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The Startup Community Way: Evolving an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem by Brad Feld
Last month I read Startup Communities by venture capitalist Brad Feld. Only after I read the book did I realize that Feld and coauthor Ian Hathaway had just released this follow-up book. This is a better book, and in many ways a superset of the original. It builds on those earlier lessons, refines a few things, and goes into much more depth.
Like the earlier book, this is a book about creating entrepreneurial ecosystems in specific locations. It is the first book you should read if you are part of a community that wants to create an innovation community. Feld is honest about the challenges in building entrepreneurial ecosystems, but is also optimistic about the prospects of even a small group of committed entrepreneurs to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The book is loosely structured around the science of complex adaptive systems. As someone passionate about complexity science, I was eager to see how they developed this idea. I was a little disappointed that the book did not take the idea beyond loose metaphor, but nonetheless, this is a good book. I am going to incorporate it into the Technology & Innovation course I teach in February, largely because there is so much interest inside government about how to create entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Beyond the Summit by Todd Skinner
One of the things I love about rock climbing is that it’s such a wonderful training ground for life. It forces you to the edge of your abilities, because progress constantly requires taking one step further into fear and the unknown. Climbing well requires mental focus and self-mastery. Progress is visible and measurable. More than anything, defying gravity to scale a rock wall or mountain is a sublime metaphor for achieving hard goals.
That is why I was intrigued to discover this book by Todd Skinner, a climber legendary for making grueling first ascents that many deemed impossible. The book is marketed to business leaders, with a subtitle about “setting and surpassing extraordinary business goals.” I began reading with some trepidation, because a book framed this way could be either very bad or very good.
Fortunately, I found the book to be very good. Like most business or self-help books, the insights are mostly just conventional wisdom, but sometimes sitting with conventional wisdom is useful; the value comes not from novelty, but from reflecting deeply on that wisdom as one reads a book. The execution in this case is very good. I found myself continually reflecting on how Skinner’s insights might apply to my own life. The book also succeeds as a climbing memoir; Skinner and his team’s hard slog up Pakistan’s Trango Tower makes for riveting reading.
The book should appeal to anyone who liked The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner, one of my favorite books about climbing and life. My enjoyment of the book was marred only by the knowledge that Skinner’s climbing career ended in tragedy, a reminder that a life lived on the edge is not without risk.
Endymion by Dan Simmons
Hyperion by Dan Simmons is hands-down my favorite science fiction novel. It is structured after the Canterbury Tales, with a group of pilgrims each narrating a different tale as they travel to the mysterious Time Tombs on the world of Hyperion. Each tale is masterfully written in a different style and genre, the various plots hinge on breathtaking feats of the author’s imagination, and the characters are rich and detailed. The universe that serves as a backdrop for these stories is vast, complex, and imaginative. These stories all converge in the sequel, The Fall of Hyperion. I recently listened to both on Audible, after reading them twice in the past.
Endymion is set almost three centuries later, following a civilizational collapse triggered by the events in the first two novels. I will not introduce the plot here, because I don’t want to spoil the first two books and you shouldn’t read Endymion anyway if you haven’t read Hyperion and its sequel. I’ll just say that if you have read those two books, Endymion is a worthy sequel. It is longer, slower-moving, focused on a smaller cast of characters on a more intimate journey. Much of the novel follows the key characters as they travel along the River Tethys, a river that spans numerous worlds joined by farcaster gates. That narrative structure aptly summarizes the book; Endymion is a river float through the vast universe that Simmons imagined, with all its diverse worlds, characters, and organizations. If that sounds appealing, check out the series.
The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
I love Neil Gaiman’s stories, so was eager to listen to this collection of essays on Audible. Gaiman reads his own work, and his British-accented storyteller’s voice is a delight to listen to. He is a thoughtful, eccentric, and fascinating person, so I looked forward to hearing his thoughts on wide-ranging topics.
I did not read the product description closely, so had to adjust my expectations when I realized that the book mostly consists of book introductions, with a few speeches, reviews, and essays in the mix. Introductions, after all, are the parts of books that many of us skip (okay, I read them, but I’m a nerd that way). Furthermore, most of these pieces were about books, comics, authors, illustrators, and music artists I was unfamiliar with. For that reason, much of the book’s rich value went right past me.
With that said, many of the pieces did speak powerfully and directly to me. Gaiman’s defenses of books and libraries are charming, funny, and important. I loved hearing about his formative years as a child and young man, haunting libraries all summer and being mugged en route to the comic store with his hard-earned cash. His 2012 commencement speech Make Good Art, one of my favorite speeches, makes an appearance. His commentary on books and authors I have read was wonderful. I loved his piece about the dramatic impact of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton had on him; his reverence for Lewis is fascinating and countercultural, because he does not share Lewis’ Christian worldview. The conversations he relates with Stephen King are rich and funny, made even funnier by his Stephen King impersonation. His pieces about classic science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors helped me put them into a broader context of how those genres developed.
Many of the other pieces did not speak quite as directly to me, but I still found much to appreciate about them. Gaiman’s mastery of his craft shows through every essay. His language is simple, clear, and direct, which is a testament to his care and precision. He is good-natured, funny, and always able to see the goodness in a wide range of artists and their work, even their not-very-good work, which is part of their lifetime trajectory of becoming good artists. Most significantly, every piece in this collection demonstrates Gaiman’s lifelong commitment to storytelling. The collection might seem narrowly focused on specific creators and their creations, but that is because artistic creation is Gaiman’s entire world. That’s what makes him so good.
Power to the People by Audrey Kurth Cronin
Audrey Kurth Cronin is a terrorism scholar who made a name for herself with her book How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns. I somehow stumbled across her new book Power to the People while looking for new books to round out the Technology & Innovation course I teach at SAASS.
I have only had time to skim the book at this point, but have already decided to include it in this year’s course. My course is built around complexity theory and emphasizes the reciprocal relationship between new technologies and social structures; we see many examples historically of how seemingly small technology changes can radically shape how human beings organize themselves economically and politically. I wanted a book that carried this idea forward into the future, particularly as non-state actors gain access to cutting-edge new technologies.
Cronin’s book looks like a great fit because she demonstrates how the proliferation of two technologies–dynamite and the AK-47–“inadvertently spurred terrorist and insurgent movements that killed millions and upended the international system.” After examining these cases in depth, the book examines emerging technologies like small drones, which I believe can have strategic impacts.
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
I wrestled with how to approach this review, because I feel a bit guilty. Solaris is a book that I should love. It is a science fiction classic. It is admired by some of my favorite science fiction authors. It is cerebral, intelligent, haunting, and philosophical, traits I generally like in books.
There were stretches of the book that captivated me. The story follows a scientist named Kelvin who travels to a research station on the strange, oceanic world of Solaris, and begins seeing haunting apparitions from his past. The suspense is subtle and psychological, as the mysteries of his fellow scientists–and their apparitions–unfold.
However, the suspense is intermittent, and I was mostly just bored. The book contains lengthy sections that are essentially literature reviews for imaginary scientific disciplines. I had to make myself finish this book–after putting it down several times. I generally do not finish books I don’t like, but I made an exception in this case because it’s short.