When is disruption necessary, and when is it wasteful?
Should a start-up founder be naive, or informed?
I’ve been wrestling with both of these questions this week, and I’ve yet to reach satisfactory answers. But I know that the answers are linked.
The questions have been independently provoked by events inside and outside this company.
First, a new organisation launched in the UK offering to ‘galvanise’ the tech start-up scene across the North. As someone who has been involved in the tech start-up scene in the north for a decade I’m immediately sceptical of such launches. Do we need more lobbying? More networking opportunities?
Or would it be preferable for those behind the organisation to throw their weight behind what is already there?
Are they offering something genuinely new or are they just naive? Even if they are naive, should we be critical? Maybe creating competition will drive action from others? Maybe more people in the market is simply better? Maybe they will stumble on something that no-one else has?
Maybe. I don’t know.
Then, someone questioned my creation of a new organisation for futurists. Shouldn’t I be throwing my weight behind the organisations that are already out there?
When I started this company I was undoubtedly naive. I’d been writing and broadcasting about the future for six years. I had some experience of professional futurologists, having worked with a few. But I wasn’t experienced in the tools they used. I wasn’t even aware there were organisations of futurists.
But I could ignore that lack of knowledge for one simple reason: people were offering me work as a futurist. So whatever else was out there, there was clearly still opportunity in the market.
This was the leanest of lean start-ups: sales came before any sort of product definition.
Three years later and I have learned an awful lot. I’ve engaged with other futurists and futurologists. I’ve seen how they work. I’ve tried the established tools. I’m confident that what I’m offering with the Applied Futurist’s Toolkit is very different to what else is available. Not so much competition to what is there already, but more of a new market segment for a different audience that perhaps haven’t traditionally been served.
The point is that I’m not sure I would have got to this point if I hadn’t set out without hope and a measure of naivety. If I’d spent months researching the market before making the decision, rather than jumping when someone offered me a gig, I might have decided that there wasn’t such an opportunity. I might not have stumbled across the gap that I did.
So to the founders of this new networking organisation I say ‘good luck’. Maybe you’re naive, maybe you’re already confident about what the market needs. Your chances of success are likely even either way, as long as you keep learning.