I wrote a quick post on LinkedIn the other day – much of my job is connecting dots. It got me thinking about some remarks I made about community building and networking during a local networking event anniversary. I thought it would be fun to expound on how spacetime, the big bang, gravity, and collisions make for building a strong ecosystem.
Note I am not an expert on any of this. Just a general summary to make a point. All you Astrophysicists chill out.
In the beginning of what we know of our universe there was a big bang.
After a good long time of cooling off (short by universe time) the universe has cooled off enough that we now have some basic elements, hydrogen and helium basically, spread throughout the ever expanding universe. As these elements bounce around (collide) they start clumping together. The heat of the time makes them energetic and gravity, even at the smallest scale, is doing its thing.
The interesting thing about gravity is that it keeps building with more mass. This gathering of hydrogen and helium is getting bigger in areas, and that is having a stronger gravitational effect. Given enough time these collisions and collections form larger and larger objects, pulling in more and more from the area around them.
Enough of this happened and the immense pressure at the center of these now massive objects kicks off a process that forms a star. Turning our basic elements into other kinds of elements through fusion. Every element in our universe (our planet, computer, etc) outside of hydrogen and helium comes from stars fusion reactions. We are made of star dust.
So what does this have to do with ecosystem building?
Collisions and gravity.
When we gather people and there are opportunities for good collisions among people, we find that interesting things happen. Civilizations form, specialization in skills, shared knowledge, etc.
Lets consider a simple social event. It may not seem like much in the moment. An introduction made here or there. An interesting thought passed along. Perhaps an inspirational comment. But over time we can look back at our lives and know that there is consequence from the collection of events. We can take what may just be simple elements, and form much more complex elements.
It doesn’t just happen at networking events of course. You meet people at work, the gym, the library, school, or at the pub. We meet future business partners, life partners, and word of mouth kicks in allowing us to find the carpenter for our new deck. Need to hire your first full-time employee for your new business? You are probably using that network you have built over your lifetime.
All of this adds up, perhaps somewhat similar to how we think of gravity. Small towns, shops, etc. have small gravitational pulls. Cities have much larger ones. The gravitational pull of Silicon Valley to the startup ecosystem is incredibly powerful. Fundraising is different in San Francisco than in most of America. Creating hubs, strong gravitational centers for startups, creates opportunities and dynamics that can’t exist otherwise. It allows us to go beyond ‘basic elements’ and start working with much more interesting and potentially exotic ones. It also acts as a draw to other like-minded entrepreneurs, investors, employees, etc. This draw has a compounding effect. It may seem small at first, and it certainly needs to be nurtured, but if allowed to form critical mass the results are far beyond the effort initially put in.
This isn’t just applicable for startups though. Consider what the larger gravitational centers are for music (Nashville, New Orleans, Austin) or movies (LA, Vancouver, Georgia) for example. How many aspiring actors/actresses or musicians feel like they need to move to one of those centers to find success? How many college graduates feel they need to move to a city to start their career? People feel the pull to these gravitational centers.
A friend told me a story about our local music scene here in Portsmouth, NH. A tremendous number of very talented musicians live the area. For a small city of 21,000 how did this come to be? Back in the early 1980’s Portsmouth wasn’t popular or known as the destination that it is today. What Portsmouth did have, though, was an environment that helped attract musicians.
I’m am told that quite a large number of places paid musicians. Not just bars on Friday and Saturday nights, but diners on a Wednesday, and the Chinese restaurant on a Monday. The area became known as a place where musicians could not just play – but make a living. A dynamic existed where good collisions could thrive and gravity did its thing.
That same gravity also works its magic on all the other ecosystems in the local area. Tourism flourished, people want to live here, other artistic venues work their own magic. Portsmouth is a small city juggernaut now. Its gravity distorting normal small city spacetime creating new dynamics to leverage and grapple with – a lot of opportunity, arts and culture, great food, and gentrification.
So what is the point of all this? We can let nature take its course over a long period of time. Our interpersonal gravity is doing its thing anyway. But perhaps we can also work with intent.
We can build scenarios to foster good collisions. We can create the events, spaces, training, and support systems to guide those collisions and evangelize what those collisions bring. We can work with intent to make sure those changes to our ecosystem are positive ones. We can support the people and organizations that work so hard doing this.
We can all do our part to connect the dots.