HI Peter Bryant at Fial

How do you drive innovation and entrepreneurial activity in large established organisations?

We all know that having the right mindset, skillset and toolset matters for both innovation and entrepreneurship. And when considering mindset, key features include creativity and risk-taking, along with skills like spotting opportunities, gathering resources and building teams. But, while design thinking and lean startup methods are just some of the excellent tools available, is it enough?

What else is required to drive innovation and entrepreneurial activity, especially in large established organisations?

This is a good question.  But the fact is, searching for general insights on these topics presents a persistent dilemma: the more systematic and organised you are, the less innovative and entrepreneurial you may become. Because highly organised processes can stifle creativity, imagination and risk-taking, even when processes are intended to support innovation. In addition, we must also prepare for surprises, welcome ambiguity, and allow people to be a bit deviant and foolish. Many great innovations and entrepreneurial ventures looked exactly like that, to begin with – a bit deviant and foolish – until they succeed, of course. The trick is finding the right balance.

Experience and research teach useful lessons about these challenges.

  1. Organisations need a strong sense of collective purpose to motivate and sustain innovative pursuits. This connects people to goals that transcend the ups and downs of projects and products.
  2. Managers should allow creative frictions to develop, especially in major areas of potential innovation. Some organisational heat can be energising, so don’t be afraid of internal competition, disagreement and moderate conflict.
  3. Allow multiple innovative and entrepreneurial projects to flourish because it is rarely clear which one will succeed. Instead, aim for a portfolio of experimentation.

Some may think this advice sounds contradictory or simply too hard, and to be sure, and it isn’t easy. People might also reasonably ask, “how can we plan for surprises, consciously generate friction, and why should we encourage experimental projects when we know that many will probably fail?” But even if these principles do suggest contradiction, this is the way we must act. Innovation and entrepreneurship thrive on the puzzles, passion, struggles and satisfaction of overcoming obstacles and failure. But, of course, organisations must also be efficient, productive and profitable at the same time.

Combining these diverse mindsets and capabilities, the promise is innovation and entrepreneurship, leading to novel value creation and capture.

Written by Prof. Peter Bryant, IE Business School, Madrid, and a long-standing member of our Hargraves Community

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