At the 2018 ESHIP Summit, seven goals were shared with the ecosystem building community that collectively would advance the field of ecosystem building. Each of the goals is being championed by one or more members of the ESHIP community. Among the most passionate of those champions is Norris Krueger, who is leading the charge to define the methods and metrics for evidence-based ecosystem building.
I caught up with Norris at the 2019 ESHIP Summit to find out how the goal and its initiatives have progressed since the summer of 2018. Asked to summarize Goal 5, Norris explained, “Goal 5 advances ecosystem building by helping us to be much more evidence-based — to know what works and to be able to prove that what we do works. Better methods. Better metrics. Better analysis. Thank goodness we have such amazing people engaged enthusiastically on our calls!”
He went on to elaborate on each of the three key initiatives that fall under the Goal 5:
5.1 Building a Community of Practice – building a community of practice where we learn to be better at identifying, testing, and using best-in-class metrics.
5.2 Repository of Ecosystem Building Practices and Case Studies – building a searchable, user-friendly repository of best practices that anyone can use.
5.3 Ecosystem Research Conference – putting on a great research conference where we address the big, burning questions necessary to advance the field of ecosystem building, where ecosystem builders can bring their big, burning questions.
I wanted to dig a little deeper so I asked Norris a few more questions.
You’re very passionate about Goal 5. Why is that?
“It’s where I can best contribute. If there were a Goal 8, Entrepreneurial Education & Training, that would be even better. 😉 But as a veteran scholar and science nerd, it’s a good way to maximize my ability to help effectively.”
“Evidence-based practice is all the rage in many fields, and we REALLY need it to legitimize our field. But it is damned hard to do it right. I can help, I think. And I know marvelous people who definitely can help. And, I’ve met people via Goal 5 that are both brilliant and selfless. So, so much of the research done in our area just is not useful. However, it could be, if we could connect those with research tools and skills with the Really Big Questions that the ecosystem builders bring.”
What are the biggest challenges you face in ecosystem building?
“Field level or ground level? I’ll focus mostly on the field level but what I am personally seeing on the ground is relevant. Disrespect is rampant but it is mostly from those who do not get what we see — and/or do not want to see it. I was recently told ‘but you aren’t an ecosystem builder.’ Yikes!”
“We see the world very differently and our vision is highly disruptive. We say many nice things about how we are here to help the economic development practitioners, it’s the next step in the evolution of the field, etc. Negotiating from weakness is a fool’s errand. We need to negotiate from strength. Otherwise, ‘business as usual’ rules the day and throws us some scraps – and takes credit for our successes.”
“That means demonstrating our legitimacy. How do we do that? Be relentlessly evidence-based. We also need to be great storytellers. We also need to identify who might actually listen and like our message. Existing programs I envy like Sourcelink (hi, Rob & Maria!) and Epicenter (hi, Louisa!) in Memphis understand their stakeholders at a deep level. We need bold action ourselves and the resources to do them right. It also means that we have to bring our ‘A’ game. If we are going to prove and persuade that we are evidence-based, we need A/A+ efforts.”
What do you think are the biggest challenges in advancing Goal 5?
“Number one is my own passion occasionally getting in the way! At the field level, I am fighting for us to do the right things the right way and for the right reasons. That means empowering the awesome people who can deliver that — and bring the rest of us along. That requires considerable transparency.”
“Championing the ecosystem builders and the great folks on these calls has made me very sensitive to what they need and it’s clear that 1) we need to figure out the business model that unleashes them, but 2) I’ve clearly been overly sensitive. My apologies for that!”
“We also need to get the model right. I think we really need good clarity as to the business model for moving Goal 5 (and others) projects forward. A plausible model for making these goal projects real is a corporate accelerator model where the host organization connects the project teams with resources and connections. That could work brilliantly. If we clarify the business model — which in turn means addressing some messy but solvable IP issues — we can accelerate the projects even faster than we had hoped!”
What are the most important things that need to happen to advance the field of ecosystem building?
“Respect, which means legitimacy with the right stakeholders. Legitimacy for the field AND legitimacy for the ecosystem builders. Witness all the people who re-labeled themselves when entrepreneurship became cool. The same entrenched people and organizations will just say ‘hey, we do entrepreneurship!’”
“Being incredibly evidence-based with great tools and great metrics and great analysis can sell the field, but we need to figure how to make all of you ecosystem builders the “go to” resource. If we can help each other to be the local mavens of metrics, that’s an important source of personal legitimacy. WE should be the ones doing great dashboards for our communities! We’re already ecosystem building. Personal and organizational legitimacy also requires doing. For example, I need to go build a great dashboard for Boise and Idaho. (Might need your help, my friends!)”
“I’ve also concluded that a combination of old-school stakeholder mapping with a new-school tool like the value proposition canvas is worth a long look. What are your value props, good and bad, for each stakeholder? Make it fine-grained enough to find a convert or two.”
“In turn, that means we need a rich, diverse tool kit. I’ve been noodling on a blog post entitled ‘Ninjas, B-52s, and Mata Hari.’ To effect change, to effect disruptive change, sometimes you need clever, quiet tactics and sometimes you need carpet-bombing. And sometimes stakeholders need a little positive reinforcement.”
What’s your hope for ecosystem building?
“My hope is that we can demonstrate persuasively that ecosystem building is a legitimate field. My other hope is that we can demonstrate that ecosystem builders are equally legitimate. Goal 5 can really help with the first. Only taking bold action can accelerate the second.”
“Industry 4.0 is all the rage — for good reason — and it says we live in an ecosystem world, that silos only work if they support ever-changing networks. The great people on the Goal 5 calls, (like Alistair, Adam, Samantha, Tiffany, Valto, and the rest), keep reminding me that these are complex dynamic systems, not easily optimized but when empowered can move mountains.”
“It’s nearly impossible to identify tipping points in complex systems. Take a pile of sand; keep adding grains till it collapses. You can’t predict, but you can keep adding grains of sand in the right place and in the right way. My final hope is that ESHIP Nation figure out how to start adding those grains and keep adding them till we hit the tipping point!”
About Norris Krueger
Dr. Norris Krueger manages to keep moving the needle in research, education and entrepreneurship with proven, recognized expertise in growing entrepreneurial thinkers and entrepreneurial communities. As a thought leader in entrepreneurial learning, his university programs earned 6 national & 2 global best practice recognition. Most-cited scholar in his specialty on entrepreneurial thinking, he’s had external fellowships with Max Planck Institute for Economics and and is now Senior Subject Matter Expert at OECD/EU for entrepreneurial learning and entrepreneurial ecosystems.
You can find out what Norris is up to on his blog.
Related: Want to read more stories about entrepreneurial ecosystem builders? Check out more profiles of ecosystem builders.