Posts Tagged ‘Change’

Startup America: The Good, The Bad, and The Missing-Part 3

April 29th, 2011

After a small dramatic pause we’ll conclude the Startup America: The Good, The Bad, and The Missing saga. Many people jump to the lack of a Startup Visa when asked what is missing from the Startup America initiative or simply point to this as a another government bailout for the VC firms (both which are interesting ideas that I’ll have to explore in another post). However, I think what is missing is that we’re fooling ourselves that we have the answer.

The Missing

When it comes to changing something I tend to view it through a framework I encountered in grad school and found in a book by one of my professors, Influence: The Power To Change Anything (amazon affiliate link).  A fundamental assumption in this line of reasoning is that changing results is largely driven by a few vital behaviors (also known as tricks, secrets, or hacks).

In order to get those vital behaviors you have to model them in a credible and powerful way (think Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation and the Heath Brothers’ Made To Stick). It is based off of Bandura’s Theory of Social Cognition which basically says people won’t change unless they can see that their chances of succeeding are pretty good and that it is worth it. Do they have the ability and the motivation to make the change?

The book or framework in the book indicates that for lasting change to occur these two questions have to be answered on multiple levels (Individual, Social, Environment / Structural). Most change initiatives fail because they either don’t know the right behaviors or only attempt to influence or answer this question on one or two levels. The Startup America initiative is no exception.

Do we know the vital behaviors that can be repeated in order to produce the results Startup America is trying to achieve (more jobs via more companies)? How do we know they’re the right ones? Well you identify the right ones by looking for positive deviance or circumstances where others are having success.

So everyone looks at Silicon Valley saying, “We’ll take one of those please.” They even try to give themselves a similar nickname like Silicon Forest, Silicon Slopes, Silicon Alley, Silicon Prairie, etc. While there are some behaviors and things we can learn from Silicon Valley but they may not be repeatable (a key criterion). So where else can we look? One that came to my attention recently was The Ciputra Quantum Leap: Making Indonesia an Entrepreneurial Nation while I was skimming Kauffman Thought Book 2011.

They started with education and then moved to partnerships and capital. So let’s pretend these are the vital behaviors: people that have an entrepreneurial education, supportive community, and investors. Okay, so how do we now get those vital behaviors?

The following list of questions is paraphrased from a worksheet used to assess change initiatives. I believe this can help us to understand what is missing from the Startup America initiative. For the sake of demonstration we’ll use learning how to create and start a business but the same could be done for the other vital behaviors.

When trying to convince yourself or others to change minds, do you create ways to experience the need to change (For example: field trips, pilots, trial runs, or other hands-on experiences) rather than simply trying to talk yourself or others into changing through presentations, lectures, pep talks, or other verbal means?

Do you use powerful and credible stories as a way of touching people’s hearts and minds with the need to change?

Personal Motivation

Do individual entrepreneurs take satisfaction from learning how to create startups or dislike failing?

When the going gets tough, does learning help with long-term goals and align with individual values?

Personal Ability

Do individual entrepreneurs have all the skills or knowledge to perform what is required?

Social Motivation

Are the people around entrepreneurs actively encouraging learning how to create a company or discouraging failure?

Are current entrepreneurs modeling how to learn or succeed in creating a startup in an effective way?

Social Ability

Does the entrepreneurial community or Startup America Partnership provide the help, information, and resources required, particularly at critical times?

Does the community hold entrepreneurs accountable for learning or successfully creating a startup?

Structural Motivation

Are there clear and meaningful rewards (such as with pay, bonuses, or financing) when entrepreneurs learn to create a successful startup?

Are short-term rewards in alignment with the desired long-term results and behaviors wanted?

Structural Ability

Are there aspects in the environment that make learning to start a successful startup convenient, easy, and safe?

Are there enough cues and reminders to help entrepreneurs stay on course?

 Startup America is trying to address mostly the ability side of things on the structural and social level though it is also having an impact on the social motivation. The structural motivation, however, is unclear and largely in the hands of other players in the world of capital. It requires its own diagnosis to determine how to change things in that eco-system.  Personal Ability is trying to be addressed through the use of mentor networks and programs like NFTE.  But where is the university level education (not to mention tech transfer reform)? Steve Blank at Stanford is experimenting with a Lean Launch Pad Class to provide an experiential classroom about how to build real companies. Other than a few other smattering of pilot programs university education is focused on writing a business plan.

Unfortunately, I think entrepreneurial education is lacking and doesn’t yet really know what or how to teach how to be a successful entrepreneur—especially a bootstrapping entrepreneur which makes up most of the businesses that are started each year. That is what I think is primarily missing—good education around how to create a startup without investors. These businesses are not just lifestyle or small businesses but are also high growth companies. In fact, the more successful you are as a bootstrapping entrepreneur the easier it is to get funding.

The Startup America Partnership is a step in the right direction but like most startups needs to pivot to better solve the customers’ problem. So like most sagas there is still room for some prequels.

Entrepreneur’s Pledge

April 22nd, 2011

I’m going to push the pause button on the Startup HR series and talk about a few other things. The first is from my inbox-one of those newsletters you subscribe to hoping for a nugget of knowledge that you can use. This one is from the Kauffman Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship.

The Kauffman Foundation is inviting entrepreneurs to read its “Entrepreneur’s Pledge,” and express what it means to them for a chance to win a ticket to Big Omaha, a sold-out event billed as “the nation’s most ambitious conference on innovation and entrepreneurship,” to be held May 11-13, 2011 in Omaha, Neb.

Competition entrants each must complete an application at . Entries are due by April 29, 2011, and the winner will be announced the week of May 2. The winning entrant will be responsible for all travel expenses. Sorry folks not quite the all expenses paid Price-Is-Right motivation you were hoping for, huh?

The pledge is what caught my attention, though conferences can be fun to attend as well. Here is what the pledge looks like:

I am an Entrepreneur.

I am following a dream, pursuing an opportunity, taking charge of my own destiny.

I am bringing something of value to society, making a job for myself and for others, and creating wealth that benefits my family, my community, my country, my world.

I am one of a movement of millions of entrepreneurs and innovators who made America great, and who will continue to keep our economy going…and growing.

I am what I am because many people have helped me along on this journey.


I will tell my story, sharing my successes and failures, so that others taking the entrepreneurial path can learn.

I will strive to mentor an aspiring entrepreneur.

I will make my voice heard by those who make policy decisions that affect me and my business.

I will appreciate and celebrate my accomplishments, and the accomplishments of all my fellow entrepreneurs.

I will give back to the society that helped me to be successful.

I will build a stronger nation, and in doing so, a better world.

The video that goes along with this is a little robotic (think GPS voices) and is a bit of a turn off but I can appreciate the rallying cry. It gives shape to a common vision and purpose that are trying to be established by programs like Startup America in order to instill economic hope and growth.

I agree whole-heartedly with the pledge and feels that it captures a lot of my beliefs and motivation for wanting to be an entrepreneur. However, motivations aren’t enough to make a change in this world-it requires action or the capability to achieve something.  Effective movements or changes happen on multiple levels (individual, social, and environment/organization); which is why I like the 2nd half of the pledge. However, I think it is still missing something. I’m adding one more thing to make it my pledge:

I will start something.

It is the decision to and the actual building or selling of something that someone wants or needs that is entrepreneurial. Statistics like 70% of high school students want to start their own business don’t mean anything unless they eventually start one. How many people don’t take that leap-you don’t have to quit your day job but share your idea, test your assumptions, talk to a potential customer. Don’t confuse going to entrepreneurial events with being an entrepreneur.  So if you do go to something like Big Omaha, join me in my pledge to find someone to start something with and do it.

What Health Care Reform?

March 23rd, 2010


Okay, so I thought I’d quickly contribute to the already flooded media channels with one more set of comments about the recent Health Care Reform bill that was just signed. I’ve for the most part just stuck my head in the sand while the debate raged on. Why?

Partly because I think the debate is over the wrong thing. This is about insurance reform not health care. If it were about health care we would be discussing ways to change the root causes of poor or failing health and exploring solutions. This hasn’t really been touched, though as Nathaniel Whitmore points out in his blog post via Social Entrepreneurship this is where opportunities abound for entrepreneurs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it isn’t important. It creates the landscape and parameters for businesses and individuals to play within but it is only part of a system and doesn’t strike at vital behaviors-those few things that really move the needle. The hard part about it all is that everybody wants to move the needle a different distance. Talk about market segmentation.

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