Hybridize

Think back to when you were a kid. Remember that feeling of waking up to a winter wonderland? It’s a snow day! Fresh powder may cause mayhem for some, but all that mattered back then, was how quickly we could get outside to enjoy the day’s frosty gift.

This week we received a few feet of fresh snow. I love the feeling of a blank canvas this provides. I also like to think that one signal for success as an adult, is found in those who have not lost their childhood spirit, so when our little one gets excited about playing in the snow, I make it a priority as well.

After a rushed breakfast, we spent much of the day on a sledding hill. I found myself reflecting on the interactions of this momentary community. The actors are always different people, yet often play the same roles. You have the first-time sledders who are curious, excited, and afraid. In contrast, the action junkies are pushing to always go faster and higher. The adults are on snow patrol, but the personality that I find most interesting, are the hybrids. These are the kids who appreciate the exhilarating activity, but unite others by creating space to ensure newcomers are safe and also having fun. There’s an empathetic maturity in their welcoming enthusiasm.

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The original title was Snow Days.

Fast forward and these hybrids continues to bring things together. We see them in technology, translating nerd to normal, then back from normal to nerd. They are the teachers who inspire our next generation and encouraging children to think differently. Community builders are often hybrids too, as it takes a metaphoric spider to weave, explore, and tighten a collaborative web of actors, factors, and instigators together.

There are many other examples of hybrids connecting dots in almost any environment and they’re all valuable connectors that play important roles. When we think through the lens of complex adaptive systems, hybrids are those who can inclusively identify all that may be possible. They appreciate the entire spectrum of different parts within the system, as well as, the interactions between everything. Almost like chameleons, hybrids have the ability to take different shapes in order to facilitate positive interactions between different perspectives. When this skill is applied through a holistic, positive-sum lens, the effect can be surprisingly wonderful.

For those already hybridizing, thank you, stay curious, and don’t underestimate the limitless value you bring. For those who may not feel such a blended spirit, continue to lead the tribes you trust, but allow intellectual humility to welcome doubt. Such empathy paired with a genuine interest in collaboration, will inevitably unlock fresh ways for those you care about to achieve even more.

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This year-end Tweetstorm was epic and left behind some updates to my website, including a linked library to explore all my Roasted Reflections – https://BenMcDougal.com/Roasted-Reflections

As we reach the end of this wintry ride, I’m grateful for snow days that provide an unexpected chance to slow down. These cozy times provide us a chance to rest and have some fun, while also reflecting on all that’s good. Cheers to these mini moments chilled in our memories, but also to allowing the freeze to melt as we let thoughts pass and stay open to next.

Open to Next

Setting goals and honest resolutions provide a useful purview into what’s next. It’s no secret that appreciating the past and planning for the future can provide a fresh boost during transition times. As this introspective activity warms your thoughts and emotions, joy awaits those who translate such enthusiasm into heartfelt energy that fuels sustained action.

As we look forward, dare to be different by also staying open to things not in the plan. This fluidity helps us avoid the limiting effect of being too rigid.

There are times to remain stringent in order to stay on course, but embracing the plot twists of life ensures that perseverance does not become misguided. Most people like the idea of being a free spirit, but openness can be fleeting, because we find solace by way of control. Think about the last big trip you planned. You locked in travel, accommodations, and maybe even a collection of planned activities. You basically craft a scripted adventure to experience for yourself. If all goes to plan, you’ll surely enjoy the trip, but how often does everything go exactly to plan? Almost never, yet the unexpected detours often lead to the best stories.

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Higher the contrast, better the story.

Openness laced through different types of short and long-term goals, activated by habits that churn goals into surpassing accomplishment, provides clarifying direction with space left over to welcome serendipity. Letting go to stay open can become a source of anxiety, but the unknown can be an exciting place where possibility allows us to discover what’s next.

2021 Bookend

This year has been transformative. For me, 2021 was a beautiful blend of secluded serenity, new beginnings, expanded connectivity, and milestone moments.

Iowa Breakfast Club

Everyone was thirsty for meaningful connection as the pandemic lingered. Using the transitory popularity of social audio, we fired up an experiment that invited entrepreneurs and ecosystem allies to chat every Friday morning. My role became the AM radio host as the Iowa Breakfast Club invited special guests to lead inclusive conversations on a wide variety of topics. Students, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and community builders enjoyed these enchanting interactions for 30 consecutive weeks, before the group decided to sunset the sparkle. A recap of this experiment still needs crafted, but for now, I’ll leave you IBC fans with something to smile…”Rise and shine, it’s breakfast time!”

You Don’t Need This Book

The release of my first book, You Don’t Need This Book: Entrepreneurship in the Connected Era, was my brightest highlight of 2021. This was the literary project of a lifetime. The YDNTB softcover and eBook published on April 1st and it’s been a wonderful whirlwind ever since. Hearing from energized readers and mentoring more caffeinated authors will never get old and I’m so thankful for the overwhelming sense of peace this achievement brings.

Caffeinated Conversations

Educational organizations play a huge and recurring role within all entrepreneurial ecosystems. Through my work as an ecosystem builder, a focus on the Iowa entrepreneurial ecosystem generated a growing amount of conversations with students, teachers, and administrators throughout the state. It soon became time to collide statewide actors with a goal of allowing more inspired people to learn from each other while also exploring fresh ways to collaborate. What started as an introductory email chain, quickly evolved into a monthly meetup online. Together, we explore the intersections of entrepreneurship, innovation, and education by sharing quick updates and upcoming events, then we import/export knowledge by welcoming a special guest each month. Here are a few of the caffeinated conversations we’ve shared and please drop me a note if you’d like to join us in the future.

Startup Weekend

I shared this full recap of my first Startup Weekend experience, but it felt like an important happening this year, as it was a catalyst to a much more involved ecosystem development role with Techstars. We have another statewide, Startup Weekend Iowa event coming together to kick off 2022, and it’ll be neat to see how more connected hackathons can continue bringing curious people together.

Mindfulness

The peace that emerged from publishing YDNTB, creative work that feels like play, treasured family time, and perhaps my 40th birthday looming, seemingly came together to construct more space for mental exercise this year. I found myself thinking deeply about life through the lens of entrepreneurship, but far beyond business. This led to philosophic deep dives in the form of reading, writing, and an eagerness to spark more meaningful conversations. A daily meditation practice (the Calm app is great!) has also centered, relaxed, and recharged my mind, body, and spirit. I may try yoga in 2022. Not for the physical exercise, but more to expand this cerebral exploration.

Return to Travel

Along with sharing my favorite travel tricks, it was good to quietly live in different places throughout the pandemic, and then finally return to being a bit more adventurous toward the end of the year. Trips to Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha, Kansas City, Ozarks, Joplin, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City were fun, but the two highlights were returning to where we got married in Florida and golfing on Keystone Mountain in Colorado.

1 Million Cups

I’ve been having coffee at 1MC every Wednesday morning since 2012. Yes, that’s a lot of coffee with a lot of entrepreneurs! As a founder, 1MC was my weekly dose of innovative energy. An appreciation for this consistent gathering led to the early opportunity to lead in Des Moines for many years, and has since evolved into my current role working within the Kauffman Foundation as the Midwest Regional Rep. Today, our leadership team supports and connects 125+ communities nationwide. Over 40 of these 1MC communities are in the 12-state Midwest region (map), which equates to around 200 caffeinated community builders I’m blessed to work with in small, medium, and large entrepreneurial ecosystems. Being a 1MC organizer requires time, curiosity, intellectual humility, generosity, a dedication to show up, a willingness to have fun working within complexity, and a devotion for supporting entrepreneurs. The pandemic has taken its toll on this educational movement fueled by interpersonal connection, but this is a resilient tribe that’s uncovered a silver lining of more connectivity nationwide. There is an evolving sense of renewal brewing and with what’s to come, 2022 will be an interesting chapter in the story of 1 Million Cups. Join us for coffee any Wednesday morning, by visiting www.1millioncups.com.

Techstars

As a tech founder, I’ve always admired Techstars. When this global startup accelerator arrived in Iowa, it was a tremendous boost for the statewide entrepreneurial ecosystem. During the first year’s #TSDemoDay in 2020, I was talking with some of the founders about their interest in a place to land after their accelerator experience. In doing so, it dawned on me that we hadn’t hosted a Startup Weekend in a long time. This sparked an interesting conversation with my long-time friend and Managing Director of the program, Kerty Levy. She and I ended up crafted an innovative entrepreneurial ecosystem building role that gave me the freedom to holistically explore, support, and connect actors and factors throughout the Iowa entrepreneurial ecosystem. This ecosystem building work has been momentous, so when a position more involved with the actual accelerator emerged, it was a natural opportunity to get more involved. I joined Kerty in a hybrid role we titled Entrepreneur in Residence / Ecosystem Development. The 2021 Techstars Iowa Accelerator Class arrived in Des Moines soon after I accepted this expanded role, so it was definitely flying a plane while building it at the same time, but what a vigorous experience. We had ten different companies all building in different industries for 13 weeks. Along with working with each team, I leaned into fueling a community-driven culture with mentors and got to flex my event development skills by organizing mentor madness and a monumental #TSDemoDay that helped define our 2021 program. Looking forward, applications for the 2022 accelerator program open January 18th, so we’re talking with founders about their next moves. If your team is ready to scale, I’d highly recommend following @TechstarsIowa on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, then visit TechstarsIowa.com and hitting the green “Get in Touch” button to explore what Techstars can do for your startup.

Kindergarten

Our beautiful startup that pays in love is my greatest achievement. I’ve realized that one of the best things about entrepreneurship, is that it’s allowed me to be a #1 DAD! I’ve worked 80 hours so that I’m not forced to work 40. Over time, this has unlocked a freedom to avoid routine while providing a choice to how I spend my precious time. In fact, this is one reason why I’m such an advocate for entrepreneurship! Life is too short not to enjoy how we spend our time and I’m lucky to have spent so much of it with our little girl. 2021 brought a milestone moment for our family, as our daughter went to Kindergarten. As a highly involved parent, I found myself experiencing a pie chart of emotions. I was excited for her, but also selfishly felt a deep sense of loss. I also had mixed feelings about the educational system and how our little one would behave in her new environment. Perhaps this is what many parents feel when they first send their kids off to school, but this mangled mindset inspired the realization I wrote about in One & Only. It was neat to start that blog not knowing where I was headed, but in the end, realizing that gratitude provides peace. Kindergarten has been wonderful and this passage turned out to be a wonderful life lesson I’ll always appreciate.

YDNTB Audiobook

This was one of the most grueling, yet invaluable projects of my life. Building my own studio and narrating the audiobook version of YDNTB was fun, as recording an audiobook felt like performing art. The decision to then edit the entire thing myself is where the fun ended and the grind became real. I literally hand treated the accuracy, tone, and timing of every single sentence and all 37,456 words so that each listener would cherish a resonating experience. Grumbles aside, what kept me pushing, was the idea of having something I can be proud of for life. The YDNTB audiobook is now available everywhere and I can’t wait to hear what you think!

FliteBrite | OpenOpen | Jet Set Studio

With the landmark effort required to publish my first book and my expanding work as an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder, all three of my own entrepreneurial ventures received less attention. With a watchful eye on my personal bandwidth, I was well aware of how this impacted my diversified career portfolio. The pandemic had forced beer festivals, open houses, and live video game events into hibernation, so 2021 was the perfect time to expand the impact of my work. As the pandemic subsides, it’ll be difficult to regenerate momentum, but FliteBrite has a tasty beer festival app and incredible potential with our electronic serving systemOpenOpen is an open house scheduler expressly designed to save substantial time for home builders and real estate agents… and Jet Set Studio will always remain an epic hobby that pays.

Roasted Reflections

I’m grateful for the privilege to have consistently delivered these Roasted Reflections every week since activating this literary practice on December 14th, 2020. Along with this achievement I’m thankful for, the added layer of recapping each month’s writings into a threaded tweet (example) creates a shareable, linked index that also acts like an accountability pit stop to refuel my own potential to persevere.

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Reading helps us understand the world.

Writing helps us understand ourselves.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these weekly ruminations. This threaded relic I shared on Twitter includes ALL of my Roasted Reflections from 2021, organized by each month’s contemplative recap. I built into this shareable index all year and really enjoyed this summit before the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve.

Cheers to the wonderful whirlwind that was 2021, and to all that comes next in 2022!

Die Empty

Graveyards are full of good intentions, untold ideas, disconnections, and missed opportunities.

As we celebrate year-end holidays and look to 2022, it’s easy to make audacious plans for what’s next, but perhaps it’s wise to pair big ideas with small actions?

This obviously means something different for everyone. For example, there are times in our lives when we seek to do so much more. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when cool ideas, good intentions, and even positive action doesn’t lead to the anticipated outcome. For those who face this mental mountain, first give yourself grace by remembering that we either succeed or learn. This will help you find closure with past failure(s). As you push through this self-limiting mindset, lean back into your community of fellow founders. It’s even harder to show up when you’re experiencing a dip, but movement activates motivation and leaning into the prosperity of others will percolate helpful conversations. Pair this curiosity with a pinch of vulnerability and you’ll be reminded how generosity builds trust and helps you solve new problems.

In contrast, there are other times when a profound sense of accomplishment leaves us wondering what more can be done? This would seemingly be a privileged state, but our sense of purpose can waver when goals have been met. This can cause even the most ambitious spirit to feel lazy. A sense of achievement dysmorphia can also set in, which downplays our accomplishments in an effort to create space for more. Perhaps one way to counter this type of mental moment is to pair celebration with relaxation, creativity, and humility. Rejuvenation often emerges from self-care rooted in gratitude. This form of vulnerability brings peace, which often provides clarity on prolific ways to make a deeper impact on familiar fronts, or energy to explore brand new ways to fuel positive change.

The nudge you need will be dynamic based on the complexity of your ever-shifting environment, but a willingness to persist allows us all to keep building.

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The YDNTB audiobook was just released and listeners love it! It is now available as a direct download (with bonus features) in this special Holiday Bundle. It can also be found on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon.

It’s impossible to measure the amount of time and effort it took to narrate, edit, and professionally publish this 5-hour audiobook (here’s how I did it), but that’s not what matters. What matters is that I have a remarkable relic to be proud of forever. Enjoy the show my friends!

Along with what you’re able to undertake, appreciate all that you cannot. When idea machines have an opportunity surplus, it’s easy to over commit. It’s much harder to stay cognizant of our personal bandwidth when our connected era is always introducing new ways to spend your time. These are crossroads where you’re invited to be honest about your own purpose, by allowing the superpowers of others to activate something you can/should not. As you share the love, deliver ideas, resources, connections, and opportunities without hidden agendas. You can’t take such things with you, so boldly give them away with a sense of abundance and find renewing joy in helping others bring more good things to life.

My hope is that after reading this year-end reflection, you observe the blunt title less around loneliness, and more as positive encouragement for doing all that we can with our precious time in this life.

A sustainable cadence leads to longevity, but a profound legacy awaits those who exhaust all their love, intelligence, connectivity, and energy to leave satisfied in the end.

13.8 Billion

Based on the latest scientific estimate, our universe is 13.8 billion years old.

I don’t know about you, but over the past decade, I’ve been especially fascinated by the cosmos. If you’re over 30 years old, it’s almost like cosmic curiosity didn’t exists when we grew up. Perhaps I was a bit sheltered by a religious upbringing, but in high school, the narrative around space only focused on our own solar system. I don’t even remember talking about our place within the Milky Way galaxy.

This now feels like such a myopic perspective based on what we’ve learned. As scientific understandings expand, I can’t help but to wonder…

✨ How is our evolving understanding of the universe objectively taught to kids?

📚 What are educational paths to astrophysics?

☯ Can cosmology and religion co-exist?

⚖️ At what point does arguing become a waste of time?

🧫 Can biotech pause, protect, or extend humans for space travel?

⚫️ How long would it take to arrive at the closest black hole? Who’s going in first?

🧠 How might the field of psychology better prepare us for the neon future?

💭 Does digitized consciousness unlock time travel by leaving the limitations of a human body behind?

💾 Where does quantum computing fit into the landscape of cosmic exploration?

👽 It seems statistically impossible that extraterrestrial life does not exist.

⏳ If life on earth has only existed ~25% of the total time our universe has existed, that sure leaves a lot of time for distant civilizations to evolve.

🧭 Considering the universe is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, do we know how fast our solar system is moving and in what direction?

⚡️ Unless it’s to find a more sustainable source, it feels careless to fuel energy using resources that won’t last.

🧬 Can nanotechnology alter the input of an energy source at a subatomic level to dramatically transform the output?

🧪 Will material science support deeper exploration?

🪐 Visiting, even colonizing Mars feels like an important exercise, but somehow starts to feel trivial.

🔭 Does seeing deeper fuel urgency?

🌌 Action may require sacrifice, so how can we encourage and celebrate those who lead the way?

These are extraordinary things to think about, but such concentration can quickly feel overly theoretical. In practice, perpetual learning, comfort within complexity, and a willingness to think again feels essential. Through such a curious lens, perhaps the most significant opportunity we have, is to aspire toward an existence which exceeds our imagination.

I talk often about collaboration in business and within entrepreneurial ecosystems, but when we put our delicate existence into perspective, it’s hard to think that anything besides collaboration allows us to survive.