Maintain or refrain?
This week I’m gardening the bylaws and business plan for mito.coop, what I'm building right now.[^1] It’s an exercise in care and patience where I’m not trying to rush into things while I open up every part of my process to scrutiny.
Starting something new again feels like tracing the same textures with your fingertips, like the banister of a childhood home or stone you’ve leant against while waiting for a lift. It’s familiar, grounding terrain but also distracting.
It is the map that precedes the territory [...], the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. – Jean Baudrillard, 'The Precession of Simulacra'
It’s easy to imprint on a roadmap. I’ll do this, then that. I’ll make these promises publicly, and commit time to checking these boxes.[^2] But this map can become the very thing that stops you in your tracks. The map is a photo, a point in time. Everything you do places the map out of date and scale.
Software developers have this euphemism I love to hate: that they will 'maintain' something. When they say this, they mean laborious, manual activity to prop up the functionality of the virtual interface layer.[^3] It immediately strips away the magic of the black box and reminds us of the cost of human toil. It’s usually a response to technical debt — not planning or responding creatively to changing conditions from the outset. Professional service consultants do this too but in Excel rather than the Command Line.
It’s easy to prop up the tent of a brand without building what’s necessary. To maintain 'canvases' and snapshots of a business plan rather than to keep focussed on what matters, to unlearn what you thought and learn what’s true. You need slack (lowercase) and patience.
Coaching others through this journey has helped me externalise the ‘refrain’, the repeating unit that captures the gestation of a new idea, the maturity of the team and their capacity to imagine rather than parrot. These are the three questions I ask, in one form or another, to navigate from idea to organisation:
- What are you trying to do? balances the kinds of value created (economy, narrative, community, impact), capabilities and the validation that this actually works and involves the right people in a 'support model'.
- What's the best wrapper for what you're creating? shows how to replace individual dependencies with an organisation to take their place, how stakeholders are organised, how the state/market help or hinder the journey, and how work can live/thrive in an organisation.[^4]
- How do you make decisions? shows what happens to knowledge that's created and consumed by an organisation,[^5] the time horizon to review failure/success and if there are conditions for thinking about the future regularly.
These answers are hard to come by, and need open reflection. Reflections that need the invitation of time and trusted company.
[^1]: Email me if you'd like to be involved in reading and learning more about mito.coop and I can send you an invite for the open beta. [^2]: This is often the problem with investment gates — an external view of the value and health of an early stage business idea. [^3]: Compare with Wizard of Oz, a deliberate simulation of not-yet-built features to demonstrate what a solution could do, that can lead to technical debt. Similar but different to a Mechanical Turk – a concept that needs a better name. [^4]: Markets are constructed to enforce certain kinds of contracts (liablity), promote monopolistic (patent), oligopolistic (regulation) or competitive (platform) behaviour, to depreciate certain kinds of assets (tangible), to reap tax credits (commercialising research) etc. [^5]: This is the basis of organisational intelligence: can an org do things with knowledge? and can it harness people to work better than if they were working alone or without an organisational wrapper?
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