Harness or Release the Intrapreneur Troublemaker?

Recently, the World Economic Forum convened in Davos for its annual meeting. What, one may ask, does such a high brow event have to do with intrapreneurship and innovation in business? Actually, one of the panel discussions at the Forum was on social intrapreneurship. The definition that was being used seemed to focus on the social implications of the issue as it relates to those change makers who offer creative solutions and drive growth. Gib Bulloch, the Executive Director for the Accenture Development Partnership, writing for the Huffington Post last week, noted that there exists no job title for the social intrapreneur. Admittedly, he argued, no one leaves college or university to become one and the  role lacks a clearly defined job description. Companies that embrace the power of these intrapraneurs to think differently and innovate, Bulloch said, have significant opportunities to leverage their passion and benefit the business.

Bulloch recalls Vodafone’s M-PESA mobile banking business as a prime example of the benefit of empowering intrapreneurs:

The idea of using mobile phones as bank accounts for the un-banked in Kenya was not born in the corporate boardroom. It was the brain child of a middle manager in the marketing department, Nick Hughes, who came up with the concept and brought it to the attention of those who could advance its development, both inside and outside the company. Seven years into the program, a thriving M-PESA business now delivers socio-economic benefits for Kenya and business benefits for Vodafone.

Therein lies the key to social intrapreneurship. It is not a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. It is a business growth initiative that tears down barriers and embraces the passionate ideals and innovation of the millennial generation now flooding into the workplace. It is a concept that captures the zeitgeist of young people who care less about making a fortune on Wall Street and more about making a difference on Main Street.Intrapreneurman

For organizations that aspire to leverage the rare win-win of business benefit with social good in 2013, four key takeaways have emerged as guideposts for developing an effective social intrapreneurship program:

• The role of leadership is key: In the early stages of an innovation program, leadership must provide the air cover required to protect bottom-up ideas. As the best ideas mature, they must be promoted within the organization and embraced from the top down.

• Harness the troublemaker: Social intrapreneurs are at their core different from their peers. They march to a different drum beat and their passions fuel both their personal and work lives. Having a culture that both nurtures the change maker’s innovative spirit but also harnesses the troublemaker’s enthusiasm and energy to break molds and achieve where others have come up short will return significant rewards.

• Realize the retention value: For the social intrapreneur, making a difference is often equal to making money. For organizations that embrace the value of providing “bottom up” channels for creative business solutions that provide social good, the long term benefits for retaining your best innovators cannot be understated. Simply put, for the millennial generation, making a difference matters.

• Base decisions on the Business Case: Even for the most passionate social intrapreneurs, the numbers still matter. Innovations that pull on the heart strings as opposed to the levers of business value are unlikely to be sustainable or scalable in the long run

How do you see these guidelines at play inside your own organization? Is top leadership committed to openly supporting new ideas? Are those who see the world differently perceived as liabilities or assets? What are you doing to keep these change agents engaged and motivated? Does your group operate on emotional or sound business foundations? Harness the power of the intrapreneur!

 

Innovation: Spurred By Introverts or Not?

introvert v extrovert

We are all familiar with the stereotypes surrounding introverts. Yet, Stefan Lindegaard at 15inno.com, in a blog post today, while acknowledging that he is an introvert and prefers to be alone, looks at the unique role introverts can play in innovation.  He projects that, in terms of innovation, more innovation will happen in communities either in the b2c form of crowdsourcing or in the b2b form of innovation networks, alliances and challenges. He sees the communities as not just virtual/online, but also in person. Some of Lindegaard’s observations about introversion as it relates to innovation are below (he doesn’t perceive the shift to synchronized collaboration to be one that will exclude introverts from innovation.)

Reflection is an important, but forgotten capability. It is often said that introverts get more energy through reflection and that it dwindles during interaction. Well, we need more reflection. There is too much action in this fast paced world and when it comes to ideas and innovation, the best results seem to come when you take a break and reflect on the problems you are trying to solve.

Organizational structures need to make room for introverts. With the exception of a few pockets such as R&D and accounting most functions within a company seem to be driven with an extrovert-like attitude. But not all people are social. Many are introverts and don’t necessarily want to socialize and focus on external matters. What about them?

Introverts must learn to turn on the switch. Far too many meetings either take too long or should never have taken place at all. The matters could have been dealt with in more effective ways than a meeting. Introvert or not. 

But when I need to interact with others in the physical world, I have trained myself to turn on a switch that allows me to be a good networker (ask questions, focus on the other person) and deliver good talks. I would actually argue that introverts are capable of becoming better networkers than most other people because we are more likely to define a purpose and execute on this before we interact like this.

We need to develop the softer skills. Yes, it is kind of a cliché that soft skills such as networking, communication and “people skills” are really the hard skills, but this does not change the fact that too many companies fail to educate their employees on this. More importantly; they don’t give the employees the time needed to develop these skills. Those who want to succeed in the social era need to change this.

Social media works well for introverts. You can “hide” and still have a strong voice in your community or industry. This is one reason that I spent so much time with social media. It is a great way to communicate and since there is so much input (some call this information overload), it gives you plenty of opportunities to reflect on what is happening and thus build further on your own thoughts and ideas. Social media makes it easier for introverts to become more social. It is a win for everyone.

Introverts can challenge the crowd. Since most introverts shy away from the crowd, they often see the crowd in a different perspective. We need all perspectives when we work with innovation and good innovation leader make an effort to recognize this and thus pay extra attention to listen to the more “quiet” introverts.

 

Lindegaard’s comments should be challenging to traditional organizational development thought. He almost goes so far as to recommend diversity strategies to balance personality types in work groups. Furthermore, he portrays as valuable the tension between thinking and communication, solitary productivity vs group performance. Think about these concepts and your own organization. Consider how you may better organize yourselves to be more innovative. 

What Matrix Guides the Artisan Entrepreneur?

Recently, I read the story of a graduate student in her first arts entrepreneurship course. She recounts that the first assignment her class had to complete was to analyze The Matrix with a view towards entrepreneurship. The instructor wanted the students to analyze a.) four key components that converged, and b.) the value created as a result of the convergence. The four components were:

  1. factors within our control,
  2. ones outside our control,
  3. inspiration, and
  4. time.

MatrixUnderstand that the paradigm from which the class was operating had far less to do with the thought of a start-up business venture than the combination of behaviors, attributes, qualities, propensities, and actions requisite to think entrepreneurially. Prior to the assignment, the students had come to a place of agreement that key qualities of the mindset would likely include innovation, discipline, vision, and leadership.

In yesterday’s blog post, we studied the comparative mindset of artisan versus opportunist entrepreneurs. Clearly, the ability to recognize an opportunity is critical to either group to attain optimal revenues. In like manner, organizational skills with regards to people, tasks and ideas are important to possess or acquire. Planning, which is envisioned differently in the mind of some, is a discipline that helps the entrepreneur anticipate and become prepared. Thinking of both conventional and unconventional ways to fund the pursuit of the idea is also generally agreed to be important.

As you look at the paradigm, mindset, skills, and habits listed above, a system emerges. Yet, the system relies on the artisan entrepreneur’s ability to observe a competency model that is unlike any at work in corporate HR circles. This competency model values:

  • intellectual and personal entrepreneurial skills,
  • basic professional skills, and 
  • a general understanding of arts culture, policy, and management.

Students in the class mentioned above pursued their respective competency models through a series of exercises administered by the professor. They were encouraged to develop a vision, produce a comprehensive feasibility plan, write a series of process papers, and prepare “pitches” of their proposed ventures to mock audiences of various forms. The assignments became more challenging when the students found out that they had to work interdependently with one another for the work products. For the average participant, this was an unwelcome wrinkle, as most artisans enjoy their individualism. This is not unlike other types of entrepreneurs, but is a personality trait that we documented in the artisan versus opportunist dichotomy that becomes significant when you think about the components the students had to analyze in their Matrix project.

In order to address factors outside one’s control, there has to be a letting go that is ever so hard for an entrepreneur. Without admitting defeat, one must admit the need for help. Realizing that help may be needed forces the individual to think in terms of team development–not just development, but additional sub-processes like recruiting, training, nurturing, and vision casting. If you’ve had no prior experience doing these types of things, they can become your undoing in an enterprise.

The factors that appear to be within one’s control seem not to present a problem. Yet, as we think about these factors, we realize that we must be delusional to honestly think that, as complexity arrives on the scene in terms of additional team members, the external demands upon the enterprise, and the need to divest ourselves of tasks that don’t match out motivated ability, even the internal environment becomes dicey.

Inspiration seems to come naturally to the creative mind. Finding a way to balance newness and executing on prior thoughts is significant, because being able to do so can determine ultimate success versus floundering. Time is an asset that gets swallowed up despite out best intentions. As we build teams, boards, advisory experts, etc, we are able to free up time to focus on the truly important. 

Value has been created, but not without some proverbial “blood, sweat, and tears.” Please don’t be dismayed. You can do this–but you need to embrace a competency model that guides the members selected for your team to collectively represent the diversity you will need to pursue your vision!

New Small Business: Economic Development Catalyst

Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy. This is a statement that is tossed out for public consumption on a fairly regular basis. What data backs it up? What might it mean for job creation and other key indicators of economic health that matter to the general population? In the November 2012 Business Dynamics Statistics monthly report from the Census Bureau, it was noted that hiring and job creation in small businesses (19 employees or less) with two years or less of operations was stronger than in larger companies that had been around longer.

While older firms only hire 25-33% of new employees for newly created jobs, young firms average about two in five (40%)! A substantial fraction of the job creation for young firms is due to the job creation that occurs in the quarter of starting up. However, there is substantial subsequent job creation as well as job destruction in the succeeding quarters in the first two years. The overall net job creation (the difference between job creation and destruction) is much higher for young firms than for older firms.

Small Business strengthThe other area in which startups excel is in worker churning (hiring in excess of job creation and the separations in excess of job destruction.) Job creation measures the employment gains from the expansion of existing establishments and the creation of new establishments. Job destruction measures the employment losses from contracting and closing establishments. The Department of Labor maintains that churning helps the matching of workers to jobs. Hiring and separation rates at young firms are seen as being unusually high. There is also a trend of a marked improvement in hiring and job creation in young firms since 2008 in comparison to established firms. 

The report, entitled “Job Creation, Worker Churning, and Wages at Young Businesses,” draws its conclusions from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Quarterly Workforce Indicators, which use federal and state administrative data on employers and employees combined with core Census Bureau data. On a less rosy note for employees in small companies, the study also showed that their earnings per worker are lower than at more mature firms. Since the wage premium for workers who choose to work for large companies has persisted, earnings growth–even during the most recent recession–is largely attributable to wages paid by larger companies. Some of this decline is accounted for by changes in the industry  composition of startups over the last decade, but the overall trend is downward.

Just before the 2001 recession, workers at new firms earned about 85 percent as much as workers at mature firms. By 2011, this earnings ratio had dropped to 70 percent. The earnings premium associated with working for a large employer versus a smaller employer also grew during this time period: Average real monthly earnings in small firms fell from a high of 78 percent in 2001 to a low of 66 percent in 2011. 

Churning rates are said to be “procyclical,” dropping during recessions as firms become cautious about hiring, and employees, with fewer jobs available, stay where they are. In both the 2001 and, especially, 2007-2009 recessions, worker turnover rates declined, but failed to recover to their previous peak after the recession ended. Churn rates for the youngest businesses recovered modestly after the most recent recession, but dropped slightly after first quarter 2011, perhaps reflecting eroding worker and business confidence, the study said.

What does this all mean? Here are the key takeaways:

  • Small businesses create more new jobs than large businesses
  • Pay at small companies tends to be less than at larger ones
  • Turnover is higher at smaller firms than at larger ones
  • Small business bounces back faster than big business after a recession
  • Startups are paying less now than they were a decade ago

 

 

 

Put Sharks & Jets to Work in Strategic Design Thinking

When we think of design, we think of products. Industrial design as a field is scarcely 10o years old. However, technology tools such as CAD (Computer Aided Design), 3-D modeling, and stereolithography catapulted design into a rapid prototyping process towards the end of the 20th century. Companies like Apple rode the crest of this wave–to an extent–but really took design to a new frontier. Rather than simply looking at features and benefits as expressions of design and product marketing, what emerged was a new way to view business problems. Many business schools have incorporated not only courses on innovation, but specific foci on “design thinking.”

Kevin Budelmann penned an article for Metropolis magazine last month discussing design thinking as a modern motif. Budelmann credits Bill Moggridge, cofounder of the pioneering design firm IDEO with contributing significantly to thought leadership in this domain. Moggridge is said to have been the genius who reengineered IDEO from a product design practice to strategic design thinking powerhouse. Budelmann notes that part of the transformation occurred as a result of asking staff from divergent disciplines to work together, requiring that they become humble in the process. 

Budelmann’s firm, Peopledesign, has amassed a team of talented contributors who may not have worked for design firms years ago. A clear distinction is made, however, in hiring MBAs who understand design and designers who understand business.  The inevitable difference of opinions pits “sharks” (MBAs) against “jets” (designers) in true West Side Story musical terminology. Here’s Budelmann’s take on the natural interaction between the two employee types in his design firm:

It’s not even clear anymore which neighborhoods are Sharks’ turf and which belong to the Jets. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. The gym is neutral territory, and we might be able to work something out at the dance. Clearly, we Jets could learn a few new moves from the Sharks. The Sharks need to cool their jets anyway, so to speak.

When it’s show time, it isn’t us against them. In truth, we’ve made great strides. We’re learning every day. A colleague once mentioned that when people talk about collaboration, they usually mean cooperation. True collaboration is hard. Real communication is hard. It’s not about holding ground; it’s about ceding turf.

Two decades ago I was in school at Carnegie Mellon, where everyone is a geek in their respective discipline.The least geeky and (excuse the perception) least interesting people got a business degree. General management, which we assumed was to generally manage something general. It left us scratching our heads.

Now that I own my own business, I value management greatly. Business is an engine, and we don’t go very far without it. Besides, what do designers really do anyway? How do they do it? Is it describable to a non-designer, or do you have to be part of the gang?

Today we operate in a post Sharks vs. Jets world. Our team looks different. Our projects look different. Our sketches, books, and processes look different. As for the star-crossed lovers, our children have certainly taken the best of both of us. It’s the same for our ensemble at work. This is clear: Our hybrid future is stronger than our disconnected past.

Designers focus on asking questions, but often don’t like to answer them. Business people focus on answers, but often don’t ask the right questions. The combination can be powerful. The future of business and design lies in our ability to overcome our small worlds to make room for a bigger one.

The phenomenal power of strategic design thinking is unveiled in that final paradox–designers must become better at answering questions and business folks must become better at asking the right questions. Seek to apply this principle to your own business. Challenge your concrete thinkers to think more divergently; your creatives to think more convergently. In doing so, you will experience some transformation and create a new language of productivity.