The usual answer to this question and it is a fair one – is that unless big companies are interested in being innovative and sustaining the entrepreneurial spirit they will get wiped out. There may well be some truth in this – because mature organizations get into a kind of stasis with their product lines, management systems and complacent marketing. Big companies are sometime wiped out by new entrants and innovative competition. There are many examples to make this point – with low cost airlines, the entry of firms like Google and Youtube taking advertising away from conventional television etc.,
However we should look at a much wider set of political and social trends that are driving an urgent need to better understand entrepreneurship and what it means to big companies. Actually why should we worry about big companies? First – they have scale, employ large numbers of people and can get products to market. We need them!
And what are the signals for them to understand?
Since 1990 – with the fall of the Berlin Wall –there has been a domino effect in terms of reforms, in China and India and then more and more countries – all of which has lead to a dramatic shift in favour of free market econmics. The old world of two forms of economy – planned socialist systems and capitalism have collapsed into one system (as put forward by Prof Willie Brown of University of Cambridge).
This insight is pretty fundamental to us understanding the implications for entrepreneurship. We doubled the population in the free market system – almost overnight, leading to huge migrations of people, money, ideas, supply chains. In effect people and work have both moved in all directions.
We have to rethink the way that business is done, who we are dealing with and how to operate new business models. These changes have lead to insights about “the world being flat” or finding markets “at the bottom of the pyramid”.
Unless business leaders understand these changes and the implications for business they will not be able to make the right choices for innovation and growth.
Leaders are now also faced by high energy costs –this is no longer a CSR agenda for soft tree hugging hippies – fuel costs means it is a topic for the more serious minded business leader.
Navigating through these seismic shifts in our political, social and economic landscape (not to mention technology) requires – more than ever – for people in Oraganisations to think and act in “entrepreneurial ways”.
What are these ways?
In essence these are:
To be proactive, innovative and risk taking on the one hand (Covin and Slevin’s work) and to be able to put in place mechanisms for exploring and discovering opportunities – while being able to critically evaluate ideas (after all we do need to make money!) and then to have the skills and human capital the execute the plans that emerge from being creative and innovative.
These reflections are the result of working more recently with a number of major corporations at a variety of levels and it has even challenged the way that one would normally delver such education, insights and stimulation. Not least writing blogs, doing telephone lectures – (kind of podcasts), being highly interactive in workshops and working on the so called softer sides of human development – because the “hard stuff” is now so easily available from the internet!
Please explore further and come back to me if you want – see for example www.cfel.jbs.cam.ac.uk and www.transitions.co.uk