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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.

A group of students in Mexico, for example, went walking through a slum looking for a problem to solve. They saw piles of abandoned vinyl signs cluttering corners and roadsides. Whenever a company goes out of business, a move ends its run, or a sale is over, vinyl signs proclaiming “Limited engagement” and “50% off” start filling the streets.

Where you or I might see a messy obstacle, the students saw opportunity. They launched a business that turns vinyl into furniture.

Across the globe, in China, another group of students saw floors cluttered with discarded shells. They cleaned it up by launching a business that turns crushed shells into calcium-rich fertilizer to sell to farmers.

If this continues, there is hope. Entrepreneurs can save the world.

Enactus, an international nonprofit organization formerly known as Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), is on a mission to ensure such profitable, social innovation continues. They run series of local, regional, national, and global competitions on more than 16,000 university campuses in 39 countries.

Alvin Rohrs, Enactus’ CEO, shared with me that students “start out by wanting to win a competition” that challenges them to show how students “use entrepreneurship to change peoples’ lives.” This enrolls them in a project that leaves them on the other side of a potentially life-changing experience. They realize that they can change the world.

This creates a problem and opportunity for you and your organization. These students, indeed generations of them, are entering the workforce, climbing up organizational charts. The problem is that eventually they may leave you to continue to experience the self-fulfilling empowerment they know is available to them as entrepreneurs. The opportunity is that if you can keep them, inspire them, and engage them, you can build an army of entrepreneurs, seeking out problems for you and converting them into profitable solutions.

What it will take to turn your problem into an opportunity? How can you get the innovative entrepreneurs in your organization, those who “see opportunities others don’t,” as Rohrs put it, working to support YOUR mission, vision, values, and strategy?

In Philadelphia the other day, I sat down with George Day, Wharton professor and the head of the Wharton Mack Center for Innovation Management. We talked around this question: If innovation is not only about R&D and patents, processes and product, if innovation is about the practices, behaviors, and actions your people take every day, how do you encourage it?

According to Day, to unlock more entrepreneurial, innovative behavior you should look at three factors:

  1. Talent: Types of people you hire and capabilities you develop in your people
  2. Configuration: Organizational structure and roles
  3. Incentives and feedback: How you measure and reward performance

These are the levers you pull to achieve a specific measurable outcome – to ensure that your people understand and are acting on your mission. Think of your people as your customers. Just as your customers walk up a ladder that leads from awareness of your brand to eventually, hopefully, being passionate buyers and advocates, your employees lie somewhere along a four-stage spectrum:

  1. Awareness of your mission
  2. Understanding it
  3. Believing in and being committed to it
  4. Acting on it (aligning their decisions and behavior to it)

You can actually poll your employees and ask them where they are. Do the same for your core values, vision, and strategic priorities.

Research indicates only 14% of employees understand their company’s strategy. So imagine what results you’d produce if you could empower innovators like those Enactus is producing to not only understand, but help you realize your strategy.

Measure them. Survey them. Calculate a baseline. Then, look for ways to change your levers – talent, organizational configuration, and incentives – to begin moving the needle toward nirvana: all of your employees actively, passionately, and creatively seeking opportunities to realize your shared strategy.

“8Ps” of StrategyOpportunity
for Disruption
Recommended Leverage Points
Position- The farmers, individual and corporate, that you are targeting.

- The need of the agricultural industry that you seek to fill.
3- What technologies do you control that can help you tap into market
segments that you previously thought unreachable?

- What are the potential business alliances you could think about with key players in the segment to serve your customers with integrated solutions? (Serving customers with more integrated solutions example: serving farmers with fertilizers, crop protection and other).
Product- The products you offer, and the characteristics that affect their value to customers.

- The technology you develop for producing those products.
8- What moves are your organization taking to implement Big Data and analytics to your operations? What IoT and blockchain applications can you use?

- What tools and technology could you utilize or develop to improve food quality, traceability, and

- How can you develop a more sustainable production model to accommodate constraints on arable

- What is the future business model needed to serve new differentiated products to your customers?
Promotion- How you connect with farmers and consumers across a variety of locations and industries.
- How to make consumers, producers, and other stakeholders aware of your products and services.
8- How are you connecting your product with individual and corporate farms who could utilize it?
- How could you anticipate market and customer needs to make customers interested in accessing your differentiated products?
PriceHow consumers and other members of the agricultural supply chain pay for access to agricultural products.7- What elements of value comprise your pricing? How do each of those elements satisfy the varying needs of your customers?
Placement- How food products reach consumers. How the technologies, data, and services reach stakeholders in the supply chain.9- What new paths might exist for helping consumers access the food they desire?
- How are you adapting your operations and supply chain to accommodate consumers’ desire for proximity to the food they eat?
- How could you anticipate customer expectation to make products more
accessible to customers/agile supply chain?
- Have you considered urbanization as a part of your growth strategy?
- How your food satisfies the needs and desires of your customer.
- How the services you provide to agribusiness fulfill their needs.
9- Where does your food rate on a taste, appearance, and freshness
- Could the services you provide to companies and farms in the agriculture industry be expanded to meet more needs?
- What senses does your food affect besides hunger? How does your
customer extract value from your food in addition to consumption?
Processes- Guiding your food production operations in a manner cognizant of social pressure.8- How can you manage the supply chain differently to improve traceability and reduce waste?
- How can you innovate systems in production, processing, storing, shipping, retailing, etc.?
- What are new capabilities to increase sustainability (impact on the environment, or ESG) components?
People- The choices you make regarding hiring, organizing, and incentivizing your people and your culture.- How are you leveraging the agricultural experience of your staff bottom-up to achieve your vision?
- How do you anticipate new organizational capabilities needed to perform your future strategy (innovation, exponential technologies needed, agile customer relationship, innovative supply chain)?
- How do you manage your talents to assure suitable development with exposure in the agrifood main challenges/allowing a more sustainable view of the opportunities/cross-sectors?