James Wise is a partner at Balderton Capital, trustee of the think tank demos and former adviser to the British Parliament for social enterprises.
If you want to inspire a structural engineer, ask him what he could build in space. Freed from the constraints of gravity and aerodynamics, a single person could move skyscrapers like LEGO bricks. A fraction of the rocket fuel needed to escape earth could move mountainous objects. You could build stunning machines like a Dyson ball in a vacuum.
The problem is, should you ever want to bring them back to Earth, they would disintegrate upon entry and collapse under their own weight upon landing.
That came to my mind when I read Marc Andreessen's energetic rally cry to build. Marc, one of the most impressive entrepreneurs and investors of his generation, urged the technology community to take up arms and develop solutions to the difficult challenges, from clean energy to better education to effective health care. This is the right call. When a senior banker looked at the global situation during the 2008 financial crisis and a thought article called "It's time to finance!" If they had written, they would have been rightly denounced. Demanding more of that won't work now either.
Software companies have not caused this crisis. It is partly thanks to our software infrastructure, the deep foundations of the code and the endless hours of engineering that we can continue to function as an economy. But just as it is time to build, it is also a time to listen and understand why these difficult challenges have not yet been resolved because we cannot continue to build in a vacuum.
Many technology companies and entrepreneurs undoubtedly have a culture that sees politicians, politicians, and civic institutions – in fact anyone who is not a potential user or customer – as a distraction from the focus required for a business to thrive. Many of the most successful modern technology companies in the world were built in this vacuum.
The establishment of new energy systems, however, requires an intensive examination of politics and politics. To solve ongoing health care challenges, every marginal case must be resolved. The expansion of education and skills requires an understanding of the structural challenges in society that prevent many communities from accessing these services at all. All of these challenges require a different mindset, willingness to deal with the government, an engineering culture that takes into account the second-order consequences of the build-up, and bodies that go beyond their fiduciary and legal responsibilities and also take their social responsibilities into account.
If we want to learn how to build in times of crisis, we should look at the innovators and entrepreneurs who have dealt with such complex problems. Which brings me to Florence Nightingale.
May 12, 2020 is Florence Nightingale's 200th birthday. Nightingale is famous for many reasons, but mainly because of its impact on the well-being of soldiers in the Crimean War.
When she saw the horrific state that injured soldiers were in after returning from the front, she investigated the causes of death, advocated new methods of collecting and presenting data, and developed new methods of working with other great innovators of their time , Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Dr. Edmund Parkes to design and implement entirely new types of care, including a new type of hospital in Renkioi. She broke the rules of war, health care and was a woman. She came to every problem not as a tired practitioner, but as an entrepreneur striving for change. According to some estimates, Renkioi Hospital improved the death rate by 90%.
But Nightingale had no major influence here. When she returned to England, she found that the biggest healthcare challenges at the time were not major technical issues, but behavioral and political ones. So she tried to change the nursing facility herself and take people with her at the same time. She founded the Nightingale Fund to train nurses who would practice their new approach in America, India and Japan. She has worked with several governments to change domestic sanitation laws. She wrote extensively, simplified her language to make it more accessible, and created texts that served as the basis for modern care. Two hundred years later, in just nine days, the British government managed to build a fully equipped intensive care hospital in central London, which we now refer to as Nightingale Hospital.
Rules are broken in this crisis. And if we emerge from it, it will not go on as usual. If we want to and should build things that make us more resilient, have more influence and change more lives, we have to tackle these problems differently. As Florence Nightingale noted, the most complex challenges are not technical problems that can only be solved by engineers, but social ones.
How this looks in practice is complex. You can start thinking about your internal culture by using tools like Scanning Consequences from Dot.Everyone to take into account the impact of your creation beyond your first users. You can first examine how a new generation of companies deals with political problems through the work of funds such as the Govtech Fund or Public.io. You can start by looking at projects to fix some of the basic vulnerabilities on the web that were uncovered during this crisis, such as: B. Demos & # 39; The Good Web Project. If you are interested in improving the way your board works, you can also contact us to become part of Balderton's Good Governance project.
As Marc rightly said, it's time to build – but it's also time to build sustainably.