Mark Beckford

Social Capital Markets: Pathological Collaboration

Social Capital MarketsI absolutely love that phrase.? I heard it at the Social Capital Markets 2008 conference this week in beautiful San Francisco, said by William Foote, Founder and President of Root Capital, on a panel I didn’t attend but heard about later.? The phrase perfectly epitomizes the mood and underlying themes of the conference, and the panel I myself moderated, as well as the panel I was asked to blog about for

I love this phrase because I see the positive message within it, just as I tend to see the positive in most things, including my approach to business strategy which I call “disruptive leadership.” which I’ve already blogged about here.

You could argue there is absolutely nothing positive in the word “pathological.”?? The Encarta? definition leaves little room for a positive interpretation:

path?o?log?i?cal adj

1. uncontrolled or unreasonable

2. relating to disease or arising from disease

3. relating to pathology or used in pathology

I follow the Dale Carnegie theory that he puts forth in his famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, in which he posits that humans are driven primarily by self-interest.? He writes that the only way to influence people is to speak to them in terms that either makes them feel good or portrays how you can help them.

I believe we are ruled by self-interest.? If I go to Africa to volunteer to build a school, I do so because doing so makes me feel good.? If it makes me feel bad, I wouldn’t do it.? We will die for our children, because the thought of continuing to live after giving up the chance to sacrifice oneself for a loved one, would be unbearable.

Elizabeth Funk, Chairman of the Board of Unitus, reiterated this point in a different way in the final panel which debated whether the greatest social good could be achieved by maximizing financial return.? She argued that human nature is fundamentally driven by greed, and that we need to harness that greed to do social good.? The guy behind me clearly didn’t agree … I could hear him whisper “jeez!

So the fact that we are forced, uncontrollably or unreasonably, into collaborating with each other when we may not have done so before is therefore a good thing.

Getting back to the “mood” of the conference.? Here we all were at a conference about how to “do good” in the world with a capitalistic approach, when the financial markets that support capitalism had just crashed and burned.? Not to mention that every attendee’s net worth had plummeted off the cliff over the last week.

Given all of that, the mood in the conference was what I’d call “gritty” optimism.? Of course it helped that the Dow went through the roof on Monday, the first day of the conference.? But you are talking about a group of people who look daily at the ugliness in the face as they ponder how to fix the world’s ills with an unusually open-minded, pragmatic perspective.

At a conference of mixed attendees … investors, nonprofits, for-profits, and thought leaders, collaboration is a given.? But the underlying message is …? we cannot go it alone.

In the panel that I moderated, ICT for Development, one woman, Rose Sarita Shuman, founder of Open Mind asked the question: “Should companies that are looking to build their brand try to go it alone, or do they need to partner?”? The unanimous response was a no-brainer: partner and collaborate.? I mentioned to her that Intel rarely goes it alone, and when they did, they failed.

In the panel that I was asked to blog about, Successful IT Initiatives, I heard the word partner more times then I heard anything else, using some very creative metaphors.? But as this conference was about “social enterprises,” there were a lot of folks that weren’t sure about what that really meant.? I could tell that by the tone of their questions.? There was a sense of wariness and trepidation from the public sector working with the private sector, and vice versa.

Unlike the panel I moderated, these panelists all had experience primarily from the private sector:?

  • Dan Shine, VP of AMD’s 50×15 program
  • Brooke Partridge, CEO of VitalWave Consulting (a strategic consulting and market research firm specializing in technology in emerging markets),
  • Willy Agatstein, former Intel executive for emerging market products and now Board member of WinRock and Inveneo (both non-profits)
  • Matthew Clark, Director of? Strategic and Emerging Businesses at Microsoft

Some of the panelists’ comments that I found most thought provoking were (these are paraphrased as I did not record the session):

  • “The private sector needs to treat the public sector as clients” Brooke Partridge
  • “Everyone is throwing out metaphors of private/public partnerships…I want to use my own: Marriage. Specifically, abstinence before marriage.? Too many non-profit startups are trying to ?hook-up.’? Phone calls are not returned, etc.? You need to get to know someone real well before you get in bed with them … know what their real motivations are before you go past first or second base.” (Matthew Clark)
  • “Charity is like a drug.? Once you get hooked, it’s hard to kick the habit.? One way to guarantee failure of a non-profit is if their objective is only to get money to survive for a year, then go do what they do, then come back with their handout for more the next year, the venture will fail.”? Willy Agatstein
  • “You must ensure transparency in any partnership.? Too many times I’ve seen broken promises from partners.”? Dan Shine

So what is needed to make these “wary” partners work to avoid a disastrous divorce?? Pathological collaboration is needed, whether the partners like it or not.?