Critical state startups

“There are signs that all living things sit on the knife-edge of criticality – something that could help them adapt to complex and unpredictable events.”

In the morning – after a pretty long and complicated hand-brew coffee ritual – I try to read a few (print) articles in the New Scientist before I start digging in to emails. It helps me to re-fresh my mind a little. That didn’t work so well this morning.

The reason is that the first article I read was called “The Border of Order” (it has a slightly different name in the online version). It describes how a phenomena called the Critical Point (or being in a Critical State), which is well researched in physics, is now also explaining biological behaviours.

And I like to think of startups as biological organisms and not as machines.

I won’t describe the critical state in detail here, as it is easy to read up on it. But this is a good summary from the article:

“At the critical point, everything is about to go crazy. You get massively more sensitive behaviour.” 

I immediately thought that this also applies to startups. In fact the more I thought about it I came to the conclusion that even our most advanced startups that are doing very well, always manage to stay in a critical state. ‘Humming along’ is not something they do well. They are pushing the envelope so hard that we are always just 1,2 steps away from the wheels coming off in one way or another.

The other learning was that birds are highly effective and agile when their flock is in a critical state. I am pretty sure the same can be said for startup teams and employees.

So I didn’t really manage to switch off this morning, but I got really excited about critical state startups.



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