Spokane Economic Development

Insurgents and Disruption

There are 287 start-up accelerators in Silicon Valley. I just spent two days at one of the first of them, Plug and Play, whereby the likes of Google and PayPal were launched. If you’re curious about the leading edge of any given market sector, spend a couple days at Plug and Play watching three-minute start-up presentations.

Silicon Valley deploys a unique language to describe innovative market opportunities. Words like insurgents, incumbents, platforms, space, ecosystem, acceleration, disruption – this is the lingo used by innovators and those who venture-fund them. Through the lens of Spokane’s economic development system, the words above pose a challenge for “Spokane Nice.” That is to say, you won’t hear the word disruption used to justify a new idea in Spokane, it would be used as an argument against it.

Insurgents and disruption are good words. Who are the insurgents in Spokane that aim to disrupt the market? Even deeper, and as it directly relates to Spokane’s economic development system, how do we create more insurgents?

Insurgents are those who challenge the status quo, otherwise known as the incumbents. Amazon was the insurgent to the retail industry. Uber to the taxi cab industry. Digital cameras to the film industry. PayPal to payment processing. Tesla to automotive, and so on and so on.

The process of an insurgent overtaking an incumbent is so common these days, patterns have emerged that very smart people with PhDs have identified. There is, therefore, a predictable process by which disruption unfolds.

Thus, I’ll return to the question: how do we create more insurgents in Spokane? If we can solve for this equation, the world is our oyster. The solution is out there but it’s unclear how much our local incumbents even want to find an answer, much less if they have the nose to give it a worthwhile effort.

I can tell you this for sure, the first step includes our local board culture — the same 100 or so folks that tend to sit on every board and subcommittee in town — adopting a mentality of disruption.

Think through the list of actors who participate in Spokane’s local economic development system and ask yourselves, are they encouraging disruption, or do they always back the opinions of incumbents? Even deeper, are those who profess to be leaders in economic development incumbents unto themselves, and who’s disrupting them?