Last week marked my ninth year of being on Twitter, matching nearly a decade that I’ve worked in / around tech and The Web.
In that decade I’ve dug into a vast array of projects, including managing design + development, building a brand from scratch, researching/reporting on stories as a journalist, creating my own startups, and mentoring entrepreneurs.
While this has been an intense year, it has also reinforced a bunch of lessons from that time, many of which I’ve written about here on this blog. That includes things like taking the time to do work correctly, designing a good creative process, letting people chart their own course, and negotiating more than just salary.
When I named this site Ecosystems and Entrepreneurs in 2015, I was thinking a lot about how structure works…both good and bad.
2017 has turned out to be all about looking at structure and power, revealing what’s been hidden in some cases for hundreds of years. One of the overarching lessons right now is that you have to be willing to give up power in order to actually see change.
This means you have to do more than just provide a seat at the table, invite people, or follow-up.
It means that you actually have to deliver the power to decide what happens and how the structure looks and functions, to people who haven't had it much or at all, or who have been systematically devalued.
This is what takes to balance an ecosystem. And it’s not just a difficult task to engage in, it’s a deeply uncomfortable one. If you aren't deeply uncomfortable right now there is a high probability you aren't dealing with structural power in any real way
Ecosystems depend on variety, innovation, creativity and new ideas, and a healthy ecosystem has porous boundaries and a variety of actors with different motivations.
That’s something that is almost perfectly captured for the digital economy and startups by Brad Feld in the thoughtful and practical book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.
I’ve read it a couple dozen times now, and the stories and people in it highlight a central point: you can’t control an ecosystem.
Controlling an ecosystem kills the best, most creative part of it…and it's a mistake that is often made by people who have power and don't really understand the ecosystem that they are a part of. Or, let's be more blunt, they work only for themselves and people who are loyal to them.
That doesn’t mean that those with power won’t try to control an ecosystem, but it does mean there will be consequences.
Without creativity, without imagination, without welcoming new ideas and new people, an ecosystem will die. Often, that decline looks very rapid but it’s really the result of years of refusing to listen, to understand, to see the deeper forces at work.
It’s hard to say what that will mean for the United States in our current political scenario, but if our ecosystem is to self-correct and find a way to spit out the toxicity, we’ll have to absorb that point about control first.