Don't we all love that special a-ha moment depicted in so many movies that lead us to believe that this magical epiphany suddenly erupts from our brains and results in some improbable success? In fact, the genre does not matter; sports, business, romantic relationship, we all yearn for this outcome that has no boundaries. It's the go-for-it, big-swing approach.

The problem is that this is just one mode of success and honestly one reason we enjoy its understanding is that it is a one-time action. The alternative to this mode is the idea that you have to grind away and let's be honest with ourselves, who wants to sign up for that if you can settle for the one big swing plan.

Lately, with the help of a smart friend, I have stumbled into systems theory specifically complex adaptive systems. My Systems Theory for Dummies understanding is that every action/process can be viewed through the lens of a system.  Experts breakdown this lens into 4 types of systems (Simple, Complicated, Complex and Chaotic).

Startups and startup ecosystems building are clearly not simple systems. If so we all would be successful business builders.  Chaotic systems, like weather or city traffic, are unpredictable, the variables unknown or at least difficult to identify and there is almost zero ability of influencing the outcome.

I would argue that mature businesses can be operated in a complicated manner (structured, planning, top-down, niche expertise, hierarchical).  There are hundreds if not thousands of books to address the leadership tactics at this stage.

But startups and startup ecosystems are much different than mature businesses.

Startups and startup ecosystems in my mind are complex systems and thus the leadership required is much different than complicated systems.  Complex systems leadership requires a squishy vision from which experiments and iterations resolve to reveal progress - and failure. Sparks of ingenuity come from the most obscure places and leaders must create an environment for those to flourish.  Do more right things and less wrong things and eventually you might find progress and momentum.

So, what's it going to be young lass - Structured thinking and execution (the Big Home Run Swing), or Discovery thinking (Success through 1,000 nudges)?

Published on: Feb 27, 2019
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