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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Movement, Startups, and the Discovery Process


Investor Peter Thiel reminds us that the interesting ideas are found in the overlap between “obviously good” and “seemingly crazy.” Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference. But maybe we’ve focused too long on that which seems obviously good.
For example, maybe it’s time we developed a more robust startup sector in the liberty movement. Maybe we can devise a skunk-works operation, or find a way to showcase more good/crazy ideas. 
Libertarians are familiar with the discovery process. It’s what happens when you try something entrepreneurial. Sometimes you succeed. Sometimes you fail. But at every stage, you learn something. This process is no different for social entrepreneurs.

Voice & Exit

About a year ago, a buddy and I decided to try something new. We wanted to have an event here in Austin that would be sort of like TED but with decidedly libertarian themes. We started working on Voice & Exit
What’s obviously good about the idea is that we knew modeling TED could work. What seems crazy is to market to people across the ideological spectrum and not leverage either that familiar brand or wear any political labels.
We want it to be a positive, inspiring event about voluntary association. We wanted to do this for a new audience, not the usual suspects. Such an event would enable us to showcase some of our movement’s movers and shakers while sharing the best ideas in voluntary association with the world.
As of this posting, it appears we could come up short of our initial funding goals. But as they say, “Damn the torpedoes!
We’re under no illusions. Starting something new is hard, especially when it requires people to step outside their comfort zones. And we may yet fail. But we appreciate groups like FEE, as well as other individuals and groups who were willing to support us—which meant to straddle the line between crazy and obvious.

The Discovery Process

If we come up short, Russell Sobel tells us why:
Errors in judgment are a part of the entrepreneurial learning, or discovery, process vital to the efficient operation of markets. The profit-and-loss system of capitalism helps to quickly sort through the many new resource combinations entrepreneurs discover. A vibrant, growing economy depends on the efficiency of the process by which new ideas are quickly discovered, acted on, and labeled as successes or failures. 
So, if Voice & Exit doesn’t quite make it this year, we will have to recalibrate and change the formula—either in the marketing, the messaging, or the product. But does that mean we should give up and go back to our comfortable old ways?
Absolutely not. Part of what keeps our movement underperforming in certain areas is that—in many ways—we get stuck in comfortable habits. Are we iterating enough? Are we producing too many papers for the whitepaper-industrial complex? Do our activists keep showing up at the same old networking events? Would donors rather support a $50,000 event full of people who all agree, or a $10,000 event designed to reach new audiences?
These are tough questions. But I’d say our jobs, as producers and consumers of our movement, is to look for the intersection between obviously good and seemingly crazy—and go for it.

  • Max Borders is author of The Social Singularity. He is also the founder and Executive Director of Social Evolution—a non-profit organization dedicated to liberating humanity through innovation. Max is also co-founder of the Voice & Exit event and former editor at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). Max is a futurist, a theorist, a published author and an entrepreneur.