Archive for August 3, 2014

Planting Trees: Finite and Infinite Entrepreneurship

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Community of Practice, skmurphy

“A young farmer was urged to set out some apple-trees. – No, said he, they are too long growing, and I don’t want to plant for other people.  The young farmer’s father was spoken to about it, but he, with better reason, alleged that apple-trees were slow and life was fleeting.  At last some one mentioned it to the old grandfather of the young farmer.  He had nothing else to do, – so he stuck in some trees.  He lived long enough to drink barrels of cider made from the apples that grew on those trees.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. from “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table

“And if you ask a farmer, however old, for whom he is planting, he will unhesitatingly reply, “For the immortal gods, who have willed not only that I should receive these blessings from my ancestors, but also that I should hand them on to posterity.”
Cicero “Cato the Elder on Old Age

There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.
James Carse in “Finite and Infinite Games

Some people are attracted to entrepreneurship out of the desire to make enough money to live the life that they really want to lead, in effect to retire early and enjoy life. For the most part entrepreneurs are driven by a desire for accomplishment and autonomy, money is a necessary resource for building a company and paying for what you need in life.

“Surprise in infinite play is the triumph of the future over the past.

Since infinite players do not regard the past as determining the present/future, they have no way of knowing
what has begun in the past.

With each surprise, the past reveals a new beginning.

Inasmuch as the present/future is always surprising, the past is always changing.”
James Carse in “Finite and Infinite Games

The more we do the more we learn about our past. Rearing children taught me much about my childhood, becoming a father taught me a lot about my father, and now that I am a grandfather I have a deeper appreciation for what my grandparents went through. My hope is to be a better father, and grandfather, and steward in the communities that I am a member of.

“It is the desire of all finite players to be Master Players, to be so perfectly skilled in their play that
nothing can surprise them, so perfectly trained that every move in the game is foreseen at the beginning. A true Master Player plays as though the game is already in the past, according to a script whose every detail is known prior to the play itself.”
James Carse in “Finite and Infinite Games

Some entrepreneurs are hoping to avoid surprise and the nee for improvisation. They want to buy a “treasure map” that they can use to build a business just like another famous success. There are franchise models that work, but all require had work and improvisation to counter the local variations the franchise template cannot account for.

“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated. Education discovers an increasing richness in the past, because it sees what is unfinished there. Training regards the past as finished and the future as to be finished.
Education leads to a continuing self-discovery; training leads toward a final self-definition.
Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future.”
James Carse in “Finite and Infinite Games

Whether you want it to or not, life in a startup will give you an education if you will let it.

“Explanations establish islands, even continents, of order and predictability. But these regions were first charted by adventurers whose lives are narratives of exploration and risk. When the less adventuresome settlers arrive later to work out the details and domesticate these spaces, they lose the sense that all this certainty does not erase the myth, but floats in it.”
James Carse in “Finite and Infinite Games

It can be comforting to work for a larger firm, but whether you realize it or not it has much in common with a startup.  Few markets are predictable even in the medium term (e.g. 5 years) and the need for ongoing exploration and discovery at somewhere between  a tenth and a third of your efforts is a constant even in good times. In turbulent times it may be more like half of your effort.

The things that persist–if they are renewed–are friendships and fellowship, communities of stakeholders and communities of practice. What tress are you planting today that will bear fruit in five or shade in  ten  years? To whom much is given much is required: what you are doing to pay back the sacrifices and investments that have made your entrepreneurial efforts possible?

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