Confucius, when asked about leadership, likened people to grass and the ruler to wind: whichever way the wind blows so will bend the grass.
This week, we convened innovation heads from places like Chubb Insurance, Estee Lauder and Macmillan and mixed them with a world-renowned innovation expert (Professor George Day from Wharton) and one of the leaders of GE’s Crotonville leadership training center (Bob Cancalosi). Over four hours, they teased apart our shared challenge: how to unlock innovativeness, entrepreneurship, and growth trapped inside organizations.
You know you are an entrepreneur at heart, but you find yourself working inside a large organization. How do you cope?
“If you don’t like your job, quit.” This is part of the manifesto of holstee.com, one my favorite entrepreneurial companies, and is perfect for a conversation I am having with the head of strategy of a large financial services technology firm. We are in his office overlooking Park Avenue in Manhattan. He’s laying out for me some of the challenges faced by a growing number of firms that are trying to inject a more innovative, entrepreneurial spirit into their cultures.
“If only I worked at Google,” he lamented. At Google you get 20% of your time to explore new ideas, failure is not only tolerated but celebrated, and the company supports the kinds of long-term projects that most companies shun.
You’ve got the idea. You know it will work. If only you can move fast enough, keep up the pace of those younger, smaller startups. The opportunity should be yours but you worry that bureaucracy will slow you down.
We had the opportunity to speak with Thomas Healy, CEO of HeadSmart Labs. Healy is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University and the starting punter for the school’s football team. He started HeadSmart Labs with researchers from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh to develop new testing methods and safety devices for athletes to help prevent head and neck injuries.
Picture this scenario. A bomb has exploded. You’ve been working for the last two weeks in a remote part of Mongolia. Your boss promised this short-term assignment would prove your commitment and accelerate your career. But now, unsure of what happened or which coworkers were injured or how many hundreds of miles you will need to move them to get to a safe hospital, you’re not so sure you still want this job.
Niccolo Machiavelli wrote, “Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.” Entrepreneurs seek out problems then design innovative, profitable solutions.