In a dynamic world, companies recognize the imperative of being entrepreneurial, of exploring opportunities outside their comfort zones. But it is not long before this new energy runs against the core organizational forces of reliability and accountability. Entrepreneurial activity needs to deliver foreseeable results, for how else could it be justified?
As I explored in an earlier post, the messy, chaotic nature of entrepreneurial efforts sit uncomfortably within corporate structure: mistakes are a normal part of the process, it is impossible to know whether efforts are effective or efficient; it all looks like a huge expense rather than an investment. Mysteriously, the closer one looks and oversees, the more problematic entrepreneurship seems. To link to another previous idea, control is not the answer.
But stepping off and letting go is counter-intuitive and not conducive to a good-night’s sleep. The challenge is front and central at the Strategy & Innovation Forum I am currently attending. Three ideas resonated with me from the shared stories of how people deal with this challenge within organizations. The first is that when we let go and keep our distance, we have to replace the void in between with trust. Trust can mean many things, but in this setting I see it as being about giving credence to the knowledge we cannot verbalize (our intuition) and not dwelling on the unknown (for the more we dwell, the more we fear it).
Lest the above induces a sense of being stuck in quicksand, the second idea is one of scaffolding, of basic discipline that we can hold on to. It is about setting boundaries, within which we can trust people to deliver: creating a sandpit in which there is play is free and unscripted, but a sense of purpose is clear. The boundaries evolve to facilitate productive behaviors and prevent destructive ones.
The third one is about not taking purpose for granted. It needs to arise from an exploration of how the original problem that sets the process off is embedded in a broader, holistic system. Rather than loose sight of what we are trying to do in the first place – a natural consequences of embarking on a linear, sequential, one-way process – we need to continuously revisit this question in the light of our broader understanding of the context. This is process of active perception – zooming and re-framing – through which we peel off layer after layer … under we get to a core that frees and inspires people to unleash their creativity and, at the same time, keeps them anchored.