Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Intelligence And Vigilantes

(Note: This is the third and final entry in a three part series on some of the things I have learned about intelligence support to entrepreneurs from running a number of crowdfunding campaigns. For Part 1, click here and for Part 2, click here.)

Moros is a comic book series by Josh Lucas.  Loosely based on our hometown, Erie, PA, Moros tells the story of a former soldier turned policeman who becomes a vigilante to rid his town of a drug that he takes himself.

Josh successfully funded his third issue of the comic with a Kickstarter campaign that we helped him run back in April.

Josh was an experienced crowdfunder when I met him.  He had funded his first issue with a successful IndieGoGo campaign and had spent the time since that first issue working on his second issue and learning what he could about the comic book industry.

What he learned and what I have seen first hand with almost all of the entrepreneurs I have worked with (myself included) is that there is a kind of insanity that grips you when you are working on these projects.  It is almost impossible for you to see the world as it is.  Instead, you insist that the world is as you want it to be.  

Most intelligence professionals know this problem better as the Intel-Ops Divide.  The argument goes something like this:  Intel and ops need to be kept separate.  If they aren't, the intel guys run the risk of becoming so enamored with the plans the ops guys come up with that intel starts to see all the evidence not as it is but as ops hopes it will be.  This makes the intel guys useless to the organization.

The problem with entrepreneurs is that they don't typically have enough resources to be able to keep intel and ops separate.  So, what is an entrepreneur to do?  It seems to me that successful entrepreneurs manage this problem by asking dramatically different questions of intelligence professionals than the ones asked by either unsuccessful entrepreneurs or traditional leaders.

There is a growing body of evidence (produced largely by the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia) that successful entrepreneurs and innovators look at problems in fundamentally different ways from the rest of us.  Specifically, they use "effectual reasoning" (as opposed to causal reasoning) and five specific techniques to help them make decisions:  

  • Bird in Hand.  "What do I have at hand and what can I do with it right now?" are the kinds of questions that emerge from the Bird in Hand Principle.  The kinds of intelligence questions that arise from this principle focus on expanding the entrepreneur's understanding of what resources are immediately available for use.
  • Affordable Loss.  Good entrepreneurs don't focus exclusively on the potential gain.  Instead, they work hard to understand what they can afford to lose at each step.  Helping the entrepreneur understand the full nature of the downside risk is a good task for intel.
  • Lemonade.  This principle is about not only taking advantage of surprises (both good and bad) but welcoming them.  It means that intel support to entrepreneurs has to be very flexible and very fast.
  • Patchwork Quilt.  Good entrepreneurs rarely try to go it alone.  Instead they are constantly looking for partnerships (both formal and informal) with self-selecting stakeholders.  Identifying and prioritizing these potential stakeholders seems a natural fit for intel.

These principles and the associated intel questions that go with them don't ask the intel professional to buy into the underlying goals of the entrepreneur or evaluate the progress towards those goals.  Instead, they set the stage for intel success by asking questions that support the decisionmaking process of the entrepreneur uncomplicated by operational bias.