In building an entrepreneurial ecosystem, we often talk about the roles people play. Do we have enough investors, entrepreneurs, seasoned executives?
Roles give us a language for talking about gaps in our ecosystem, and the complex interactions between its participants. By defining roles, we simplify the web of human interactions into concepts we can grasp, and through this comprehension, take action to improve the system.
When talking about the social dynamics of an ecosystem, it’s important to have a shared language to ensure we’re discussing the same problems and creating common solutions. To be useful in teasing out the important dynamics of a system, our shared language needs to be specific and actionable.
To aid in recent discussions, this article reviews terminology laid out by Malcolm Gladwell for analyzing the spread of change, relates that to social dynamics in an economic development context and then elaborates with other terms that may be useful in building an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
A Starting Point
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell lays out three types of people that strongly affect the spread of an idea, epidemic or change:
People who link the world together. Connectors have large social networks across several social circles. Connectors maintain many more social connections than the average person, spending time nourishing and building their network.
People who gather & disseminate information. Mavens dive deep into a subject, research it thoroughly, then share this research with others. Mavens connect with fewer people, but greatly influence the people they do connect with because their opinions are so highly valued.
People who persuade others. Salespeople are highly charismatic and inspire you to listen to them regardless of their message.
Gladwell states that these people are rare–not everyone is a connector, maven or salesperson.
In Building an Ecosystem
How does the language of the spread of epidemics relate to growing a startup culture?
Epidemics spread by gaining sustainable momentum. If no momentum occurs, or the momentum isn’t sustainable, the epidemic dies out quickly.
To build a startup culture, we must reach a tipping point where the momentum of people starting businesses, learning, hiring, investing and ultimately selling, becomes self-generating.
I’m not yet sure how the two relate beyond that surface comparison, but since people have started using Malcolm Gladwell’s terminology in discussions of growing an entrepreneurial ecosystem, I think it’s valuable to clarify that terminology, and extend it to foster new discussions.
Terminology frames our discussions, but can also help us in identifying our problems. So, if we say we need more “connectors” in town, we can ask if that’s because we need more people playing the connector role, if existing connectors need to be recognized more by others, or if we need more resources for connectors to connect others to. Each potential problem has a different solution.
Some New Terms
Language helps us communicate. In any endeavor, we have words used in a technical, specific sense, and words used in a broader, more ambiguous sense. Dissecting issues effectively requires a technical language that can be used to isolate the problem and propose solutions.
Beyond the terminology of connectors, mavens and salespeople, I’d like to introduce:
People who actively dig out resources within a community. Miners combine the attributes of connectors and mavens. Miners dive deep into research like mavens, but aim to connect people like connectors. Miners prefer a complete picture. Discovering and reaching out to all the tech businesses in town would be a miner’s job.
People or organizations that act as a single outlet for information collected from multiple sources. Aggregators help reduce the time others need to spend to discover information within a community. Aggregators can passively receive information submitted from other sources, or actively seek out that information.
People who make things happen. Doers take action while others talk. It’s not that doers don’t plan, they do. It’s that doers put that plan into action quickly and avoid analysis paralysis.
People who guide others and provide a role model for them. Mentors are those further along our career path than we are. They help us think through our problems, rather than solely giving advice. Mentors have a vested interest in our success.
The terminology here isn’t new. Nor has it been fully defined. We must do that through community discussions, to narrow the definitions to make them useful. I find my greatest insights come from examining the boundaries between terms: for instance, how do mentors differ from advisors?
By creating new terms, or bringing existing terms into the discussion, we can find solutions.
Take “aggregators”. Several tech companies in town have recently expressed that they can’t find employees to hire, while at the same time potential employees complain about the lack of jobs. One problem is that there isn’t a central place to post and search tech job listings in town. An aggregator can help solve this.
To build our entrepreneurial ecosystem, we must work together as a community. Sharing a common language is critical to our discussions. As we move forward, let’s regularly discuss our understanding of the words we use, and narrow or widen their definition as appropriate to help us frame and solve the issues in our community.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time as I’d like to spend on this topic. Other roles we might want to play with discussing include evangelist (see Microsoft’s Developer Evanglists for an example) and community gardeners.
What terminology would you like to add that I missed?