways but what I find consistent is that I find myself feeling a deeper connection to the people I'm following. And this goes for my brother in Phoenix, a VC I've never met but that has similar interests, and a librarian that I simply found through Twitter because they live near me.

It has something to do with the small snipets of thought/consciousness being expressed generally several times a day. What's interesting is how these snippets begin to weave into an expression of who that person is and I think it has a more authentic quality then more 'intentional' channels like blog posts simply because you are limited to 140 characters per post which seems to encourage more direct transmission of top-of mind thoughts and experiences that move the author at that moment.

There's also the element that it's always with me as sms updates on my phone - which also means I can share my thoughts when they happen.

I think there are some implications for the increasing fluidity of consciousness in the upcoming younger - connected generations. And fluidity in consciousness is what our society is calling for more than ever. If you haven't tried it yourself, give the flow a try and sign-up, find a couple of friends how are actively using it, find someone that's active from a field of interest, and find someone that you don't know at all. Get it on your mobile if you can and start using it --- don't worry about what you are saying, just say something and see where it goes --- and of course let me know and I'll follow your 'tweets' and see where that takes this conversation.

A break in the silence - Ignition Fund I

It's been over two months since my last blog and it seems what was holding me up was getting a first draft of my Ignition Fund I thinking out. Well at last, here it is.

I'm interested to see where this goes - as someone said to me yesterday it seems to be capturing my life's experiences so far. Sure feels that way.

On with other posts...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The beauty of good online services --- unfolding.

I've been actively trying different online services and tools lately, one of which is www.wesabe.com. It was a particularly interesting test for me as it deals with personal financial data (for most people one the most sensitive data streams) and I've been a long-time user of Microsoft Money.

At first I found it interesting but it was an effort to use it. Well... they just launched a firefox browser extension which makes my uploads even easier than they were with the version of Money I was using.

So... what does this have to do with unfolding? Well this is a great example of a company that has been very actively engaging and asking their community 'how can we make wesabe better'. Well this was one of the highest priorities and so here it is.

What's fascinating too is that they can handle any bank and if they can't they'll add it as soon as you ask. Tremendous responsiveness.

More... the basis of the site which was the wisdom of the collective of users means that there are suggested tags for pretty much every transaction popping up in my transaction histories... and those confusing transaction names on the bank records... well they are sorting themselves out more and more as people translate them for themselves.

All this means the tool gets easier and smarter all the time. And this only cracks the surface... they've published an API... and I haven't even begun to get the possibilities of leveraging the community wisdom through this tool.

By basing their business and service on this community participation/wisdom model is going to have incredible strengths going forward. I don't think any of the traditional financial software companies are going to be able to compete (at least not with the growing audience that is embracing online services).

Now I'm just waiting for their small business service to open up!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Systemic interventions --- the fun stuff!

I've linked to this on the left, but can't seem to say it enough...

Donella Meadows' description of places to intervene in a system is the best guide I've come across for this stuff. I don't necessarily use it as a way to categorize the type or degree of systemic intervention an initiative is taking on but rather as a prompt to help me feel for the where an intervention may be most effective and what shifts may be prompted by the intervention being contemplated.

Watch out though... it gets addictive.

Catalysts of systemic intervention.

I've been doing some work with some great folks that are doing/working on amazing regional transformations through a systems approach. It's occured to me that they're using two seperate catalysts in making that happen. One is using financial capital and the other community empowerment.

In our current society, financial capital is one of the most powerful constructs in society and for now and always the empowerment or uprising of community is the other.

What's also interesting is that the transformation comes simply from the interactions that those initiatives are having within the regions they are working with... which comes from interacting from a different mindset.

The catalysts serve to allow interactions to happen and set the condition that the interactions are heard with a different intensity.

It's amazing to see effect of the simplest interaction in prompting tremendous transformation. Kind of life butterfly wings.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The tension of the two stories.

It's becoming more and more clear to me that our society is going through a major and accelerating transformation from the currently established 'linear' mindset toward a 'systems' mindset. There are countless ways to describe it but it is increasingly evident and felt particularly among those who are working on solutions to address the growing social and ecologcial threats our society is facing.

The tension of those two models colliding is palpable. The art of bringing them together is beautiful. The potential for it is limited and spontaneous. It's not always possible and it's sometimes unexpectedly possible.

I feel the tension incredibly strongly right now - at this moment and in our society... in the media... in the projects I'm drawn to. While my comfort wishes it away, it is what informs me and guides me deeper. If it's not there there's no progress and yet its presence isn't an indicator of progress.

With quickening heart I go back in again. A part for my own awakening and as part of the broader awakening.

Hmmm... onward...

Seed venturing toward systemic interventions - deal funnel: screening, conditions, and structuring.

Seeding ventures focussed on systemic interventions needs to be come at with an approach that is grounded in systems thinking. Conventional wisdom in venture investment has come from theory and experiences often based in working with business systems that are working within and dependent on the current system itself. What I've found is that the earlier the stage of investment and the more oriented the venture is toward a systemic intervention the more 'gut instinct' is used a guide to making investment decisions and supporting the growth and success of those ventures.

My thoughts have been going toward what would something that focuses on seed venturing toward systemic intervention look like and how would it work. What I'll be posting on for a few posts is going to be my emerging ideas in this.

First off... what would be the filter for projects that it would take on? What would the 'deal funnel' be?

I would approach it as follows:

  1. Is systemic intervention the goal of the venture?
  2. Are the readiness indicators favorable?
  3. Are the conditions for accelerated growth present or practically possible?
From that stage the deal funnel would move into deal structuring which focuses on what is necessary to create the conditions for growth:
  • Basic
    • Basic financial stability
    • Core competency coverage
  • Catalytic
    • Venture alignment
    • Active and appropriate network
A key intersection point is that a financial investment is a powerful catalytic moment in the emergence of a venture. That catalytic power can be most productively harnessed if it is focused on encouraging the conditions as opposed to ensuring rigorous controls are in place. It also hopefully leads to much simpler deal documentation that focuses on establishing and orienting the relationship that is being created and how this investment can be used to create the conditions that will most accelerate the growth of the venture... the intensification of the vortex.

That felt good. Let's see if makes any sense.


Friday, July 6, 2007

A Venturing Model

I've been wanting to post on this for a while now. It's a snapshot of my latest understanding of the venturing process. It's early draft and the writing below is pretty much stream of consciousness but I'm being drawn to just get it out:

We're in an interesting point in history where there is a transition from a mindset based on seeking to understand the smallest components of things (reductionist thinking, command and control models, 'the great clockwork', world/problems as 'complicated') toward a mindset that looks at systems in terms of the relationships/context in order to understand them (systems, ecological, 'complex').

I've been finding the early-stage venturing process as an interesting place to explore this transition and what it means for those who are using venturing as an approach to addressing issues that are becoming increasingly important to people and the planet.

Where I've come to is a visual model that helps me understand the forces at play in using a venturing as a tool to move things from one place to another, from one system to the envisioned system, from the no longer to the not yet.

I consider venturing as a vortex... a complex phenomenon that excels when it finds itself in a stable state far from equilibrium. In other words when it's functionally stable on the edge of big changes in a marketplace.

There are 3 major contributing forces/dynamics that shape the vortex: internalities, externalities, and ideology. The conditions that lead to the creation of the vortex can be described as the trio of clarity, trust, and momentum. The conditions that then sustain, strengthen and accelerate the vortex are the conditions of basic financial stability, core competency coverage, the alignment of the vortex itself internally and within the 3 dynamic forces, and finally the availability of an appropriate, active network.

Moving into the vortex moves is where the process of rationalization enters. It is the balancing act of moving from core ideology (which describes the plane that the venture is being asked to operate in) to the theory of change (a rationalization of what you believe needs to be changed for the system to change --- for your big, hairy audacious goal to be achieved), to the business system which translates the theory into a functional operational model that will perform the functions and deliver the services necessary to act on that theory of change. From there the more conventional strategic planning approaches enter in informing areas of activity that will most likely result in the organization moving toward the BHAG. Finally come the set of actions (action plan) that the organization is actually doing which are hoped to contribute to achieving the goal.

Conventional business school education has focussed on developing theories based on employing a command and control approach to moving organizations operating more closely toward equilibrium, which naturally is also where financial resources are most greatly employed. The farther from equilibrium something is... the harder it is for command and control approaches to work with predictable effectiveness. The proxy then in the capital markets has then naturally become the trust of the entrepreneur/management and the angel community which are not burdened by the same fiduciary duty that fund managers have (which is consider best served by the tried and true command and control model).

It's not surprising then to see the emergence of 'social entrepreneurs' as the magically/mystically powerful icons they are becoming. In trying to tackle systemic shifts there is little in terms of approaches that are acknowledged as 'tried and true' because these shifts inherently are working at a place of being far from equilibrium and so are seen as 'complicated', 'risky', and inherently slippery when put under the conventional investment or reductionist rigor. Social entrepreneurs inherently are adept at intuiting their way through a complex endeavor and take on that responsibility internally. The trust in them to manage this is the proxy for the command and control model when it is recognize that conventional analysis and theory is too cumbersome, inconsistent, and unpredictable.

The attempt here then becomes one of unpacking what happens intuitively within the social entrepreneur and those advisers and contributors that have developed a good 'gut' for navigating a venture vortex from the no longer to the not yet. My hope with this is that we can begin to broaden the understanding of this complex process and thereby broaden society's ability to employ the venturing process to evoke the systemic shifts that are and are asking to unfold as part of the history we are creating.


Monday, June 4, 2007

Online > mobile/recovering > present

I've been actively putting myself online... or rather updating my online presences and trying out the tools to manage my online connections lately and having been finding myself being hyper connected and active while I'm at my computer. While I'm working I'm usually listening to music, have a variety of online tools open (google reader, basecamp, slideshare, etc.) while at the same time doing email and working on docs/presentations. When I'm in that mode I can be hyper productive... but sometimes, like an hour ago, my nervous system screams 'stop'.

I listened this time and went for a run in Springbank Park (I love where I live - because 7 minutes the otherway and I'd be in a Provincial Park for some hilly trail running). It was a good idea as what I probably would have started to struggle with for the rest of the day came to me half way through my run.

Thinking about it I notice 3 different states that I now tend to operate in: Online (where I'm hyper connected), mobile/recovering (where my connectivity is limited or my system is still in recovery mode), or present (where I'm fully aware of just what is around me at that moment). Sometimes these states interweave with each other which is good - and as long as I don't resist what my nervous system is telling me - there should be a healthy balance of each.

Thanks also for the great pic post this morning Sarah of graffiti wisdom that took me down this path.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Heavy load? Or not heavy enough?

I had my first chance to spend some time with Andres Dussan from Ashoka here in Canada. Just an introductory meeting from some mutual friends and it's been a conversation that's stuck with me a few days... deeper than I originally realized.

Andres talked passionately about the power of media in shifting the cultural mindset to place where balance between people and the planet can re-emerge. I've had this conversation a number of times over the past year but something in it reminded me of the responsibility I have as white guy with upper-middle class roots, living in an affluent city within Canada. This is something that I was really first awakened to when I met my wife Shawna years ago but somehow since getting married, having our two kids and moving into a comfortable house with a big yard and lots of family support around I've conveniently put that responsibility aside.

When I stop to think about the pervasiveness and persistence of messages that reinforce our society's image of success (pick whichever one you want) and how that subtly makes it into my own images of what I want/need/should be it gets alarming. I know how it has impacted me in the past as one of those with the greatest of privilege and can only imagine the impact on those who do not fit the images we are constantly fed. And now extend that to the impact of extending those messages globally.

I've heard, and used at one time, all sorts of justifications for the messages are delivered and how marketers really care for their customers and those they want to be their customers, but when I now watch the green-wash frenzy marketers are gorging on I don't really have much hope that the images will ever truly get past that which will sell more product. And that's not to say this is the marketers responsibility to bear alone, or that it is the product manufacturers, or that it is anyone's alone...

I've just really been reminded that it is everyone's... starting with mine.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


After much prodding a picked up the book 'Getting to Maybe' and started reading it on the weekend. I have been pushing deeper into 'the entrepreneurial approach' and working with the idea that it is more about the creating/holding the space for things to emerge. This morning I read the chapter called 'Let It Find You' which is all about emergence. I am more convinced that in this element of entrepreneurship/social innovation is the 'magic' that can be amplified and applied to restoring balance among people and the planet.

Traditional incubators have often focused on either a single accomplished entrepreneur or a support services which can be helpful but don't get at the core of entrepreneurship/innovation. The growing celebrity of social entrepreneurs has put a focus on the individuals again as a source of entrepreneurship but that's just the tip of the iceberg. The space that allows things to emerge can be held/created within an individual, a session/conversation, a group, or a network/community. 'Getting to Maybe' does a great job of presenting the importance of having things emerge. I'm hoping now to dig deeper in the ways that happens and how it can be intentionally created and held for maximum benefit. Certainly there is much to build from here, especially from people/places like the Institute of Cultural Affairs (here, here, and here) where they have spent lifetimes living, observing, and understanding how things emerge from the ground up. If you have some other great resources I should be looking at please let me know.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Great frameworks - reframing my focus.

The two most helpful frameworks that I'm working with right now are a brilliant piece on places to intervene in a system by Donella Meadows and theory u by Otto Scharmer. The Meadows piece has helped me articulate where I'm most drawn to invest myself (mindset shifts - even more the process of doing so) and Scharmer's work is a comprehensive model of the stages involved in creating a mindset shift.

Back to the things I've been focusing on, the work on the collective potential of individual change is about finding a way to encourage individual shifts on a massive scale while the work on the entrepreneurial approach (which is about to undergo a major re-write - and an initial 'survey') is about creating entities and initiatives that can themselves take on system interventions at some level. Something else I'm sensing is a connection between the entrepreneurial approach and the process to shift a mindset. I'm interested to see where that goes.

If you are interested in participating in the initial 'survey' on entrepreneurial approach, just let me know. It is being designed to take the participants through a reflection of their own experiences and so should itself provide a valuable experience.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Entrepreneurial Approach - exploratory presentation.

I've done my quick first draft on exploring the entrepreneurial approach and its application. You can find it here. I wasn't going to post it yet, but just had a great conversation with a coffee friend (here, here, and here) that was prompted by this draft. Cheers to good conversations!

Friday, April 13, 2007

On the train

Have been meaning to post this for a while now.

A couple of weeks ago I was on a train that 'had an altercation' with a person who apparently had decided to part with the world. When the announcement came across the PA that there was a fatality and that we would be delayed at least 2 hours, there was a large outcry from many of the passengers in my car that went something like this: "Oh man... now I'm going to be late. What an inconvenience. This sucks."

Wow. What an example of our society.

My love to the friends and family of the 'fatality', to the train engineers, to the little 4 year old girl 4 seats back from me that heard the server on our car declare that "it hit just past the engine... and at first I thought it was a big branch."

Peace to everyone.


I've just come up with a simple image that I'm starting work with in my exploration of how to apply the entrepreneurial approach in service of restoring balance among people and the planet. Right now, I'm seeing the process as a balance of push and pull with the space in between those being where opportunity and innovation emerges, and what I see as the work of the entrepreneurial process. It's about creating that space and creating the conditions of push and pull that prompt what's most helpful to emerge.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Scaling up the social finance marketplace in Canada.

Here's an interesting map from http://www.xigi.net/ giving an overview of the latest initiative I'm co-creating. If you haven't checked-out xigi.net... take a look. A very interesting tool that's growing quickly and has the potential to make a significant contribution to the global marketplace that invests in good. Anyone else get the feeling that this 'marketplace' is really starting to take off?

make your own map at

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My latest presentations.

Here are the latest presentations on the directions that are really interesting me right now. Take a look and send me any thoughts, comments, connections. It grows and gains momentum with the attention of others.

Accelerating the collective potential of individual change:

Systematically applying the entrepreneurial approach:
(UPDATED: April 19, 2007)

Monday, March 5, 2007

For benefit/community interest corporations.

The U.K. and soon the U.S. are putting together some great new hybrid models that look to engage the power of the capital markets in ventures that are created strictly in community interest. Take a look here for a primer on the U.K. model and here for launch pad to some of the U.S. work. Seeing the evolution of markets is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

How authentic are you?

I just saw two interesting perspectives on connecting with what people care about. One of which is from client/collaborator Communicopia in this presentation and one is in this article in Canadian Business titled "Sell More by Creating Desire".

This theme is something I'm seeing more and more everyday particularly with the steady growth in popularity of social and environmental justice issues. Whether it's a company giving to a charity, creating a new product, or simply your own efforts to make a difference the durability and success are anchored in authenticity -- is it connected with the true nature of who you are as an organization or an individual?

In the presentation the basis of this is understanding the core of who you are (as an individual or an organization), what you are here to do, and what the value is in what you have to offer. In the case of the article, the idea is more about trying to perceive what people are really seeking in their lives and give them something that aims to satiat that seeking. The trouble with trying to figure out what it is that people are seeking is that it is incredibly transient and shifts with the times and with the trends. It's also not based on what you are uniquely good at so begins to take on the feeling of a cheap knock-off, pr 'spin', or other pile of bs.

We all know that feeling of something quality, integrity, and substance when we come across it. It something that only comes when it's anchored in what's true and when the experience and communication speaks directly to the truth. That's when people can start to form real connections with the organisation or individual behind the product or message. Doing things the otherway around is well... an effort in futility... except for the consultant you've hired to work really hard to create something that doesn't exist.

That said, knowing ourselves is a very difficult thing to do. In my experience with emerging entities this takes a healthy amount of time, courage, and integrity. Think about it for yourself or your organization. Do you really know why you are here? What's the core purpose that you are here to fulfill and what's your truly unique contribution in doing that?

For a good overview and some great examples of this stuff from the organizational perspective you can purchase a great article here. Of course, you can always go hire a consultant - either way, good luck, you'll get what you want. Just remember - the only thing that's authentic will be finding your truth - not adopting someone elses.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Accelerating the Collective Potential for Positive Change

I've just come across www.slideshare.net and figured I'd try it using the latest version of the presentation (here) that I'm working with on the topic of accelerating the collection potential for positive change.

Let's see how this works... and of course... I'm always interested in feedback!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

To the point... .

So this is what it comes down to:

I'm exploring:
- ways to accelerate the individual capacity for positive change
- ways to systematically, repeatably, apply the entrepreneurial approach toward environmental and social justice

The principles I'm working from:
- The community holds the knowledge and experience.
- We facilitate their wisdom
- We orchestrate their solution

So... if anyone has anything that maybe relevant (connections, docs, initiatives, etc.) to either of those areas that I'm exploring, I'd love to hear about them!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What's got my attention.

This process all started with me trying to get a feeling for two things:
- what am I uniquely able to do?
- where do I want to focus my attention?

Of course those questions both prompt deeper questions - which have been a big part of my journey lately - but what I came up with that best captured it for me was the statement I've been sharing: co-creating entities and initiatives in service of restoring balance among people and the planet.

The first part is where this venturing approach that I've been developing came out of - a way of trying to capture my experiences into a repeatable process that would be able to achieve greater results/impact.

The second part was a little trickier because it implied that I had a vision of what balance looked like. If not, then how would I know what would help achieve that. Well that posed a tricky problem because well... who can predict the future - really?

In asking those questions though, and going through the desire to start a company to do this to just getting a couple of sample projects going to finding myself in the middle of an example unexpectedly, what I find myself left with are two things that seem to be holding my attention. And those are:

- in what way could people individually be opened to more positive change?
- what is it in the entrepreneurial approach that brings people together for positive change?

For me these are deeper than my attachments to specific models or viewpoints and are opening up a new avenues of exploring them. In a way, I don't even have to worry about what I 'do' anymore, my collective experiences and ability naturally informs the choices I'm making and the opportunities that are arising.

Funny... I've gone from vowing not to start a company, to trying to get one going, and am back to not having anything to start. And in all of it, I am actually doing a project that's an example of the model I was so attached to, and am having more and more fun every day.

Let's see what tomorrow brings.