Discipline Is Not a Curse

Monday, March 19, 2012 |

For those of us in the Enterprise Architecture, impressing the value of discipline on the world that is incentivized to ignore it, is par for the course.  Whether it's due to great expectations, unrealistic timelines, lack of coherent planning, or all of the above, ensuring and enabling others to follow a method or process with trust that success will not come from taking shortcuts is a Herculean task.

So when we transitioned to a Capability-Driven Startup Incubator model, we essentially doubled down on the belief that if done in a disciplined way, we can help entrepreneurs launch companies that are successful, profitable, and not hampered by capability debt (debt of suboptimal decisions made for expediency or based on incomplete information, or by wrong people in wrong positions.)  You'll see the results of that bet start appearing in the public light next quarter so you can judge whether our bet is paying off.

It is from a discipline perspective that I ran into a very curious piece on Chicago digital startup community that appeared in PandoDaily.  It centers around defining the "Midwest Mentality" of pragmatism, as follows:

Pragmatism is defined as dealing with issues on a practical level, rather than a theoretical one. What does this mean in the context of startups? Well, it means that there is no “let’s build a cool tool and then figure out the business model”. No. In fact, if you do that here, you don’t belong. That’s a plain fact that I have found very few people disagree with.
And while the author (Trevor Gilbert) goes on to provide both pros and cons of pragmatism, he spends the majority of the article blasting pragmatism in context of digital startups.  He delves into working hours, missing the point that amount of work doesn't usually correlate to success.  Those of us with kids don't just stop working once we go home - I see many of my married with kids counterparts firing up the laptop after their kids are in bed.  But we can debate whether parents working 9pm to midnight is more productive than their single counterparts spending that time having fun at a bar - either is simply anecdotal and should be taken with several grains of salt.  It'd just be nice if Trevor thought to research his arguments a bit more.

And in that failure of discipline, he makes and then fails to expound on the major point of why Chicago startup community is so different from Boston or Silicon Valley:
Without hot startups, you are left with the problem of attracting investment and talent with names observers don’t truly know.
Here Trevor inverts the causality in support of his argument.  That is shoddy at best, sensationalist at heart, and substandard thinking at worst.  The cause of few "hot startups" is not our pragmatism.  It's the fact that there is a "problem of attracting investment and talent with names observers don't truly know."

If Trevor actually listened to the Chicago VC community, their investment dollars usually go to people they have built a relationship with - over several years.  It's not that talent, intelligence, adaptability, and stick-to-it-itiveness of the idea don't play a role.  It's that in order to be rated on these measures, the prospective entrepreneur has to clear a very high barrier to entry of building a relationship with the prospective funders.  Perhaps it's a throwback to the old Chicago politics paradigm of "we don't want nobody nobody sent."  But perhaps it's not strictly a Chicago issue (here's a WSJ article bemoaning that fact nationwide), just more pronounced here.  Regardless of cause, this state of affairs limits our city to be the backwater of seed investment dollars.  Either way, I'm not sure that "Midwestern Mentality" has much to do with it.

AAB