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Great ideas come from unexpected places.
I recently had the opportunity to meet a fascinating group of young pastors who are applying a complex systems approach to a new congregation they founded. Dissatisfied with the top-down, command-and-control structure of the churches they had previously been a part of, these young innovators created something better—a system based on a decentralized network, on communal governance, and on trust, reciprocity, and fulfilling commitments.
This should sound familiar to you members of the church of startup communities, which in my view, can be best understood through the prism of the complex systems framework. In such systems, we focus on cultivating the right environment, on improving the interactions between the individual elements (ie, people) rather than focusing on the elements themselves, a governance structure that adheres to non-control, and a set of virtuous informal norms and rules.
As we were discussing various approaches and challenges to organizing a modern religious community and a startup community through this belief system—which have a lot in common, by the way—I brought up the notion of social capital, and how that in order for “transactions” to take place in a startup community, one must agree to a broad-based informal “contract” that everyone adheres to. Critically, this takes place between each individual and the community as a whole.
That’s when one of my new friends turned to me and said: “I think about that as the difference between contracts and covenants.” This is a powerful distinction that is important for participants in startup communities to embrace.
Contracts, in their purest form, are specified agreements for two parties to fulfill a particular set of promises. If one party breaks that agreement, the contract is broken—freeing the other party of their obligations. Contracts establish a give-and-take relationship that is institutionalized and conditional.
Covenants, on the other hand, appeal to a cause that is greater than any mutual exchange. In a covenant, if one party breaks his or her obligations, it does not permit the other to do the same. Why? Because an oath is not really about the other person anyway—it is an appeal to our higher nature and a commitment to serving the greater good.
Contracts are transactional. Covenants are committal.
As I was kicking around this idea in my head, I stumbled upon an interesting blog post that was discussing the concept of covenants and contracts, and drew the link between the notion of covenants and a sacred document in the founding of the United States—the Declaration of Independence. Rather than summarize that analogy, I’ll just copy and paste some of that text here.
The Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 men who all understood they were committing high treason against the British government when they signed the document. Benjamin Franklin famously highlighted that reality at the time, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
The concluding sentence of the Declaration states “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
To the signers it didn’t matter if any one of their confederates broke or switched sides. They were still committed to their course of action regardless, even if it cost them their lives.
I am not a religious person, nor a scholar of laws nor American history, so I am probably way out over my skis here. But the point I want to make is an important one for startup community participants to embrace—make covenants, not contracts. Don’t be conditional in your actions of service. Do what is right because it is right. Make a commitment to your community regardless of what it gives you in return. In the end, you will gain more anyway.
This recent Inc. article, entitled “The Start of a Company, the End of a Marriage,” dives into the correlation between entrepreneurs and failed relationships. Through a series of stories that serve as informal case studies, the effects of stress due to entrepreneurship and operating an early stage business are examined.
One of the relationships profiled in this article is that of Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor, the co-authors of Startup Life.
I can’t think of two topics that are bigger hot buttons, not just for entrepreneurs, but for an awful lot of people. I have no doubt that many of you have opinions and experiences about sex and money that aren’t aligned with your partners.
You certainly aren’t alone!
When Brad and Amy, who we’ve known for 25 years, asked me and my husband, Warren, to write about these very personal topics, it was not by accident. They’ve known the ups and downs of our marriage and watched us go through marital trials that not everyone emerges from in-tact.
I initially felt afraid to reveal our tangles with these private issues, but my next quick thought trumped my fears. I knew that sharing our experiences – in a meaningful way – could really help others. Navigating these delicate waters of being in relationships with entrepreneurs is no picnic. Understanding the way my entrepreneurial partner ticked, and letting him understand what worked for me and what didn’t, was paramount to our relationship lasting.
The Startup Life book covers a plethora of topics. The honest and practical no-nonsense essays from a variety of entrepreneurs and their partners offer unique windows to how others have solved or learned from familiar situations. At the very least, it offers fodder for discussions that might otherwise be difficult to broach. Working through challenges, or even approaching something before it becomes an insurmountable is one of the benefits this title offers.
Heck, you can always say to your partner: “hey, read these ten pages and then come find me.”
I would have loved to have this book when my husband (then, boyfriend) started his company. I’m certain our relationship would have benefited from the road map of Startup Life. To draw from experiences of like-minded people would have been invaluable. Instead we stumbled, sometimes rather badly, through some pretty dark places as a couple.
No regrets! With just weeks until my 20th wedding anniversary, we’re stronger than ever and have decided to give it another twenty years and see if it sticks! J
Ilana Katz is the author of “The Underground” – a dystopian novel. When not writing, Ilana entertains in Boston’s subways, playing old-time and blues fiddle. www.ilanakatz.com