I was wandering around a casino the other day, exploring the corridors, walking in and out of different rooms, passing kitchens and restaurants, and generally soaking up the atmosphere. I mustn’t have been paying attention as we ended up in the high roller area (someone came through the door the other way and we just walked in). You could tell it was the high roller areas because the carpet was nicer and the noise level suddenly dropped. I was enjoying the quiet and the fancy canapes being handed out when I passed an almost closed door and a sign saying “players only”. The room on the other side was packed. Since I wasn’t playing I passed on by but the image stuck in my mind and got me thinking. What was so special about this room?
Everybody was there for one reason
In the world of innovation there are two types of innovation meet ups. Those with buzz and those without. You already know the ones with buzz. Think Y Combinator, Pitch Club, and Startup Weekend. These groups all work because they have a strong focus. People go for one reason. To validate their business model. Budding entrepreneurs take along their idea, meet some people and generally completely change their idea until they have something that works. This is called business model validation. They try it out, make changes and try it out some more. If they are lucky they might leave with a team and some kind of promise of capital.
These people are players. They have all gone with one goal in mind. To take part. Nobody has gone along to watch, or hang out.
So why do similar groups between existing businesses seem to fail? I’ve been along to a few different forums where people get together with the loose goal of “doing something with innovation”. Typically these groups are attended by businesses, consultants, government workers and academics. Their reason for going is unclear, and people generally keep their cards close to their chest. Action is low even when attendance is high. Why? My theory is that the people there are not their to play. They are their to observe. Effective groups are attended by people with the power to take action, and the desire to take action immediately.