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

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Hello... I have just relaunched this blog at http://igniter.com/blog. Please reset your feeds as I will not be maintaining this blog here... there are plenty more things to maintain at http://igniter.com :-).



Thursday, July 31, 2008

Exploring Open - Investing and Organizations

The OpenEverything retreat is coming up and in prep I've setup a wiki to begin exploring attributes and examples of Open Organizations and practices for/what's different with Investing in Open.

Have some thoughts? Jump in here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The influence of open in venturing.

So what does 'open' mean for 'venturing' and venturing on 'the frontiers'.

From some prior definitions, venturing is process of creating and evolving a venture, where a venture is an agreement among people to do things in service of a purpose and according to a set of values. More simply it's about the process of organizing resources (social, financial, and human capital) toward realizing a certain intent.

If 'open' really is about a new mode of organization, then it is central to the process of venturing. It will inevitably impact every venture, the leadership and culture required, and the way in which we go about it.

Where strategy has been a dominant management driver in the past 3 decades, design will require greater attention. Conventionally, the control of financial and intellectual capital allowed organizations to directly control action and influence outcomes. In open, social and human capital are more dominant factors. They are also inherently less controllable which means we have to pay more attention to the design of systems versus control of action to influence outcomes and fulfil the organization's purpose.

If this shift to 'open' is truly a product of the evolution of our society, as I believe it is, then this is inescapably important.

Furthermore, ventures that are themselves focused on the evolution of our society toward a just and sustainable state have to pay particular attention to open. These frontiers are necessarily about dealing at the edges of our current systems and structures - the turbulent space where 'open' is most effective.

Pulling this together - venturing on the frontiers requires a focus on:

  • social and human capital
  • a shift in culture, values, mindset, and leadership
  • systems design
That said, this doesn't mean it's time to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Strategy is still a useful tool, and we are still in the midst of a culture dominated by the conventional mode of organization. What it does mean though is that the compatibility of our underlying organizational culture, values, mindset, and leadership will determine the ability to make the most of convention in context of where we are going.

The point of 'open' - a new mode of organization.

In working on Open Everything I've been struggling to come up with why it matters and what it means to the common person. For people in the open source community or other fields where 'open' is a already at play they don't tend to ask this question but if we are to 'open' the open meme, we certainly need to be able to answer it.

So here's how I answer it now. (Ad-lib seesmic video answer below)

Open is about a new mode of organization.

  • Enabled by pervasive adoption of communication technologies and an emergent culture of people comfortably communicating with greater numbers of people, independent of geography or in-person relationship. (it's a product of the evolution of our civilization - not just some fad formula for success)
  • Rooted in and requires values and mindset rooted in interdependence, contribution, collaboration as opposed to the currently dominant culture of independence, competition, and zero-sum competition. (it's not about tools and techniques)
  • Relies more on social and human capital than financial and intellectual capital. (requires a different type of leadership)
  • Much more flexible and responsive to immediate context (great for situations where there is systemic turbulence like we are increasingly facing).
The implications of this are:
  • It will inevitably become a factor in your organization or industry whether as a result of: strategic intent ("let's do some of this web 2.0 stuff" - "we need to listen to our customers/community"); the shift in our society and culture; or an increase in turblence/instability the systems that impact your organization
  • Working with it requires some deep shifts in culture and leadership
  • May (likely will) result in significant unintended changes to the organization, what it does, and how it does it.
While this is a quick first take - it certainly expresses what's attracted me to this 'open' meme. I'm looking forward to mixing this into the conversations we'll be having at the Open Everything Retreat in September (the agenda is starting to look good) and seeing what we come up with.

Of course, if you have any thoughts, ideas, opinions we need them all in working this through. Comment here, at any of the Open Everything events, your own blog posts (tagged with openeverything), or even in the Mapping Open wiki are all welcome.

What's the point of open for you?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A crack in the dam - opening a new domain.

It's been in the works for awhile and I now think we're really starting to make a connection between web tech (2.0+), venture investing, social innovation. That connection is going to unleash some tremendous innovations and a surge in the activity directly working on the challenges facing our civilization. It feels like the emergence of a new domain that will take some very different approaches to change and influencing the course of civilization. It seems inspired by open source, technology innovation, financial risk taking, a venturing culture, and now a deepening and deeply felt realization that there are more important tasks to tend to.

I've been digging deeply into this for a while (Venturing on the Frontiers, Open Everything <site>, and The Great Remix) and these two posts (Umair Haque and Fred Wilson) have me feeling that something just shifted. What I love is that this isn't just the same old folks getting into this AND that they are coming at it from an understanding of how systems emerge. Umair uses the language of DNA and Fred is living it through his investment approach in web tech companies.

Maybe what it is, is that all the different groups I've been working/having the conversations with (MaRS, SiG, CSI, Renewal Partners, Communicopia, Causeway, Tides Canada, and Good Capital) are using different language to talk about the same things.

I'm not sure. What do you think? Is this just a personal moment are others sensing that some thing has shifted too?

Friday, June 20, 2008

An open quote from Michael Edwards

Cross posted from my tumblog.

Open: "more radical innovations in ownership and production that change the basis on which markets currently work"

In the conclusion of “Just Another Emperor” by Michael Edwards, he poses the above quote which I think is a great description of what ‘open’ is actually playing at. Full context here: “Philanthrocapitalism offers one way of increasing the social value of the market, but there are other routes that could offer equal or better results in changing the way the economic surplus is produced, distributed and used: the traditional route that uses external pressure, taxation and regulation; the philanthrocapitalist route that changes internal incentives and gives a little more back through foundations and corporate social repsonsibility; and the more radical innovations in ownership and production that change the basis in which markets work. We don’t know which of these routes carries the greatest long term potential, though all of them rely on civil society as a vehicle for innovation, accountability, influence and modified consumption, and especially for getting us from reformist to transformational solutions.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Benevolent dictators in the open movement

One of the interesting things coming out of OPEN everything (Toronto) was the idea that open projects are driven by what we were calling 'benevolent dictators'. That phrase, while abrasive to some, seems to be resonating in a number of different conversations that I and others are having.

What it seems to do is counter the notion that open is a touchy-feely, everyone has to agree, happy place where everyone gets along. At the same time it reinforces the important and evolving role of leadership. What I'm starting to try and tease out is what are the qualities of open leadership that we're really getting at? And which of those are core values - and which are situational reactions?

So far I've been seeing some aspects such as:

  • willingness and authority to make quick decisions based on intuition and sense of purpose and values (the DNA of the project)
  • a relentless focus on near-term goals vs. controlling tasks
  • ability to command/wield social capital vs. financial capital
So what do you think? What are you experiencing? What's different?

Photo credit: invisible consequential

Friday, June 6, 2008

OPEN everything (Toronto) Reflection

The first half-day OPEN everything event happened in Toronto at the Centre for Social Innovation on Wednesday and was a great start to what's going to be a very interesting series. Mark Surman - the mastermind of the series - opened the agenda and launched the group into an exploration of what 'open' is and what are the underlying principles.

I twittered some of my observations on the day and have a running tag which is going to capture the ongoing conversation (#openeverything). Some of the highlights for me were:

  • social capital is the key currency - more important than financial capital
  • leadership is essential and often looks like a benevolent dictator
  • control is of priorities rather than tasks
  • purpose and values are more powerful than strategy and logic
  • it's better to graft on to an existing community than try and create a new one
  • open projects need to be big to be able to absorb the capacity of the community
  • open isn't new (1 example was from the 17th and 18th centuries)
That last point helps also to remind me that this is part of our ongoing nature and evolution - and part of the Great Remix. What we are seeing as expressions of open now are necessarily coloured by the context of our society today. Clearly. So what will be interesting as we go forward with this is what are the essential enduring principles? What's the heart of open? How do we kick-it up to kick-up the pace of our evolution to a just and sustaianble state? Fun.

Thanks to Mark, Tonya and everyone who participated. We're on to something here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

OpenEverything opens today!

Well, it was only a few months ago when Jason Mogus, Mark Surman and I chatted on this concept of the event series that is now underway. It started as an exploration as to a new Web Of Change event at Hollyhock this year and Mark has taken it to what is going to be an amazing series that is going to push our thinking and the thinking of the 'open' community even further.

For more information, check out Mark's opening post here, and the openeverything wiki.

Today, Toronto kicks off Open Everything: a global series of six (or more?) events about the art, science and spirit of open. We've got 60 amazing people registered who come from computer programming, community development and everywhere in between. It's gonna rock.
There are going to be a few bloggers and hopefully a few twitters going live today and putting their follow-up thoughts out shortly thereafter... and I'll do my best to link to them as they come available.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Some related links - adding on to another conversation.

I commented on Fred Wilson's Looking Forward post yesterday and he reblogged a part of my comment in his tumblog here. Tt's been generating a few emails to me so for those that are interested, here are a few other links that follow that theme...

- A few of us are convening an event that is digging deeper into that mindset that riffs off open source openeverything.net.
- Ervin Laszlo's Macroshift - a book about the evolution of civilization and the interplay of technology and mindsets (my highlights and links to the book - additional post here)
- A post of mine on this phase we are in that I'm calling "the Great Remix". Additional posts here and here.
- Stafford Beer's work on information design of systems in an organizational context (my highlights and links to his book and work)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Forces at play in the The Great Remix

The final piece from this work on The Great Remix are a couple of presentations that explore the forces at play. I've yet to add annotated detail but here they are nonetheless.



Doing differently in the Great Remix

The one other piece that I'll share from my exploration into the Great Remix, is a part about how I see doing happening differently as we move forward.

The following four areas now describe how doing is different in the context of the Great Remix.

Employ Systems Dynamics
(From conductor to mix master)
As the systems of our civilization demonstrate instability and failure more frequently, openings are created for previously unexpected initiatives to emerge. We can’t know when or how but rather must work to condition the emergence of those initiatives.

Originally uploaded by mrhayata
Insights from the domains of systems science point to how systems work, providing essential knowledge into how to transform and operate within the systems we have. Leaders now require competencies more like those of a a mix master DJ as opposed to those of a conductor. While composers work with their orchestra to perform predetermined music, a mix master DJ comes to a room with an assortment of songs and sounds which they mix together according to the energy of the audience and the experience they hope to happen.

There are already many bodies of work in this area and the increasing rate of new works being published indicates the growing interest in this topic. Some particularly notable works include:

Distill to Essential Elements
(From buildings to bricks.)
Big things have tremendous momentum and aren't easily remixed with other things. This manifests as resistance to change and slows the pace of evolution. It also sets the stage for more spectacular failures. Enabling the capacity to essentially remix our society into a system compatible with the common goal requires that things be re-mixable. This means breaking things back down into their essential elements - deconstructing their existing configurations - to reuse the valuable pieces in ways that fit the new context. Houses can’t be remixed very well, but bricks can.

In this context organizations are bundles of people and assets that organize around a purpose, work towards a set of goals, deliver an offering (product or service), and develop a set of core competencies. Similarly, people are grounded in purpose, driven by passion, accumulate experiences, knowledge and connections, and develop competencies and insights. The capacity to remix elemental components of organizations and individuals directly relates to our potential in the Great Remix.

Dynamic Organization in Individual Context
(From phonebook to crystal ball)
Context is essential for people to make meaningful connections to each other and to other knowledge. Humans are extraordinary at dealing with context and substantially limited without it. Take language for example: phrases or statements out of context can be taken to mean very different things - a reality made abundantly clear by sensationalist media.

Through the context lens, information is best when:
  • presented with the context it came from
  • received in the configuration most relevant to the context of the recipient
  • exchanged through the point where both contexts converge.

In venturing for example, imagine if rather than relying on an individual mentor, limited by their own individual context, the venturer was able to access the essential insights, experiences, and connections of a 1,000 entrepreneurs filtered according to the context of their individual and immediate situation. That would be like moving from phonebook to crystal ball.

Allying the Frontiers
(From discrete domains to friends on the frontiers.)
Given the purpose of quickening the evolution of our civilization toward the common goal, it is imperative that we foster the convergence and interaction of those that are taking initiative on the frontiers across all related domains. In this context we see the commonality between many discrete domains such as technology, science, mathematics and philosophy.

Connecting those with purpose primacy related to the common goal across all domains would be a high-leverage opportunity. Doing so could better orient and leverage all activity working toward the common goal regardless of domain.

The Great Remix

Part of my silence over the last few months has been from some deep-digging I was doing in an engagement with the Social Innovation group at MaRS and with the Centre for Social Innovation. One of the great things about the engagement was an opportunity to push deeper into what's underneath social innovation, social entrepreneurship and social enterprise. What's come from that is seeping into most everything I'm doing right now - and so it's about time I get back to posting what I've been discovering.

Perhaps the most profound observation during the course of this exploration is that social innovation and social entrepreneurship are not so much intentional movements as they are phenomena of the evolution of civilization.

As civilization reaches an increasing degree of complexity we are being confronted by the limits of the system that created it. This is being experienced as systemic instability and failure in everything from credit markets to climate change to the remix of the music industry. While we don’t know how things will evolve, we can be sure that whether through intentional actions or systemic collapses, we are entering a period of increasing reconfiguration - “the Great Remix”

At the same time numerous fields of study are converging on the realization that “everything is connected” and that connectedness, connectivity, and emergence are fundamentally important areas of understanding. This realization is key to learning how we might successfully steer our civilization toward a just and sustainable state.

The movements of social finance/innovation/entrepreneurship/tech all bring different perspectives and at the same time share a common ground. From this common ground will come the new initiatives and systems that change the trajectory of our evolution.

Common Ground
The frontiers of the evolution of civilization share the common ground of:

Interdependent in a “common goal”
Acknowledging a greater common goal of a just and sustainable balance among people and the planet.

Driven forward by “purpose primacy”
People and initiatives that hold a primary purpose directly related to the common goal are the catalysts of civilization's evolution toward a just and sustainable state.

Action taken through a “practical approach”
The strategies and actions of these people and initiatives tend towards:
  • Sustainable financial viability;
  • Practical and productive application of techniques and approaches from non-traditional domains; and
  • Distributing increasing control, earnings, and assets into the communities they serve.
The people and initiatives in this domain tend to be increasingly expressive of the following values:
  • Exhibiting the qualities of open, fluid, and dynamic
  • Providing spaces for people as they are and as they want to become
  • Embracing the richness and wisdom in differences
  • Acting with a light spirit, sense of fun, creativity and a perspective of opportunity
I'll post some more excerpts from this and my other recent work over the coming weeks as I get back into the groove.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Social Tech Training - June 22-24, 2008

SocialTech Training
That's right, Social Tech Training is happening this June in Toronto.  Here's the link and a quick blurb.  Check-it out and sign-up if it catches your eye. Coming from Web of Change and MaRS it's bound to be an excellent event!
No one working in social change these days can afford to ignore the opportunities offered by the web. Most organizations get stuck, though, on "How do we do it?" "Where do we start?" and "Who can help us?" Interest in high, but the talent pool of people equipped to understand, prioritize, and implement these tools and ideas remains limited.

We've gathered the best and the brightest leaders in this sector, and we've put together an agenda that will help take your organization to the next level. Each participant will emerge with new technical, creative, and leadership skills, a powerful network, and a customized, comprehensive “Web 2.0 Plan” for their organization.

This training is an excellent opportunity to connect to the big picture, develop practical skills required to execute, and network with both leaders and learners in this emerging space. We are excited to be part of this transformation of the social change sector. Please join us!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Bets n' chips" - Implications for investors on the frontiers.

There seem to be two types of bets that investors make when doing a deal. A bet on the team. A bet on the plan. The closer to the frontiers (early stages and deep change) the greater the emphasis is on the team. And rightly so. We all know that plans don't last on the frontiers.

So how can we get better at investing on the frontiers? Surely betting on the team alone isn't a sound investment strategy.

From my conversations the current practices seem to be either focused on 'rolling up the sleeves' and getting involved directly (few, high-cost investments) or being a hands-off patron (many small investments). Either that or back off from the frontiers and use conditional investment to achieve specific results (e.g. disadvantaged employment or other enviro-social activities). The limitations in each of those should be fairly self-evident.

So what else could we make bets on? Well if venturing is a process, we could bet on the process they are following. If we know plans are not static, what is the venture doing to continue the process of framing, planning, and connecting?

And what other practices could we employ? Well if one of the biggest chips an investor brings to the game is their social capital, well then how can that capital be better employed in the task of connecting? Going back to the image above, we can see that at minimum it requires a venture to have articulated simple and accessible spaces. I wonder - how many entrepreneurs and their investors would truly describe the primary spaces of their venture in the same way? How about in your venture or your portfolio? My bet is that's strongly correlated to the difference between friction and luck.

Summing up, that leaves us with making bets on:
  • a team;
  • their venturing process; and
  • their spaces (accessible and simply articulated).
And it means bringing our social chips into the game to make the connections the venture truly needs (more in a future post).

Now that's an investment space I'd bet on.

"Gettin' lucky" - implications for ventures on the frontiers.

I wrote about the gist of this image here. Now I'm turning to the implications for venturers.

Quite simply the essence of venturing is a process. A process of creating spaces for things to happen (some call it 'luck'). The simpler and more accessible the space, the easier it is to get people engaged and get things done (some would say 'the luckier you get').

Sound simple? It should be, but can you simply articulate the 3 primary spaces for your venture? Do you have a time and place to think about and evolve those spaces? Why are people connecting to you? Do they know what they need to meaningfully contribute in ways you may not have asked or may not be expecting? How often have you been 'lucky'?

So how can ventures get better at "gettin' lucky" on the frontiers?

Step 1: Define your spaces (framing)
Get out you favourite notebook or stash of napkins and start framing each of your primary spaces separately: founding agreement, magic box; and realms of relevance. Keep them separate. Keep them simple. (more on this in a later post)

Step 2: Get your team together and get to it (planning)
Revisit planning as a team - those who control the resources and those who do the work. In the context of your spaces, figure out what your going to do for the next meaningful chunk of time, making the most of what you have, and getting what you need to move you most towards fullfilling your purpose.

Step 3: Connect with purpose (connecting)
Make connections throughout your spaces to better understand and define your spaces, and to get done what you need to get done. Do it with purpose and give it space to let something happen.

Step 4: Repeat (venturing)
Take a look at what you did for steps 1-3 and do it again - but better. This becomes the process of venturing. Find what works for you and your venture. There is no right way. There is no right answer. In fact, there really are no answers... just keep asking questions, keep moving forward, and keep at the process.

You can't know where exactly you'll end up but you've got a much better chance of "gettin' lucky"!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Venturing on the Frontiers - A simple guide.

Venturing on the frontiers is about the early stages of taking on big challenges. It's a space where conventional models to planning and management prove ineffective. It's the place where entrepeneurs trust their 'gut' and face the challenges with an unrelenting push forward. And it's the place from which the greatest change can come about.

I've been tapping my own experience, researching into systems science and talking with some of North America's leading venture investors who are themselves pushing the frontiers. Through all of that I've emerged with an understanding that I've tried to capture to the right. Essentially it describes a venture as a set of spaces ('founding agreement' which gives rise to a 'magic box' which operates within certain 'realms of relevance'). Venturing then is the process of 'framing' those spaces, 'planning' immediate action, and 'connecting' to get things done and evolve the spaces. Collectively that led me to the following set of principles for venturing on the frontiers:
  • Create spaces for things to happen
  • Make it simple and accessible
  • Tend to connections and connecting
  • Keep venturing
I've published the image under a creative commons license so please feel free to use and build from it accordingly. And as always, this is but a snapshot of understanding and bound to evolve... so please do get in touch with your reflections, experiences, and suggestions.

I'll publish future posts on the implications for ventures and venture investors who are pushing the frontiers. Don't expect magic bullets, but rather a prompting of some productive questions. If anything this has reminded me is that there are no answers, only questions... and asking the right ones can make all the difference.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Venturing and venture investing on the frontiers - in simple terms.

I've been asked a few times about what I'm working on in simple terms. Not always easy for me - but here goes top-of-mind while riding the train...

My focus is on venturing and venture investing 'on the frontiers'.

  • venturing is about organizing and directing resources toward a purpose
  • venture investing is about improving the capacity of ventures to achieve their purpose (or certain milestones along the way)
  • 'on the frontiers' means the places where conventional ways of doing things are least effective

My work is focused on being able to systematically improve ventures and venture investors operating on the frontiers. My belief is that by focusing here, practices can be developed and demonstrated that will themselves become conventional in time and thereby move 'the frontiers' greatly increasing our society's ability and capacity to take on our civilization's greatest challenges.

So how will ventures be different after employing these practices?

  • more efficient and effective at getting things done
  • better responsiveness to the environments it's operating within
  • better anticipation and avoidance of 'crises'
  • more flexibility in responding to immediate opportunities and challenges
  • more focus on and faster progress toward fulfilling the purpose

And how will venture investors be different?

  • better investee governance with less effort
  • increased capacity of all portfolio companies (whether they've applied the approaches or not)
  • better results from existing portfolio (fewer failures, greater success according to purpose)
  • better able to go earlier with less risk
  • better able to go deeper into realizing non-financial aims (particularly relevant for 'social' venture funds.
  • lower transaction costs

And what's at the root of what's different?

  • concerned with systems vs. plans

(Said in different ways - couldn't resist...)

  • creating spaces for uncertainty to resolve itself vs. trying to solve uncertainty
  • organizing under a purpose vs. organizing around an idea/product/service
  • unfolding vs. turning inward
  • enabling vs. constraining
  • fluid vs. rigid
  • framed vs. forced
  • ...


Many things have been picking up the 'social' modifier lately. Here are some of the ones I'm encountering and what I think they mean.

First, the modifier 'social'

  • modifies the following word to the focus of serving a social (and/or environmental) benefit
  • technology employed for social benefit (most commonly digital
  • concerned generally with societal change and how it happens
  • innovations and the process of innovating solutions that deliver or enable social change
  • a venture with purpose primarily concerned with delivering social benefit
  • concerned with developing and supporting entrepreneurs focused on social change (and primarily social ventures)
Clearly, each of these words describe fields with much activity and research into how they work. Adding the modifier, at best prompts the question of how, when modified, is it different. In my perspective it's the realization that things aren't linear - and in fact are 'chaotic' - which then calls on the research of systems science and it's theories on complexity and systems. And it also seems to be best done in an 'open' way - or maybe better put - those that are in the depths of doing this stuff tend to do 'open'... which of course... is another story.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The 'evil' in exchanges.

Exchanges are a hot topic in the social capital markets. They are appealing in the sense of the efficiency they promise. Efficiency is good - and it also has a dark side. This dark-side, which I'm considering the 'inherent evil' in exchanges, is their tendency to disconnect/dissociate the 'buyer' from the 'seller'. It comes out in things like the sub-prime mess and rogue traders.

So how do we get the benefits of this 'masterpiece' of capitalism?

By using exchanges to:

  • create and deepen connections;
  • increase the richness of information and communication in those relationships; and
  • craft and uphold agreements.
To me that means looking as much or more to social networks as it does financial exchanges. I know there are some folks working on local exchanges who have acknowledged this 'evil'. I'll be particularly interested to see how they address it - from all the angles I've looked so far it seems to be a tough balance.

This biggering is buggering... a call for a new vision of 'prosperity'.

I attended a session for Sustainable Prosperity last week and was left with a pretty big realization that evolved for me into what blurted out in a strategy session for Windfall Ecology Centre on Friday as..

"This BIGGERING is buggering..."
Obviously, this is inspired by Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax", (see the specific quotes here), but it also refers to a growing realization that the thing that economy is based on - continuously increasing consumption - is reaching a breaking point. To be clear, this isn't a recession inspired 'people aren't going to consume as much anymore' statement, it's a 'if people consume anywhere near what we're consuming we're all screwed' statement. "Story of Stuff" by Free Range Media for the Tides Foundation makes a simple and decent case for that.

So getting back to Sustainable Prosperity, I can't help but think that if any new definition of prosperity is going to have any impact, it has to address this, and the other underpinning of our society, if the individual doesn't prefer it for their own selfish motivations, no level of altruistic appeal will change their behaviours. The 60 minutes "House of Cards" segment on the sub-prime mess shows some of that with a shocking display of people's self-interest at play.

Putting those two things together then, any new definition must then:
  1. Not be dependent from continually increasing financial prosperity (growth)
  2. To the individual, be considered as comparatively superior to the conventional notion of financial prosperity
It's easy to argue that's not likely to happen - when the furthest our 'greatest' capitalists go is 'creative capitalism' (Bill Gates) - but I can't see how anything but will have a chance of getting at the root of what we're dealing with. Imagine though what Gates or Buffet could do if they backed that kind of a definition.

Things are broken. We need a new basis to start from. Personally, I can't deny it anymore... this biggering is buggering and so I'm beginning again.

But before I begin my beginning, I'll just share something from another great kids book, this one by Jamie Lee Curtis (whoda thunk?) and Laura Cornell called "Is There Really a Human RACE?". I've posted the full text here, but will wrap with this provocative page:
"Do some of us win? Do some of us lose?
Is winning or losing something I choose?
Why am I racing? What am I winning?
Does all of my running keep the world spinning?"

Monday, January 21, 2008

The definitive definitions of venturing!

One of the surprising things that I came out of my latest exploration into the frontiers of venturing and venture investing is a set of definitions. I'm actually not one that likes to debate definitions ad infinitum but I found I needed to clarify things to be able to have meaningful conversations going forward. So here, is what I've come up with... for now (I'll keep updating this definitions as the evolve so feel free to check-back or link here for reference).

  • Venture: An agreement among people to do things in service of a purpose and according to a set of values.
  • Venturing: The process of creating and evolving a venture.
  • Venturer: A person primarily involved in or responsible for venturing.
  • Operator: A person primarily involved in or responsible for operating a venture.
  • Entrepreneur: A venturer that also carries primary responsibility for operating a venture.
  • Frontiers of venturing: The effective limit of conventional approaches to venturing.
  • Frontiers of venture investing: Investing in ventures that are on the frontiers.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Crowd sourcing in venturing

Just saw this post tipping me to VenCorps which seems to be a venture fund using 'crowd sourcing'. I'm going to be interested to see how it goes and expect they will do well by essentially 'amping up the network'. My guess is that they will be better at dealing with ambiguity (related to progressing along stage of development) in ventures but I'm curious to see if it will help them deal with complexity (related to depth of systemic change). The thing that gives me a sense that they won't be as effective here is the military style they are coming out with. That to me indicates a very linear, command and control approach which is not effective in dealing with complexity.

Looking forward to learning more and seeing how it does. Regardless of how it performs its great to see the innovation in venturing.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Giddy-up: getting better on the frontier.

Coming out of this first inquiry I'm left with new definitions for venture, venturing, and venturer and also a simplistic grouping that the process of venturing essentially requires agreement, action, and governance. It is important to note that these are a set of observations and interpretations that will continue to be evolved in practice. As such they represent a starting point for a concerted effort to 'get better at venturing and investing on the frontiers'.


  • Venture: An agreement among people to do things in service of a purpose and according to a set of values.
  • Venturing: The process of creating and evolving a venture.
  • Venturer: A person primarily involved in venturing.
AGREEMENT: The venture profile
In getting better at venturing on the frontiers, it becomes apparent that the first things required in a venture are an articulation of:
  • purpose;
  • values; and
  • agreement, followed by action.
This is particularly so in an effort to address complex ambiguity and so also must include the foundational foci that are effective amidst complex ambiguity, namely distinct, discreet attention on:
These items become the core components of a 'venture profile' which is an articulation of the collective agreement on what the venture is.

Another interesting realization through these conversations and above definitions is that a venture, at it's core, is an agreement. It starts with the first agreement between 2 or more people and grows with the deepening and addition of new relationships. Essentially a venture is 'simply' a bundle of relationships. Accordingly the individual relationships should also receive special attention through consideration and articulation of the essential process for evolution or termination of the agreement, and of each party's:
  • acknowledgment of the other party's venture profile;
  • their contribution;
  • the manner of contribution;
  • their compensation for their contribution; and
  • any other explicit responsibilities and expectations.
Collectively, the bundle of individual relationships along with each associated agreement form the essence of the collective agreement articulated in the venture profile and could be visualized through multidimensional maps which naturally will evolve as does the collection of individual relationships. Here there is a significant opportunity for new and improved practices in venturing. The collection of individual agreements also forms the basis for financial model. This is not the same as financial projections which are often an exercise in justifying an anticipated outcome but rather they are the basis for being meaningfully able to anticipate the results of the existing and anticipated agreements under certain conditions.

ACTION: A planning process
With the core profile in place we move into the activity of the venture itself which is best determined by those that have the authority to complete the action being determined. This follows from observations in systems science that planning only happens when action is the result and so can only be carried out by those with the authority to act. The most effective planning approaches will be recognized as intentional, co-creative, and iterative action planning. Established approaches from community and software development could be well applied here. For example, the methodology from the Institute for Cultural Affairs Technology of Participation are particularly effective when conducted with short time horizons (e.g. monthly and/or quarterly) within the context of the venture profile which itself is reviewed periodically (e.g. annually with the inclusion of strategic direction planning). Similarly the agile development process is particularly relevant for venturing on the frontiers.

GOVERNANCE: Cohesion and instability preemption

Governance of a venture (collective agreement and the action that unfolds from it) is best fulfilled through attention on the cohesion of the venture and on signals of incipient instability. Going back to the definition of a venture, this is about monitoring the changing trends in relationship status and agreements. This is perhaps the most unique discovery in these conversations. Changes in the tone of relationships is often one of the biggest and most consistent indicators of incipient instability. This by no means implies that relationships should remain static or that relationships should not be allowed to decline, that's simply a part of evolution. What it does imply is that changes in the trends of relationships status are particularly powerful indicators of change including growth and incipient instability. For example what's often described as 'momentum' is an upward trend in the strengthening and addition of relationships. Or a founder of an organization challenging the direction the venture is taking may be an indicator of a change in the collective agreement, particularly if it was well articulated at the outset (which is rarely the case). Of course, monitoring financial metrics and changes in budget/plans can also signal incipient instability and by no means should be excluded. Rather disciplined attention should be focused on the metrics that indicate potential instability. If the management system is attentive to incipient instability it will be able to minimize its effects or avoid it all together. The other dynamic of effective governance is attention to the cohesion of the venture itself. This means that ensuring that both PIE and CV are being attended to and that the dynamic between them is constructive.

There are of course more detailed design aspects to organizing and operating a venture, several key ones of which are described in Heart of Enterprise, but from my experience, research, and through the recent conversations I believe venturing effectively on the frontiers requires the essence of:
  • agreement and articulation of the venture (venture profile, relationship map, financial model);
  • action through intentional co-creative, iterative action planning (process, budgets, time lines); and
  • governance attentive to cohesion and able to anticipate and preempt incipient instability (future indicating metrics, report card, ability to respond constructively).
Practically, there is significant opportunity in improving upon each of these areas and particularly in the area of relationships with the emergence of new ways and styles of connecting brought forth by virtual communications developments such as social networking technologies. And with that now begins the process of putting this into practice and an open invitation to those who want to embark on this with me.

Blogged with Flock

Friday, January 4, 2008

Want, need, and enough.

A brief twitter conversation with Tom at www.givemeaning.com on this subject had me feeling limited by the 140 character twitter limit... so here goes a quick mobile post.

I've been conscious of the impact and role of consumption in our society for a while but www.storyofstuff.com and the movie Manufactured Landscapes from Mongrel Media have had me thinking a bit deeper lately.

I think 'giving' has largely becoming another form of buying. Certainly giving has very little to do with need - unless ofcourse you turn to things like www.givemeaning.com :-). And the concept of enough is an abstract thing that is a personal, individual assessment of their own fulfillment of wants. And wants are fueled by cosumption. The more people shop and buy, the more they are exposed to things they could have and so are encouraged to have new wants. Green consumerism fits right into that. I'm all for efficiency and recycling but those shouldn't encourage further consumption beyond replacement of what is no longer working.

I've started asking myself the following everytime I spend money.
- need?
- want?
- enough yet?

It's interesting, and, if you want some help giving it a try, send me an email at michael <at> igniter <dot> com and for $25 I'll send you a set of stickers to put on everything you use to make a purchase. Might be the best thing you could do to save the world :-)

Seriously. If I get 100 requests, I'll put up a website about for those who are conquering consumption one question at a time. Fun.
... while mobile.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Gettin' it goin' without goin' under: cohesion and incipient instability.

With requisite attention being held a natural propulsion will emerge.  The act of managing and nurturing that propulsion is attended to with a focus on cohesion and being proactively aware of the emergence of incipient instability.

These concepts are addressed in depth in Stafford Beer's viable system model (my reflections here on reading Heart of Enterprise) and are really about holding the tension between future (vision), and here and now (operations) [see last post for more on requisite attention]. Cohesion has a lot to do with articulating purpose as so well described by Collins and Porras in Building Your Company's Vision. And incipient instability is about monitoring trends in financials, plan performance, and relationship status (after all, ventures are systems, concentrated bundles of relationships), and then spotting changes that indicate that something is becoming instable in a way that could harm the cohesion of the system as a whole. 

Again, both of these concepts seem relatively straight forward, and in fact are things that play out automatically in any natural system including ourselves. But as ventures are intentional human constructs we need to be intentional about them for the system to remain viable. On the frontiers, the pressure to focus on 'getting things done' leaves little space for this to happen, and unfortunately the models of doing this tend to come from linear management theory that takes more of an audit and control function which is of little interest to the venturer and begins the dance of storytelling through massaged metrics. Accordingly bringing this into practice needs approaches that are lightweight and constructive - some concepts for which will come in the next post.

(special note: this has been a difficult post to keep short, there are many offshoots and explanations possible in every sentence --- something best explored in conversation and specific context)

Blogged with Flock