Shifting the Conversation: How We’re Asking Different Questions

It’s pretty common knowledge these days that what you think about is a reflection of what you care about. (Similarly heard in personal or lifestyle coaching as, “What you focus on grows.”)

This is important. It means our thoughts, our conversations, and everything else we invest time into is affected by what we prioritize mentally.

For example, if most of your life is spent thinking about how to make more money than everyone else, your decisions and behavior will probably be reflective of that. You might sacrifice your family life, your health, your hobbies, etc. in order to make more money. It’s not inherently good or bad, there will just be consequences to focusing on money.

And, if you think a lot about what it means to be authentic, you’ll probably spend a lot of your time navigating how to be honest with others, exploring vulnerability, and having tough, but meaningful conversations. Similarly, not all consequences of this focus will be good or bad. It’s just another focus.

What I really want to point out, though, is that — as much as this holds true for individuals — I genuinely believe it is equally true for organizations. And I don’t just mean non-profit or socially conscious organizations. I’m talking organizations like yours and mine.

Here’s What I Mean

Each year, GAN holds an annual Summit. We’ve held Summit for the last handful of years — almost the entirety of the time that this community has existed. And this year’s Summit actually took place this week.

It’s my favorite thing we do all year. Representatives of nearly the entire GAN Community are present — over 130 leaders from accelerators, corporate innovation programs, and investors in GAN’s Venture Fund come together for three days of learning, conversation, and a good dose of fun. But what’s more special than gathering this truly diverse community from across the globe in one room (seriously — every continent except Antartica) is that, because we’re all GAN, we’re an incredibly values-aligned bunch. Meaning, what we tend to focus on as a group is pretty aligned, and it makes for really special connection and direction forward as a group. And, it’s one of a million reasons I’m honored to work alongside these individuals, and that I get to call them my friends.

But as we went into the planning for this year’s Summit, we realized something.

For all of the previous Summits, we’ve focused on one particular thing: How to run great startup engagement programs.

How to find the best startups. How to support the best startups. How to find investment for the best startups.

How to operate well in the “off-season” when we’re not directly with our best startups.

You hear the theme. And it’s not bad. I wouldn’t be doing this job if I didn’t see, understand, and believe in the power of accelerators, corporates, and investors working with startups. Because if accelerators and partners and investors do their jobs well, we’ll have a new wave of startups, which is very good for all of our economies.

But, even if mostly concerned with supporting startups, it was still all about us. How we do our jobs better. How those startups have the resources they need to succeed. How we can all find more investors and more capital and make more revenue.

And that was okay. But we’d been hearing the GAN Community asking much bigger questions for a while now. Questions and concerns that were about work, but also about so much more. Things like:

  • “I see the competitive landscape in the startup world really changing. How does it change how I act with potential competitors? Are we really competing even, or should we collaborate?”
  • “I feel like we’re only working with a certain type of startup who looks and acts a certain way. Should that change? And how?”
  • “What does it mean to create products and services that are truly valuable…not just to customers, but to the people creating them, too?”
  • “What does it mean for us to build community in a way where people actually, truly, and deeply know one another?”

So, given that what we focus on (what we talk about, what we spend time learning about, etc.) is what tends to be a reflection of what we really care about, we decided to make some changes to Summit this year.

We changed the conversation.

A New Line of Questioning

While I could easily keep these conversations private and between those “in” GAN, I frankly wanted to open it up the discussions we have with you — thoughtful leaders around the world who care about startups. I want to get your thoughts. Because, while this is something we’re caring about a lot in the GAN Community, these questions have huge implications for all of us. So here’s a bit of what we dug into…

Increased Value Creation
How do we continue to create things that make users’ lives better in some way and that allow the product’s creator to experience pleasure while also getting paid? What is “meaningful work” and how do you find work that’s meaningful to you? How can we keep profits in mind but also look at the way our work and our business decisions influence — positively or negatively — the environment, our customers, our community, other relationships, and even strangers?

Increased Access
What does it mean to find founders who aren’t the “norm?” How can the GAN Community continue to focus on the importance of diversity among the entrepreneurs we support? What does it mean to go a little bit against the grain and find startups that might not be traditionally “successful,” but that we know will make an incredible impact on their cities? Who are the groups that are poised to invest but don’t have the channels to do so? And, what unique capital structures will be able to support the next wave of founders, wherever they are?

Increased Connection
How do we create communities that truly work? How can founders remain connected to their closest personal relationships — families, friends, neighbors — for their mental and emotional health even amidst the pressures of building something that matters? How can increased connection between various aspects of startup and accelerator life — to corporates, investors, and other managing directors or founders — cultivate greater opportunity than when all parts function autonomously?

Increased Alignment
When it comes to the founder, accelerator, and corporate journey, how do we create alignment across our entire business — from aligning with our local communities, to getting the “right type” of investors and customers, to aligning well with our portfolio companies? And, what would it be like to root for our rivals, especially the rivals in our own cities? Can we actually cheer others on, believing that — when others succeed — there is only more opportunity to be had?

Why all of these questions? Again, because they have radical implications for how we do business and how we work with startups and partner with those in our communities.

More Pie for Everyone

This all has to do with this idea of living in an economy that isn’t zero-sum. One where we aren’t focused on the limitation of our resources. Where if someone else wins, it doesn’t mean we lose. Where we could create new opportunities instead of fighting for the select few in front of us. Or, if increasing capital in our own cities didn’t mean we were taking it from others. One where the more we gave, the more there was to give away.

Where maybe, just maybe, our work can create an Additive Economy.

I hope you join us in this conversation as we dig into it a much more over the next few months. It’s a giant experiment about what could actually work. We aren’t the first ones to have it, certainly. But I’d love to explore it all with you.

Originally published at on October 2, 2018.

Helping to give startups the power to create and grow their business wherever they are as CEO of GAN: @GANconnect

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Patrick Riley

Patrick Riley

Helping to give startups the power to create and grow their business wherever they are as CEO of GAN: @GANconnect

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