I have the good fortune to interact with local, regional, and global networks that are focused on building sustainable companies thereby creating lasting social change. I have spent the greater part of the last year trying to understand the barriers that limit our ability to integrate disparate networks into a singular construct that work in unison to attain shared goals. One that leverages the diversity of thought, perspective, resources, influence, experience, and breadth that exist in various quarters.
A man who I consider a pillar in the African Start-up ecosystem told me this a year ago, “I seek opportunities to support founding teams that at least have Pan-African aspirations. The solutions need to be able to scale to solve regional challenges”.
In order for this aspiration to be possible, a few things have to be functional within such a team, and they must have a particular view of the world that is very different from the reality that is readily evident.
The internal realities
There are numerous publications out there that talk about the necessary characteristics that drive business success. A quick search of “business success” on Amazon yielded 144,424 hits. While some of these books do provide some utility, I believe there have to be some inherent things resident in a founding team that act as a platform upon which lasting success can be built. Many of these publications regurgitate the same list of good characteristics. Some include:
- A shared grand vision
- Shared values
- An ability to learn as you iterate
I’d like to discuss one trait that I believe holds a prominent position in the lexicon of must haves: Integrity.
Integrity is a word that is used liberally and in many contexts. It’s a dynamic word that can be applied to mean a number of things. A quick google search turned up this definition:
The title of this article is a misnomer by design. I think we often look for, and at, the wrong things when we think about ecosystems. I do not see an ecosystem as a physical construct or as something that is defined by borders or culture. I see an ecosystem as defined by shared values that are unshakeable. Simply put, integrity.
So I define the Nigerian ecosystem the same way I look at other networks. The ecosystem to me is the subset of people that I can identify with from a values perspective. I take somewhat of a Pareto principle stance on this. The ecosystem is the 20%, but in my heart it is goes beyond that. It’s not just the 20% that are causing 80% of the effect, it’s the subset of the 20% that are relentless in guarding their integrity, and by virtue of that, responsible for sustaining the whole.
Let me give a football analogy that many may identify (and some may vilify me for): I think there is general consensus that Jose Mourinho is a great manager, but he lacks class and often resorts to petty tactics to win. I put it to you that while many would argue on the pedigree of Brendan Rodgers, he has integrity. Before I digress, the team with the better man as manager will win.
The Matrix Reality: You have to believe
I would like us the Matrix movie as an analogy if I may. In the movie, Neo went through a processes of self-actualization. He was always “The One”, but he not only did he need to believe it, he had to become it. He could not just succeed by having blind faith that he was the “The One”. He truly had to know that in the deepest recesses of his being. In the moment in when Neo finally believed, he was not just able to bend reality and defy natural limitations, he believed in who he was, his purpose, his destiny. Neo defied all natural laws and limits because he became his true self.
The concept of kindred spirits
Have you ever met someone for the first time but gotten a feeling like you have known each other forever? Do you have a friend or business partner that on the surface seems like the last person you expected to get on with but it just works?
I think that if one digs deep enough, we may find that a set of core shared values form the underpinnings of the relationship. Values transcend all natural and man-made constructs. If these shared values are overlaid with a shared vision, we have the makings of a potentially lethal team.
It is our duty find these people and not rest until we do, find a way to engage, and make miracles happen.
Propagation and Replication
The ability for the ecosystem to grow, is depended on its ability to replicate itself. It must be able to find like minds to add to the fold, graft in others through a deliberate process that adds others to the fold without dilution or compromise. The core represents the whole, and in order to continue fulfilling its mandate it has to grow with the system, ideally faster than the system. At some point everyone should be moving towards the core, otherwise the core is not serving its full function.
Connect the dots
An ecosystem by definition is a living organism. It must be fed and nurtured for it to grow. It will also become more functional if it becomes more diverse. Biodiversity increases the ability of natural ecosystems to continue serving their current functions, and expands the range of functions an ecosystem provides. Every addition strengthens the core and makes its more functional.
I thought this article was about that ecosystem thing
Aaah! Yes. There is one ecosystem because there is only one set of universal values that transcend time. The values are the ecosystem, and the ecosystem lives only on those values. One does not exist without the other. Embrace the values, find your true self, be the ecosystem, propagate the values, find salvation.
While the skills needed to build your business may require 10,000 hours of practice, becoming the ecosystem should not, afterall we are talking about the greatest technology ever invented. Let there be…