Debate is healthy, some arguments are necessary, defamation is damaging

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone gripe about other people in the local start-up scene I’d have enough to double my seed fund. I’ve read all sorts of comments — from charges that label some as “Empire builders”, to attacks on some who have achieved some success as arrogant, to even accusations levied on others for not being “team players”.

While some of those comments may be valid, unconstructive discourse comes at a cost to fledgling ecosystem. Conflict not only takes time away at the moment, it also has the effect of creating distortion within the system.

Let me use an analogy: Let’s compare the start-up ecosystem to a monetary system. Unconstructive discourse can be equated to counterfeit money that cannot be exchanged for a service or product. Let’s also say the counterfeit money cannot be taken out of the system once it is introduced. We now have a system where many transactions would not be able to take place, opportunities would be missed to exchange value for value. This will be a net loss to everyone in the system, economic activity will not run at its optimal output.

Freedom of speech is a right, but self-restraint is a virtue. Every mis-characterisation of an individual has an exponential negative effect. Debate is healthy, some arguments are necessary, defamation is damaging. Interactions that may yield new collaborative efforts may be killed before conception because the water may have already been poisoned. I can’t tell you how many times I challenged an opinion someone rendered of another person only to find out it was just conjecture. Biased opinions can easily become facts because a singular negative inference has made the rounds.

So let’s talk a little about self-interest. I think it’s a common denominator that is often a major flash point of “noise” in the system. So what if some people like to sound their own horns? I’m not one to, but what are the real outcomes of such behavior? If the self-promoter can back it up then that may be ok. Some may go as far as to call that marketing and brand building. It could also create a positive buzz which is a net benefit to everyone in the system. Don’t worry too much about those who talk but don’t have much to show, they will be found out in due time.
Even the most self-centered entrepreneur will invariable add some value if he/she is successful, I believe in Adam Smith’s Invisible hand Theory:

Every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it … He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for society that it was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.

Now let’s talk about what differing and diverse approaches can do for our ecosystem. Simply put, it makes us all better. The new startup that is trying to develop that killer product stands a better chance of success if it is open to listening to a different perspective that may necessitate a change in direction. Just ask Max Levchin, a cofounder of Paypal.

The founder that’s promoting his company in the media would likely attract some light to the whole system and may spark (no pun intended) enough curiosity to bring more investment into the space.

So I fully support the loud mouths, the quiet doers, the anonymous investor, the foreign incubator, bloggers and writers, mentors, young folks, old timers, experts, novices, virtually anyone who is willing to add value and engage in constructive discourse. It’s going to take all kinds of folks pitching in to build and nurture our ecosystems to maturity.

Akin Sawyerr Author

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