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Lubrication: More Oil for Chicago Tech Please

I recently had the pleasure of attending Chicago Ideas Week. In one of the sessions I heard the founder of CIW, Brad Keywell, discuss lubrication. Lubrication = flow, ease, reduction in friction. The kind of lubrication that drives Chicago tech and creates growth, now. Yet Chicago needs more to keep the engine revving and running at peak performance.

Over the past 10 years, Chicago has made great strides in this regard…we are better connected, our successes are more visible and we are more apt to look around us to find advice, connections and counsel. However, it’s not innate as it is in California and other cities. I joke that you can walk in to a Starbucks in Palo Alto and state you’re starting a company: everyone there will offer to help. That may be an extreme, but the closer we get to that paradigm, the better. Not because it’s the “right thing to do” for the community (which it is) but because it will have extreme value to each of our bottom lines.

So how do we gain more traction with less friction (lubrication)?

Don’t be shy: “What can I do for you?” It’s the question I ask 10 times a day and at least half the time people are surprised I ask… and then follow through on their request or need (most of the time). For me, it’s innate. I realize it isn’t for everyone. Many community members want to help – and need help themselves. Our community must offer up connections, resources and support - the benefits of creating this conversation far outweigh the risks of not taking action. Move out of your lane: When we’re building a company, our heads are down and we are stuck in our vertical or sector. Yet, the best ideas come from getting out of our lanes and looking outside of ourselves. Healthcare tech? Look to logistics. Travel? Look to financial services. Chicago has leading domain expertise across a dozen verticals. Seek out ideas and counsel from atypical places. It’s not a zero-sum game: There is a belief that our industry is a zero-sum game. That we have to fight for a piece of the pie. This is a myth. You can indeed be successful (and more so) along with Groupon and Braintree’s success. Chicago’s tech pie is growing and will be enormous in short order. Be less parochial, relish ideas and give yours freely. Incentivize support: The tech industry is suffering from ‘mentor hangover’ – individuals or organizations that provide strategic advice, connections and resources to those in need while not receiving anything in return. Create a plan that integrates these supporters in to your future success - make it worth their while. They will do even more to grease your business wheels on the long road ahead. Support big ideas: Ideas Week, Innovation Awards, ThinkChicago etc. are all ideas that go beyond the day-to-day responsibility of one’s job. Participate in those programs, unearth some crazy idea, connect with people you wouldn’t otherwise know, demand a creative conversation. Individually and organizationally it will change you – for the better. Keep leaders accountable: While I drive connections, strategy and opportunities with ITA members every day, I am at fault for not doing (and demanding) more of it among other centers of gravity in Chicago. Encourage us to do so – call us to the table to collaborate, learn from one another and continue to bring the community together. The network effects of cross-pollinating will be earth-shattering.

As I’ve said before I am more bullish on Chicago Tech that I have been at any time in my entire tenure at ITA. We will continue to drive this conversation forward in new ways. It is important for others to do the same.

Send me an email ( or tweet (@fredhoch) with a need or challenge and I’ll get the conversation flowing.

I just ask that if it benefits you, you continue to pay it forward. Less friction, more lubrication.

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