Saturday, December 13, 2008

Entrepreneurial Inclinations

Modern liberal democracies are complex adaptive systems. As such social, economic, political, cultural change is an ongoing phenomena. From time to time there are "perfect storms" of change in which there is a great deal of disruption as societies go through massive phase transitions. As individual agents how we respond to these changes is important. Our attitudes, interpretations, ideologies, and actions all determine the nature of our response to the transition period and its outcome. There is a right way and a wrong way to respond to these periods. Stephen DeAngelis offers a good example of the right way:

One of the reasons I started Enterra Solutions was because I could see that potentially profitable companies were becoming "hopelessly unadapted" because they were trying to solve information age challenges using industrial age solutions. As the pace of globalization speeds up, such companies find themselves with an increasingly unmanageable complexity gap.

I like this. I like the ability to recognize the transformation that is taking place and then the motivation and imagination to create an entrepreneurial venture to contribute to that transformation. As Anne-Marie Slaughter says "You really have to embrace the complexity."

I really enjoy reading Jeff Jarvis because he is someone who has embraced the complexity and is whole-heartedly engaged in the kind of creative thinking that our time requires (and that drives some people nuts, which I find highly entertaining). He teaches a class in entrepreneurial journalism which fosters in the students the kind of creative and entrepreneurial thinking that is necessary to imagine and build the next generation of journalistic institutions.

I love teaching this class. The students’ ideas change, sometimes radically, as the course goes on and as they learn more about business and challenge themselves (as guests and fellow students do) - they act like good entrepreneurs. They understand the importance of learning the business, not something I learned in J-school. They look at the world in new ways and see new opportunities.
In the spring, I’m going to teach a truncated version of the course at the Sorbonne with Eric Scherer of the AFP. Dan Gillmor also teaches journalistic entrepreneurship at Arizona as does Rich Gordon at Northwestern. The more, the better. Journalism is not going to preserve itself into the next era; it must innovate its growth. That’s what this course really teaches - not just business and journalism but invention and change.

You have to have the right attitude: an optimistic attitude that sees in the change opportunities to be creatively explored; the right interpretation: clearly seeing that this is indeed an era of transformation that requires innovative ways of thinking; the right ideology: ideologies are not permanent and unchanging, they are products of their time and need to change when the times change; and the right action: attempting to resist change is the road to failure, becoming entrepreneurial and inventing the new era's institutions and practices is the road to success.
There is no better example of being "hopelessly unadapted" than the US auto industry and the political class's response. Tom Friedman:

...America's bailout of Detroit will be remembered as the equivalent of pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of the birth of eBay. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into a book-store chain on the eve of the birth of and the Kindle. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet.

Of course it will be our politics that will be the last to change with the "there's nothing wrong with our ideology" conservatives and the progressives with their orgasmic enthusiasm for a new New Deal leading the parade of the "hopelessly unadapted". That's why we need to get cracking and start following the path of DeAngelis and Jarvis in politics (and every field of endeavor).

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