Power Alley

December 01, 2008 Filed under: Leadership

Photo Credit: kretyen

In order to survive the 21st Century, America needs both a massive amount of new, renewable power sources, as well as (and starting with) a new, smarter power grid to bring them together.

The same could be said about leadership and infrastructure in the New York City technology industry.

For a long time, people have called for "new investment!" "new government aide!" "new talent!" and "new Meetups!" It's the rallying cry of the frantic -- those who crave something more, but don't know how to articulate it or accomplish it. It's the rallying cry of the unwise -- those who think "new" and "more" are what bring real change.

Recently, however, there been a much more reasonable call emerging from the Alley's more weathered folks.

At a New York City Council hearing in late October, both David S. Rose ("Silicon Alley Patriarch" and my boss) and Charlie O'Donnell (entrepreneur, founder of 1,800 strong nextNY, and my friend) called for the same thing:

"New coordination!"

David and Charlie are right on the money.

Coordination is the smart grid of communities, and it's always the first place to start when seeking to advance them.

Why? Because coordination doesn't call for anything new. "New" is easy to call for -- just like "bigger" -- but coordination is the hard work that hasn't been tried out here. "New" is the stuff of those who want attention, while coordination is the stuff of community organizers -- those who want a vibrant, headless ecosystem.

So, what does coordination look like?

Coordination looks like identifying already organized programs in the community, like NYSIA's internship program, and making sure every other already organized group -- especially constituencies (departments and career offices) at Universities -- know about it.

Coordination looks like making sure every already organized entrepreneur group and VC knows about every already existing government program, tax benefit, and government-led opportunity.

Coordination looks like making sure New York Angels attend the ITP Winter Show, so hot beds of already organized great ideas are connected to already organized great investors.

We don't need more great ideas or new great investors -- we need more coordination!

But there's also a second side to this.

Because coordination happens at the top (it's a organizer to organizer thing) it can only provide optimization -- massive optimization! -- but rarely does anything "new" come about.

Coordination, is the first step because there are massive inefficiencies without it, but a healthy ecosystem does need new sources of power.

Here, it sounds as if I go back on myself. Before, I said "new" was the thing of community wannabes taking the easy way out. Today, I stand by that. Tomorrow, however, after a smarter grid  makes our existing organizations stronger, we will finally be a position to take stock of what's missing from the equation and act.

It is only then -- after we have been optimized -- that "new" means progress. Communities will have new needs and unmet needs, and while the already organized organizations of a community can be wonderful at absorbing these challenges, here lies the opportunity to make something new, to develop new organizational leadership, and tie it and them into the now smarter grid of community power.

On the eve of the election for the New York Tech Meetup's next Organizer, great expectations and anticipation swirl through the Alley. Some hold the belief that the next Organizer of that Meetup -- one of many organizations in the great New York tech community -- can somehow muster so much from the position and the organization's members that a seismic change will occur.

Unless the next Organizer's rallying cry -- and only rallying cry -- is to coordinate, she or he will flail and flounder, drunk with ideas of "bigger" and "new."

If there is a single plank in the next Organizer's platform branded with the words "new" or "more," I advise the Meetup's members to stay away, unless those words are followed by the word "coordination."

Finally, in the end, I don't think it matters all that much. Though I am a loyal and loving member of the New York Tech Meetup, I believe such coordination will occur through it, with it, or without it. While I hope, and will vote, that the next Organizer has the capacity to embrace and drive this coordination, I am confident it will happen regardless.

There is much work to be done. We are the Change we've been waiting for.

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