Anticipatory Governance: Do You Know What That Is?

This is a guest post by Professor Lawrence Susskind, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA and General Editor, Anthem Environment and Sustainability Initiative.

I finally found the right phrase to describe what city planning is, and what city planners do. Planners provide ideas, analyses and organized settings in which governance (i.e. collaborative problem-solving) can take place. And, unlike many other professionals they focus on normative concerns (i.e. what ought to be done?) regarding the future (not just an analysis of what is happening at present). Planners are the facilitators of anticipatory governance.

This doesn’t mean that certain planners don’t do other things as well, but as a profession as a whole, planners are primarily focused on problem-solving and informed decision-making that spotlight the needs and interests of future residents. This includes the needs and interests of current residents and stakeholders as they imagine themselves and their community in the future.

Why Governance Not Government?

In a democratic setting, elected governments have final decision-making authority along with the courts. Yet, representatives of non-elected stakeholders (i.e., interest groups) also have important roles to play in democratic decision-making. Governance networks can help set the public policy agenda and tee up policy or programmatic options for consideration by officials, along with arguments to support them.

To the extent that governance can produce informed consensus proposals, it is not clear why elected and appointed officials would disregard them. If you were an elected official, and I could tell you which action on a policy question would win you unanimous support from all sides, wouldn’t you be inclined to go along? The only reason not to accept a well thought out proposal that all groups publicly support is if a particular political donor or backer secretly disagree with it. I say secretly because as a stakeholder that individual, company or group would be included in the public consensus building effort that generated the proposal in the first place. But, they might want to be seen as supporting common efforts (and so involve themselves in a consensus building effort) while privately trying to sabotage what the group produces. Other than that, though, elected and appointed officials know that continuing to ignore informed consensus recommendations would be political suicide.

In the public realm, the focus is on collective decision-making rather than individual priorities. When we rely on majority rule or raw political discourse, it is easy for elected and appointment officials to disregard competing policy proposals, and do what they want. They can just say that the public was divided, so they had to do what they thought was best. That’s not possible, though, if all interested stakeholders get together to generate a policy proposal that all of them support. If all the relevant groups were consulted, and they all support what is being proposed, it is almost impossible for officials to disregard their suggestions.

In the current political climate, with a clear divide between liberals and conservatives, no action is often the only outcome. But if governance networks take responsibility for working out their differences, whatever larger political divide might exist wouldn’t stop officials from taking action. The product of governance should be informed (i.e. science and other technical considerations must be in the story) policy proposals. Such proposals can only emerge if stakeholders are able to resolve whatever differences they have. While this may sound difficult, it is much easier than many people suspect. Groups take extreme positions when they are in a majority rule situations and they want to ensure their views get attention. They are much more reasonable if they know that everyone’s goal is an informed consensus.

Most, but not all, political action focuses on short-term concerns or commitments. Those in power at any point in time know that a swing in the majority might well lead to a shift in policy down the road. But, if society needs to take action on issues or problems that require consistent support over a longer term (i.e. such policies won’t succeed unless they remain in place for a much longer timeframe than the normal electoral cycle), bi—partisan or multi-partisan support is required. Governance aims to generate support for actions that requires long-term, multi-partisan support, like efforts to address the possible effects of climate change.

Who is the Client?

Meaningful governance requires ad hoc representation of all relevant (and self- identified) stakeholder groups. While it may be difficult at first to identify spokespeople for some unorganized or hard-to-represent interests, it is almost always possible to find acceptable proxies to represent them. Anticipatory governance is client-oriented. That is, it doesn’t authorize a select few to propose action in the name of a vague public interest. Instead, representatives of the full range of relevant stakeholders have to do the hard work of sorting out their differences and generating proposals that they all think are better (for them) than taking no action at all. New online technologies, when used by skilled facilitators, can engage large numbers of people in such collaborative deliberations. And the more this happens, the more skilled and efficient groups will become in identifying spokespeople, and the spokespeople will become successful in reaching an informed consensus on a pressing issue or question that a government body must address.

The clients for the planners who seek to facilitate anticipatory governance cut across all strata and categories of interested stakeholders. However, this is the opposite of advocacy planning — which involves spokespeople who are trying to maximize the interests of only a few stakeholder groups, often at the expense of others. Spokespeople in the context I am describing, must be able to pursue their group’s interests while simultaneously taking account of the interests of others. (This is not a win-lose situation.) This involves crafting agreements through a search for mutual gains, and trading across sub-issues or linked issues the parties value differently. This is what happens in a global context when the sovereignty of nations ensures they can not be bound by an international law or requirements they don’t voluntary accept.

Finding the right participants for each policy dialogue requires careful stakeholder assessment. It also means the number of participants in facilitated anticipatory governance is likely to be pretty large. To begin, a team of neutral facilitators needs to reach out to potential participants, talk with them confidentially and generate a list of possible participants that all stakeholder groups (and elected officials) accept as legitimate. The techniques of stakeholder assessment have been codified and professionalized over the past few decades.

Trades or packages (not single issue deliberation) are usually required to build a consensus on a controversial issue. This can only work if all the relevant stakeholder groups are represented and the process of collaboration is facilitated by skilled neutrals (acceptable to all parties, including the elected officials who will receive whatever recommendations the ad hoc process generates). So, “blue ribbon” participant selection by officials is not acceptable.

The Need for Collaboration and Consensus Building

Once the right stakeholder representatives are assembled (and they might meet in person at the beginning and end of a collaborative process while all the work in between might be done online or by sub-committees), the task of generating an informed agreement can begin. Usually, this requires a period of joint fact finding, involving a range of technical experts acceptable to all the participants. The planners, or neutral facilitators, can bring possible names (and credentials) to the attention of the participants. The experts they choose agree (and are paid) to share what they know, in terms that everyone can understand, with all the participants. This avoids advocacy science where each party seeks expert advisors who will say what they want them to say.

The most useful tool for this kind of collaborative problems solving is scenario planning. This is a technique that imagines a range of possible futures (in which different policies or programs could be pursued even though there is substantial uncertainty about what the future hold. The governance network doesn’t have to agree on how to frame a single version of the issue or problem it has come together to address. It can work simultaneously with multiple futures in mind, looking for policies or actions that will bring about results that are attractive to the participants regardless of which “version of the future” they think is correct. Scenario planning sometimes requires the stakeholder participants to attach probabilities to highly uncertain futures. So, if I want the government to take action to avoid the effects of something that has a small chance of occurring, while you prefer a policy aimed at a future that is more likely, we can agree on a proposal that addresses both of our concerns. We can say to our elected officials, those of us who are most concerned about something that has a 10% chance of occurring (but if it does occur will have impacts that are likely to be devastating), support Policy A. Those of us who define the issue in terms of a future that has a 90% chance of occurring prefer policy B. Our elected officials will have to choose between A and B, but in so doing, they will reveal which version of the future they expect. By involving all of the stakeholders, and engaging in joint fact finding and scenario planning, the participants will be able to narrow the policy choices to two, contingent on which of two futures one selects. The officials involved might choose to adopt policy B in the short-run with a commitment to monitor events and results over time, and agree ahead of time to switch to Policy A if the monitoring shows that a certain threshold has been crossed. This formulation of what needs to be done is one that all parties can endorse, and that officials can feel comfortable supporting. It is also an adaptive approach to policy-making that best accounts for the increasing uncertainty surrounding a great many of the systems at the heart of public policy-making.

Anticipatory governance does not operate on the basis of majority rule. Nor does it require unanimity among all the stakeholder participants. A unanimity rule would allow one holdout to blackmail everyone else. Typically, consensus in these circumstances requires overwhelming agreement, as long as the concerns of outlier participants are clearly addressed by everyone, and all the participants have tried to think of a way of incorporating the outlier’s concerns into the final agreement. Holdouts who disagree, can count on their views and arguments being included as a footnote or appendix to the consensus proposal submitted to the officials who must make the final decision.

Obviously the product of an anticipatory governance effort needs to take the form of a written agreement that all the participants sign on behalf of their organizations or constituencies. While it is not legally binding, it should have an impact, especially when it is widely distributed via social media. It needs to be delivered and explained to the relevant public officials by the planners who facilitated the joint problem-solving effort.

How Should We Educate the Facilitators of Anticipatory Governance?

Some of the skills that planners must master to facilitate anticipatory governance should now be clear. They need to know how to complete a stakeholder assessment. This might require technical background on the issue or question that is the focus of the collaborative effort, so that the interviews they do with potential stakeholders can be completed efficiently. They need to be able to help the group draft and enforce ground rules regarding how they will interact. They also need to know how to organize and manage a joint fact-finding process and a scenario planning effort that lead to the drafting of a written proposal. They have to be able to organize in-person and online dialogues involving quite a few people, and to keep a clear written summary of what groups and sub-groups have agreed. Finally, they need to be able to communicate with public officials, clearly and efficiently, and answer whatever questions might come up about the group’s proposal and the process by which it was developed.

All of this needs to be done in a way that does not betray a personal bias for or against what any of the participants prefer. Any sign of bias is sufficient reason for one or more participants to ask that the planner/facilitator to be replaced. Sometimes, the facilitator needs to organize preparatory efforts for participants who have never participated in such collaborative efforts. This might take the form of a short training course or coaching session.

Many college and university departments that train professional planners might have to augment their faculty and curriculum to ensure that students graduate with the skills I have listed. It is difficult to impart this kind of knowledge and capability if you have never tried to do this work yourself. Graduate students should be encouraged to serve as interns or apprentices to professional planners and facilitators who can tutor them in the relevant techniques.

Finally, planners who hope to facilitate anticipatory governance efforts need to learn how to ensure that organizational or public learning happens. Every process of the kind I am describing offers an opportunity for the participants to “get better” at this form of interaction (while advancing their own organization’s interests). It is important to stop at several points during each process, and certainly at the end, to give the participants time to reflect on what has transpired and to modify their personal theories of practice if necessary.

As I said at the outset, anticipatory governance can occur at any scale. The skills required to facilitate collaborative problem-solving are generally transferable from one scale to another. It is my hope that the requirements of organizational leadership in the private sector, public sector and non-profit sector will soon include the ability to participate effectively in the kind of process I have described. The better prepared the participants are, the more likely it is that they will generate informed agreements that all of them can support. And, when they do, elected and appointed officials should be eager to implement their proposals.


Professor Lawrence Susskind is Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and Head of the Environmental Policy and Planning Group at MIT. One of the founders of the field of environmental dispute resolution, he has been teaching at MIT and Harvard for 45 years.

[Originally posted on and reproduced here with permission from the author.]

Personal Data Collection During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Key Takeaways for Global Health and Society

The guest author for this post is Colette Mazzucelli. She is an Editor for the Anthem Press book series Ethics of Personal Data Collection Series alongside James Felton Keith, which publishes scholarly works at the intersection of data, ethics and digital technology in the 21st century.

In a March 29, 2020 interview on Fareed Zakaria GPS, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore remarked that the “Government has not been using phone data to do contact tracing, but rather “traditional detective work”” during the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the country. [1] Rather than using a mobile phone app made possible by innovative technology advances [2] to flatten the curve during the pandemic, the Prime Minister explained: “We have been interviewing people, asking them, interviewing them, tracking down their contacts, interviewing their contacts, trying to piece a story together… We hope to get a quick answer out within a couple of hours, but in fact we have pursued the cases for days to try and pin down, who talked to whom and who might have given the virus to whom.” [3] Singapore, like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea, relied on historical experience with the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003 to “upgrade institutional readiness” handling the pandemic with “a combination of testing, transparency (active citizen information) and citizen awareness guided by a timely and proactive government response.” [4]

There is a wealth of personal data to help with situational awareness, which can be used to refine modelers’ predictions about the spread of the pandemic in different countries. It is particularly important that data collected from citizens by states be acquired in an open manner to inspire trust in government anchoring an “all in it together” experience as more states around the globe combat rising cases of infections and fatalities. [5] The centrality of states in the response to rapid spread of COVID-19 speaks to classical realist insights dating back to “the plague that struck Athens in 430 B.C.” [6] The stricter limitations placed on international travel by state leaders in 2020 point to further deglobalization in the post-Cold War era. Their explanation that states are at “war” with the Novel Coronavirus, including the construction of a narrative with the pandemic cited as an “invisible enemy,” [7] confirms the emergence of infectious diseases as a new security threat. This reality places global health squarely on the 21st century agenda of international relations. [8] Following the next paragraph, twelve key takeaways speak to this new context.

The impact of COVID-19 is already influencing the ways in which we experience and map the interactions of people as agents of transformation inside and across borders. The pandemic increasingly raises questions as to an evolution of thinking within diverse philosophical traditions ranging from classical realism to liberalism to social constructivism, instead of simply an entrenched competition among distinct theories. This change is likely to become the norm in learning, particularly as a transition occurs away from the Western core towards a “deep pluralism” in which postcolonial, feminist, and critical theories figure more prominently. Comparative historical research is relevant, [9] particularly empirical findings that underline a lack of change in social and cultural norms from a gender perspective, i.e., in the United States after the 1918 H1N1 Flu Virus, a pandemic which reinforced the status quo. [10] Although that pandemic led to more fatalities than World War I, there is no memorial to commemorate the human tragedy. The necessity to reason from the planetary perspective underscores the concept of “shared fates” in our world. [11]

1. Emerging pandemics and climate change are twin pillars to frame our analysis of “environmental stewardship” [12] in the context of globalization.

2. The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a “gray rhino” [13] that marks a new reference point in which the collection of personal data to safeguard the welfare of billions of people on planet Earth is central to environmental stewardship in the study of international relations. [14]

3. Globalization is defined empirically by the unprecedented “mass public transportation across continents” [15] involving over a billion people in the early 21st century leading into the unprecedented Novel Coronavirus pandemic.

4. The personal data of populations, which is acquired and tracked primarily by states, as well as international agencies, notably the World Health Organization (WHO), is subject to monitoring by new technology applications, which potentially could marginalize further the most vulnerable groups in society.

5. Listening to the ethical concerns voiced by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), i.e., The Data Union, [16] pertaining to the collection and usage of personal data by states is an essential and emerging feature of globalization.

6. The COVID-19 pandemic situates peoples and their personal data as the agents of systemic economic transformation while leaders simultaneously respond by closing borders to defend international society.[17]

7. The mutual vulnerability of billions defines security in the war to combat an invisible enemy, which replaces the stability of the Cold War era as the norm regulating the relations among people as well as states [18] in a new age of social distancing.

8. The value of personal data in society, upon which the health of the planet depends, increases during the Novel Coronavirus pandemic, as oil prices fall precipitously, [19] underlining arbitrary state power.

9. The Novel Coronavirus pandemic speaks to a reframe of international relations, defined, more broadly, as the study of war and peace, away from a Western core [20] by challenging traditional assumptions in theory with reference empirically to personal data researched from the field in a range of cases across continents.

10. International relations are interdisciplinary, which requires knowledge comparatively of world history, personal data, and public health [21] to advance theory given the impact of infectious diseases over time on diverse species. [22]

11. The COVID-19 pandemic anchors “the Other” [23] as subject of international relations with concerns about race, nationalism, and religion highlighted in the ethics of personal data collection and the domains of identity. [24]

12. As a pandemic without historical precedent in its economic, demographic, and social implications, the Novel Coronavirus places gender concerns, [25] highlighting male-female power dynamics, in tandem with internal conflict and public health at the heart of non-governmental organizations’ international humanitarian engagement.


Colette Mazzucelli, MALD, EdM, PhD, is a BMW Foundation Responsible Leader, Chair of the NYU European Horizons Advisory Board, and Senior Vice President (Academia) of the Global Listening Centre. Since 2004, she has been teaching on Graduate Faculty in New York University specializing in conflict resolution, radicalization & religion, international relations in the post-Cold War era, ethnic conflict, and Europe in the 21st Century.

List of References


Talk of the Town: 5 Things that Happened in the Publishing Industry in March 2020

March 2020 has been an incredibly testing month as countries around the world continue to fight the coronavirus pandemic and people settle into their homes to transition to a “new normal.”

That’s why Anthem Press has curated 5 note-worthy articles that contribute to a holistic understanding of the current state and future trajectory of the publishing industry. Whether data, news or commentary, we aim to keep you informed.

1. A surge in manuscript submissions from authors working in self-isolation.

Despite the global shutdowns on nonessential businesses, The Guardian reports that editors of publishing houses are busier than ever. Why? Authors are using stay-at-home orders to generate productivity. But literary experts caution writers from using pandemics/contagion as subject matter for their stories.

Full story here

2. A rapid increase in physical book sales, but it might not be sustainable.

According to BBC News, in the UK, people are stockpiling novels, particularly fiction, children’s books, puzzle books, handicrafts, and true crime. But as nonessential businesses shut down operations, there’s inevitable harm coming to booksellers who rely on consistent sales.

Full story here

3. Canada loosens copyright restrictions to open “Read Aloud Canadian Books.”

Publishing Perspectives observes that as schools shut down across Canada, educators and librarians have been reinventing ways to make resources available in a home-learning environment. Partnering with Canada’s primary English-language copyright revenue, Access Copyright, educators can record videos of themselves reading aloud classroom material for students.

Full story here

4. The coronavirus pandemic will change the book industry forever.

The Los Angeles Times delivers a daunting commentary on the book industry’s future. Like many nonessential consumer sectors, independent bookstores are taking hard hits, with stores closing their physical locations as well as mass layoffs on the horizon. The only booksellers that may come out of the pandemic unscathed are ones that turn to ebooks and audiobooks, like

Full story here

5. #Bookstagram: a global movement of social media-savvy book reviewers are influencing publishing houses from the bottom-up.

Bookstagrams are book blogs in Instagram form, where readers curate and review booklists for an online community with a shared love of reading. But The Independent also observes that bookstagrams are influencing book marketing experts, as companies look toward trendy social media accounts to design commercial book covers.

Full story here

The Fanfare of Progress: Foreign Occupation and the Viability of the 2030 Agenda


Five years ago, the UN passed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This resulted in the establishment of seventeen different goals, more commonly known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), accompanied by 169 targets and indicators to achieve this agenda by 2030. Building upon the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and what both supporters and critics might acknowledge was at best, haphazard success, the SDGs are distinct in major ways.

First, the very process of collaboration over the 2030 Agenda was far more inclusive than with the MDGs, with a wide range of NGO and civil society actors participating in the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Summit. The SDGs consist of seventeen goals, rather than eight. The goals and objectives of the SDGs are also unprecedented both in scope and ambition. Inequality is presented as a global issue, not tied to country indicators, but rampant within, between, and across national boundaries. The environmental sustainability of our planet cuts across numerous goals, framing our economic and political systems as interdependent and requiring greater cooperation and collaboration. The SDGs apply to all countries, unlike the MDGs, which were directed towards “developing” countries only. Major issues such as hunger, poverty, armed conflict, etc. are to be eliminated, reaching their statistical zero, rather than halved or portrayed as social ills countries must work toward reducing by some generous proportion.

These are not insignificant differences. The 2030 Agenda and SDGs demonstrate an increasingly globalized development community — one that acknowledges the need for greater collaboration and cooperation, and actually directly acknowledges the connections between a range of issues, their symptoms, and the political and economic systems that govern human societies. In turn, the SDGs actually explicitly address issues of conflict, justice, and political institutions. Goal sixteen is perhaps both the most overtly and vaguely political in this regard. The targets for this goal include reducing violence “everywhere” (16.1), promoting rule of law and ensuring equal access to justice (16.3), developing effective, accountable and transparent institutions (16.6), and strengthening national institutions to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime (16.A). In short, this goal is reaching for world peace, or at the bare minimum, some formal establishment of a globalized system of justice and accountability.

But what does this really mean in practice? The UN, affiliated institutions, and the Member States fail to deliver here. It is already a monumental task to maintain the integrity of such institutions on national scales, but should this objective not also acknowledge the need for fostering such accountability not only within, but between states and coalitions of states? The same year UN Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda, many of these same states — also members of NATO — participated in the launch of the US-led Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS). OFS is a scaled back continuation of the thirteen year Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), marking a major shift in how the US and NATO allies framed their occupation of Afghanistan. Instead of embarking on the major military operations that defined OEF, the international coalition would transition to a primarily training and assistance role. Their ambition is great — to develop self-sufficient Afghan forces capable of maintaining security without an international presence. This objective in many ways reflected a quiet acknowledgement among US government, military, and aid workers, actively concealed from the public throughout the occupation of Afghanistan: that the war failed and required an exit strategy.

Development and aid were used as strategies to expedite military outcomes in Afghanistan. Particularly between 2009 and 2012, aid was flooded into the country to build schools, bridges, canals, and other civil-works projects as a tactic to centralize institutions and improve security, acknowledged by aid workers as a “colossal misjudgment, akin to pumping kerosene on a dying campfire just to keep the flame alive (Whitlock 2019).” It begs the question why the magnitude of international failure in Afghanistan was not a more explicit factor in the establishment of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, particularly with regards to issues of peace and poverty. How can these goals be achieved when addressing the economic and political relationships that facilitate the symptoms of global systemic inequality and injustice are not explicit objectives?

As the US and NATO allies tire of a two-decade war, negotiation with the Taliban has been widely accepted as the only path towards withdrawal and potential peace. That said, talks have been on and off. The Taliban’s stance on human rights, in particular the rights of women and freedom of expression, among issues pertaining to disarmament, complicate the absolute viability of the SDGs. The 2030 Agenda promised to, “provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future (SDGs 2020).” In considering the SDGs and the future of global agendas, we cannot ignore the contradictions that exist between agendas and relationships. As the signatories of this agenda continue to occupy a military presence in Afghanistan, it is fair to ask, how does the broader development community reconcile the heritage of waves of international invasion instigated by their own states within societies which resist and distrust national systems? It is a complex question, one that remains unresolved and resides deeply within the vision of the 2030 Agenda. Acknowledging the mistakes of the donor community, particularly with regard to violent conflict, displacement and poverty, must be an integral part of any meaningful global effort toward sustainable development. If the failures of the international community in Afghanistan continue to be neglected amid the fanfare of cooperation surrounding the 2030 Agenda, efforts to sustainably develop our world will only perpetuate the very systems of inequality and injustice they seek to move beyond.


Avideh Mayville, Ph.D, is a program manager, researcher, and leader with over a decade of experience across non-profits, think tanks, and higher education institutions. Her areas of specialty include globalization and development policy, development in conflict environments, the security-development nexus, and human rights-based approaches to development. She writes about these issues in her personal blog: Aid, Olive Branches, and Machine Guns

The Transformation of Capacity in International Development (Anthem Press, November 2019) is her first book. 9781785271557-2813_x_4500px_1

The Art of Startups: do you really need an MBA to launch your company?

Should startup founders get an MBA?

If you are planning to work in consulting, or dream of a corporate job, there are many advantages to studying for an MBA. For one thing, it will definitely help you to get your foot in the door.

It is also true many co-founders meet each other during their MBA. The opportunity to network is an important draw for those considering MBA programs. However, it is less clear that an MBA will equip founders with the basic tools and skill sets they need to thrive as entrepreneurs, in the challenging world of startups.


My Story

When I started my MBA, I’d already launched my first two startup companies. Studying and working on projects in teams was interesting, but I felt straight away that most of the strategies I was being taught were mainly geared towards working for large, already well-established organizations, such as multinational companies or corporations. As such, they didn’t really apply to startup founders of (at least initially) new or small businesses.

I remember spending long hours studying competitors rather than studying potential users.  Likewise, the focus of our projects was analyzing, planning, and forecasting, rather than executing, launching, and learning. In the classroom we would look at case studies and debate mergers and acquisitions, international expansions, and vertical integrations… These are all important strategies for market leaders, but in the context it is very unrealistic, if not useless, to speak of such strategies.

Launching and running a small startup requires a different approach, and a different skill set.

Small Startups: the Brutal Statistics

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 89.6 percent of companies are not large corporations, but small businesses (classified as employing fewer than 20 people): that is, most companies in the US are, or once have been, small startup companies. What’s more, they account for more than half of the country’s total workforce.

But crucially, while over 627,000 new companies – startups – open their doors each year, more than 50 percent do not reach past the five-year mark. Yes: more than one out of two of all startup companies will fail within five years.

Looking at that steep failure rate indicates that as far as new ventures are concerned, there is a clear gap in educating founders on specific strategies designed for startup companies.

Obviously, starting a new venture will always entail a high systematic risk. However, trying to apply strategies designed for large or established companies to startups is a sure recipe for a loss of focus, if not a death sentence in business terms.

I believe the startups default ratio could decrease if founders could have a specific road map of strategies that takes into account the size, stage and market of their company..

The Art of Startups

When I coach startup companies, the two most common mistakes I see are almost invariably that:

  1. Founders spread their initiatives and resources too wide, and therefore too thinly (e.g. money, time, manpower, geography, products/service, target users). In an ideal world, with no competition, it would of course make sense for startups to keep their spectrum broad, and to try to serve as large a market as possible. But in the real world concentrating all your resources on one spot is the only way to beat the odds for startups.

  2. Founders corner themselves to the role of followers by copying the strategies of already successful companies. Instead, they should innovate: this allows startups to avoid direct competition from the incumbent companies. Also, it’s the only way for startups to find untapped user niches. It’s virtually impossible for startups to offer something better to their users if they keep shadowing leaders.

But these points are just the beginning.

In my new book, The Art of Startups (April 2020, Anthem Press), I have drawn on my experience as a serial entrepreneur and startup coach to create a startup-focused guide for unlocking innovation and building new businesses against the odds.

No, it’s not another fast track MBA; we already have plenty of those online courses. Rather, I aim to address the real problem: the failure rate of startup companies, arising from applying the wrong strategy and innovating ineffectively.

Through an innovative graphic novel format including real case studies and groundbreaking evidence, The Art of Startups, which has already garnered attention from the Financial Times and McKinsey & Co., will guide entrepreneurs how to eschew the common pitfalls and challenges associated with the early days of running a startup.

The engaging visuals are designed to be memorable and accessible, recreating in the graphic-novel form common situations almost every startup faces in an immersive way.

If you want to turn around the fate of your startup, it’s time to focus, and to learn The Art of Startups.


Edoardo Maggini is a serial entrepreneur and inventor who has co-founded three successful startup companies within the last decade alone, including Fenix Technologies, where he currently works. He holds an MBA from Pace University as well as an executive degree in business strategy from Harvard Business School.

The Art of Startups is his first book. It has already been nominated for the Financial Times / McKinsey & Co Bracken Bower Award – Best Business Book of the Year. Joe Gebbia, Co-Founder of AirBnB, has written the Foreword.

The Fuzzy Edges of Contemporary Theater


Theater has always been mercurial if not chimeric, a hybrid of art forms. It is unstable and pliable by definition, since its realization relies on a multiplicity of collaborators under unstable, often tenuous conditions. The result is invariably a composite beast, reconfigured in each iteration.  Unsurprisingly, then, theater today has fuzzy edges – indeed, if it has edges at all, for edges suggest territory, a demesne, a pale, that is, limits, and the art of contemporary performance cuts across, runs through, is entangled with, bleeds into not only many another contemporary art form but intersects with and overlaps popular entertainments and everyday activities, religious and secular, so that the limits, distinctions, boundaries, even generic separations are often indistinguishable among performative activities. Much of such contemporary theater practice develops in defiance of realistic or illusionary threads of performative art with their emphases on architectural and material validity and focus on family constellations.

In his seminal textbook, Performance Studies:An Introduction, Richard Schechner details what he calls “Performing in Everyday Life” with a string of examples of contemporary performative activities: “Family and Social Roles—Job Roles–Spectator Sports and Other Popular Entertainments—Performing Arts—Secular and Sacred Rituals—Trance” (Schechner 172-3).  Such a list is, of course, partial, but its implications are that we are all and always performers, in one way or another, “Performing on stage, performing in special social situations (public ceremonies, for example), and performing in everyday life are a continuum.  These various kinds of performing occur in widely divergent circumstances, from solo shows before the mirror to large-scale public events and rituals, from shaman healing rituals to identity changing trances, from theater and dance to great and small roles of everyday life” (Schnechner, 170).

Pursuit: The Uncensored Memoirs of John Calder

The phenomenon of everyday performance is punctuated by the growing trend of being constantly on view, on camera, under perpetual surveillance in much of contemporary urban life. We are thus part of the surveillance society, a society of control, an automatic society with real-time web cams. Some theater groups, like New York’s Surveillance Camera Players, perform against such intrusions into our private spheres, while the rest of us just mug or make obscene gestures to elevator surveillance cameras and the like in our feeble attempts at resistance and defiance, but even such gestures have a tradition.  Early in the Modernist era, Dadaists and Surrealists hated the conventions of theater but loved spectacle and public performance, and so provocations left theatrical space and took the shape of street actions, or “Happenings” in the next generation, a term coined by Allan Kaprow, a student of John Cage at Black Mountain College, in the early 1950s to describe spontaneous, non-linear provocations deemed art.

For Peter Brook, “Happenings” were a part of “The Holy Theatre”:

“A Happening is a powerful invention.  It destroys at one blow many deadly forms, like the dreariness of theatre buildings, and the charmless trappings of curtain, usherette, cloakroom, programme, bar. A Happening can be anywhere, any time, of any duration:  nothing is required, nothing is taboo.  A Happening may be spontaneous, it may be formal, it may be anarchistic, it can generate intoxicating energy.  Behind the Happening is the shout, “Wake up!”

(Brook, 1968, p. 50)

Amid his calls for “a primitive spontaneity,” Eugenio Barba has suggested that “Theatres are still antiquated buildings where classical and contemporary texts are recited in a routine and conventional style.  There is no creative act on stage—only the sterile repetition of worn out formulas and hybrid styles which try to look “Modern” by exploiting the discoveries of other art forms” (Barba 153).  “Happenings” were attempts to break through such conventionality, and in 1963 British publisher John Calder followed up his provocative 1962 Edinburgh Writers’ Festival with what was deemed the notorious 1963 Drama Conference to end that year’s Edinburgh Festival with a series of “Happenings”. As he recalls in his memoirs, Pursuit, the last day of the Festival was dedicated to the topic of what forms the theater might take in the future, during which a young model named Anna Kesselaar would appear in Ken Dewey’s “Happening”:

“….at the end of the organ gallery that ran behind the platform where the conferences sat. She was hanging on to a BBC lighting trolley and was wheeled around the gallery by a BBC technician, naked, but within the law, as she was not moving, but being moved.”

(Calder, p. 260)

Kaprow would follow Dewey’s “Happening” with one of his own – one which impeded the audience members’ exit from the building by having used tires piled in the doorways over which those exiting had to climb.  These events would, in turn, lead to Calder’s famous performances called “Ledlanet Nights” in Kinrosshire, Scotland. These were music, opera and theatrical events at his Baronial ancestral home.  Calder would subsequently use an image from the London Sunday Mirror’s coverage of the uncovered Kesselaar performance on the cover of his autobiography.

S.E. Gontarski is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University, where he specializes in twentieth-century Irish Studies, performance theory, and British and European modernism. He is also a writer and director, and General Editor of the Anthem Studies in Drama and Performance series.