The perils of counting: Is the pressure to measure hurting our ecosystems?

Return to main page

The pressure to measure our entrepreneurial ecosystems is starting to bug me. And after participating in a discussion with some of the leading entrepreneurship foundations in the United States, I realized I was not alone. Everyone was asking the same question, “How do you measure success?”  In the end, we agreed it was more of a therapy session than a best practices discussion. None of us had the magic formula.

The fact is, sometimes measuring can be a real buzz kill. For example, I used to run. My runs were measured by miles, how much further I ran than the day before, and by the effort it took me to get from point A to point B. Since I wasn’t exactly gazelle-like, I was often disappointed in my performance. So I chucked the idea of measuring and started running for the fun of it. If I wanted to look at something, I stopped. If I wanted to pet a dog, I did. And it didn’t take long for joy to replace the guilt of not measuring my success.

If we always feel so pressured to measure, I fear there’s a risk we will focus primarily on the aspects of our ecosystem that can be easily counted. Let’s take venture capital deals. Those are easy to measure. Trouble is, less than one percent of all companies receive capital. How about new jobs?  Cool, but seriously, when was the last time a CEO told you that he or she was in the business of creating jobs?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good numbers story as much as anyone else. For example, did you know 178 companies that participated in Louisiana’s Economic Gardening program have created 561 new full-time-equivalent jobs and increased collective revenues by more than $218 million?  Or that between 2009 and 2015 companies participating in Florida’s GrowFL program created 10,942 net new jobs?

I will be the first to admit that I use those numbers every chance I get. But ecosystems are about so much more than the aspects we can measure. They’re about developing a culture of growth and the acceptance of new ideas and new people. They’re about the feeling of being embraced and supported. Ecosystems with staying power are centered around relationships — and relationships can be messy, need the depth and breadth to change and can be impossible to statistically measure.

There is no magic formula to measuring something you cannot see or touch. The magic is found in great storytelling combined with a sense of inclusiveness, more believers than squelchers, and a feeling that your community is a place where businesses feel a strong sense of excitement and hope.

We’ll touch on some of these components in the next few blogs, so any thoughts on this subject are welcomed and appreciated.  In the meantime, I’m going for a bike ride.  If I ride at least 30 miles I get ice cream — regardless of how many dogs I pet.