As I sit back and contemplate my experiences here in Puerto Rico, the same roadblock appears every time, zero sum game theory. You've seen me blog about it time and time again, but let me refresh your memory.
It goes something like this, quoting from Wikipedia, "In game theory and economic theory, zero-sum describes a situation in which a participant's gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant(s)." What it means for Puerto Rico is that consumers, partners, collaborators, you name it, are demotivated to buy, help, or cooperate, if they think that by doing so, they'll be losing, while you gain.
The metaphor used to illustrate this theory is a pie. Now imagine that that this pie represents economic market share, power, or influence. In general when someone uses zero sum thinking, they believe that every piece of the pie is spoken for. They have some, and others have the rest. The bottom line is that there's no pie left.
So if you're a start-up (or anyone looking to make a change) the idea which dominates most people's mind is I've got my pie, and I'm not going to let you have any of my pie. And forget about trying to get them to believe that you want to help them get more pie, because they're very sensitive when it comes to discussing their piece of the pie.
A Few Examples
Now beyond my personal experience over the past six years trying to make a difference here in Puerto Rico, I have to fall back on my expertise as a computer/Internet analyst for some objective proof of the zero sum mentality. Now before anyone counters with any evidence that some of these examples do exist, I'm referring to general trends. The existence of one or two real examples does not offset the nearly complete absence on the island of:
- participation in Web 2.0, crowdsourced web sites, with of course, the 1 exception Facebook. However I'll leave the explanation of why Facebook has conquered Puerto Rico to my compatriot Jose: "Facebook appeals to Puerto Rican's sense of first, vanity, "Oh! Look at me at Disney!", and two, our curiosity for gossip (we're just plain nosy, and we like it, it's called being presentao).
- a few of those Web 2.0 tools which are huge in most places but not here: Meetup, Twitter, Evite, and the list goes on, and on, and on, you get the point.
- user groups, while there have been on and off various user groups around Java, Microsoft Development, Oracle, and Linux, there's really little participation in these informal organizations (my own take is that they fail here because they are based on users getting together to help each other, but helping someone get better at a technology means they might take your pie, so no can do).
- technical conferences, or the trendy non-conferences such as Ignite:Sessions or Basecamps (see my take above for my theory on why we are missing these valuable events). Any technical conferences that do get held rely heavily on corporate sponsorship, so the events become nothing but grandstands for those corporate sponsors to market to the captive audience.
The government and local business leaders are constantly talking about Puerto Rico creating a knowledge worker-based economy. It's nothing but pure unbridled fantasy and spin. A knowledge-based economy is founded upon the free flow of information, knowledge, skills, and abilities. If this community does not exist, which is my basic supposition, then a knowledge-based economy is not possible.
The only solution to this is to foment a new meme. The economic world is not a mutually exclusive environment, there is another possibility when it comes to zero sum thinking, make more pie. Nowhere in the world is this more drastically demonstrated than in Silicon Valley. So just like Ronald Reagan told Mikail Gorbachev "Mr Gorbachev tear down this wall!" I say to my cohabitants of this beautiful paradise, "Mr. Juan del Pueblo let's make more pie!"
Flickr Creative Commons Contributor: ginnerobot