Picture a typical entrepreneur. What springs to mind? Probably a hybrid of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and a millennial doing something mysterious with social media in a trendy co-working space. And what link all three of these are innovation and risk: they notice problems in the world and want to fix them, and they commit time, money and skills to something that is essentially an experiment, with no guarantee of a return.
Whoever you pictured, I’m fairly sure you didn’t picture yourself, or any of your colleagues. In fact, many company bosses get a bit squeamish mentioning the ‘e’ word at all, thinking their best people will drop everything and head to the closest hipster coffee shop to launch a start-up.
This is a short-sighted and limiting point of view. For one, start-up life is not for everyone: I know, I’ve been the guy with the idea to fix a problem I’d spotted, working from my garage to get a new business off the ground. Taking risks on someone else’s dime is very different to putting your own house on the line! And the latter is not an attractive option for most. And, more importantly, harnessing employees’ entrepreneurial spirit and tapping into their innovative mindset is a critical success factor for companies wanting to survive these tough and rapidly changing times.
These are the employees that are going to see problems and fix them before your organisation and customers even realise an issue exists.
These are the employees that are going to do the equivalent of Steve Jobs starting work on an iPod that you can use to make calls, even as Apple launched the very first iPod in 2001.
These are the employees that are going to see the opportunities when a competitor such as Uber disrupts your market. They are the opposite of London’s black cab drivers, who responded to Uber with calls to have the taxi hailing app regulated to the same levels of inefficiency that their 160-year-old business operates at.
They are also going to figure out how to make your business run better. This is as important as outward facing innovation. You know that business runs in cycles, and decisions that made sense five or ten years ago may not be relevant anymore. Consider the endless ebb and flow between outsourcing and insourcing; centralisation and decentralisation; horizontal integration and vertical specialisation.
Now layer on today’s massive disruption, driven by the velocity of technology, and the advances you made last year might already be out of date. Look at deliveries: you’ve probably sold off your fleet of delivery vehicles and now outsource this function. But are you considering that sooner than you think, drone deliveries might be the new normal?
Businesses that don’t take an entrepreneurial view of their internal or external operations are going to be left behind. Stop thinking about entrepreneurship as something that happens ‘out there’ and start discovering the entrepreneur within.
TOP TIPS FOR UNLEASHING THE CORPORATE ENTREPRENEUR
Entrepreneurship starts at home: look at the way you are doing things today and ask if you can do them better.
Focus on a niche market and experiment. It’s OK to break stuff as long as you learn.
De-risk innovation by knowing what you can play with. Don’t put your whole business in jeopardy.
Published in ASA Magazine March 2017