“innovation happens at the intersections”

Entrepreneurship Initiative
University of Massachusetts Amherst

So says Valdis Krebs in Network Weaving 101 (redux). Maybe it’s fair to say that my ambition in life is to close triangles? Get people connected. Especially when we all can learn something worthwhile from each other. But “people” (to my mind) is groups more than it is individuals. Individuals are the ones who enact the relationships, but it i s the group-level implications that matter.

Predictive Marketing

Last Sunday I was at Schnipper’s – “a place of miracles” – waiting for a bus to depart the Port Authority in New York City. I had already missed two busses back to Amherst because I was absorbed in writing a summary blogpost after last week’s exciting, historic, first annual Science of Team Science conference hosted by Northwestern University’s Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute in Chicago.

Was it serendipity? Fate? Karma? Random happenstance? I don’t care what you call it. “It was a clean folder when I met you!” Michael was entertained by the notes I jotted down regarding “the gift and curse of entrepreneurship,” and “the new energy tycoons.” ‘Cisco (just don’t call him Frank) and Marcus (familiar with Auslan) and Mike and I talked connections. Funny how Mike is developing energy technology based on “algae that grows in the dark” and what he wants are suppliers who will “just give me the grease.” (I happen to know a couple of them!)

“I think you’re all awesome.”

I’m quoting Cliff (who was flirting with the entrepreneurs who composed the last panel of the UMass EI course) but I agree – not only with his assessment of the panelists but of everyone I met during this semester-long course. The four successful women who composed our closing panel revisited and emphasized with their own unique twists the most important lessons.

  • “Karma is a boomerang, you put it out there. It might not be immediate but it does come back to you.” (Lisa)
  • “To be a success, you have to take on the complexion of your community.” (Sarah)
  • “Bring in people with different skills [than your own]. You have to learn their interactive ways, but you learn more from non-similar people [than from people who are like yourself].” (Lisa)
  • “Use your business as a platform to advance your values. It’s a lot of fun; there’s a lot of power there.” (Nancy)
  • “Risk is something the other person sees.” (Marjorie)

Sitting in the Chair

“There is nothing more lonely,” Marjorie explained, than sitting in the chair when … someone gets hurt on the floor? “You sit in the chair.” When losses occur? “You sit in the chair.” When payroll is hard to make? “You sit in the chair.” “We don’t really nurture,” Nancy explained, “how to make all these crazy connections you have to make. You have to learn how to view the world in such a way as to bring all those discrete experiences together.” Lisa offered a corrective, “Go with positive language. It’s contagious!” but you’ve got to come to grips with there being people “who want to build the clock” and people “who want to know what time it is.” Lisa elaborated, “People think differently from you and you can learn from them.” Running a business can be tricky, because you have “to figure out how to do it that breaks the bounds…but you have to know how to play inside before you play outside. You can’t take on City Hall all the time. Sometimes you have to go around.” And you’ve got to know the rewards. “I want to see what I can do,” Sarah explained. “Creating jobs really sets it off for me.”

“Food brings people together.”

Sarah backed up her words with action. Michael and his pals at Schnipper’s probably agree. And Rose and Mau can attest to another way food brings people together – even if we normally don’t think about where food waste goes.  Right now?  Mostly into landfills. But options are afoot! Can you imagine your organic waste becoming an energy source of the future? I can. It isn’t hard to imagine, although building the infrastructure to support it smoothly might take a bit of time and go through a few rough spells while the kinks get worked out. Re-engineering our energy infrastructure on the scale we need is a human adventure akin to that taken by every major wave of immigration. Marjorie emphasized that we all learned everything we need to know in kindergarten:

Life ain’t fair.

Don’t say ain’t.

Hugs feel good.

Naps are important.

She didn’t mention this one, but I think it ranks among the most important lessons: share.

Human potential doesn’t need to be restricted to the extraordinary accomplishments of isolated individuals in specific fields. Group-level accomplishments, such as engineering feats (space travel!) or athletic prowess (any team victory against the odds), demonstrate humanness in ways that exceed what any single person can achieve. Sharing does not imply equality or sameness. The willingness and the ability to share demonstrates respect for others and a measure of recognition that few of us survive in autonomy.  We are all implicated in vast systems of food and energy production that are so far removed from our daily lives we would hardly know what to do in the event of an institutional-level breakdown. Somehow, someway, we’ve got to reform the infrastructure enough so that consistently-increasing percentages of the global population can bounce back fast against inevitable disasters and systemic crises.

“If you can do it, you do”

Michael was bemoaning some of the roles he plays for his start-up, but our roles – in any context – are rarely exclusively determined by the scope of personal desire. The first group role I ever had that other people recognized was as a cheerleader. No no no, I didn’t wave pom poms or wear a short skirt! But I was motivational to the members of my high school’s volleyball team at a time when all the players were feeling down. The road since is rife with of experience, but I remain essentially optimistic: I do think there is plenty of room for hope.  People are so smart! We can design the tools that will enable the discovery and invention of solutions to our worst problems.  We just have to decide that doing so matters enough and follow through.

2 thoughts on ““innovation happens at the intersections””

  1. It was my great pleasure to speak with the EI!
    Now I’m going to quote you, “People are smart!”
    That certainly was the feeling I got from you and your classmates; hearing everyone’s ideas was inspiring.
    Thank you for having us.

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