Nearly all of our most prosperous, successful companies and organisations were started in an economic downturn or period of financial instability. The reason is quite simple. Entrepreneurs capitalise on chaos because they not only think differently and see opportunities where others see threats, they act on this knowledge.
They translate this into swift action and reap the financial rewards. They do not acquire this ability, knowledge and skill while in the womb – they learn it. For them the status quo is not acceptable.
Conversely, the natural reaction of existing businesses is to move into management mode to make the status quo more efficient, to ruthlessly control overheads and cut staffing. But while these companies may survive, they do not necessarily prosper. Why? Because they fail to capitalise on chaos. They look down, not up and they look at the world as it was, not as it is. Since the financial meltdown of 2008, the economic landscape across the world has changed dramatically and still continues to change. The companies that prosper – not incrementally but significantly – are the ones that ensure that everyone in the business stops thinking and acting like managers or employees and starts thinking and acting like entrepreneurs.
They find ways of doing things differently for less and getting more as a result. Businesses are staffed by people – they make the profits – and if they can find a better option they will go, often to start a business in competition. So if entrepreneurs can capitalise on chaos, why can’t you? Or to put it another way, can an existing business become more entrepreneurial and create significant new profits? In 2008 I put my approach to the test, courtesy of a regional development agency. At that time they were keen to find ways of enabling existing businesses to grow by unlocking enterprise talent from within.
Would I be interested in applying the techniques on creating more entrepreneurs to existing businesses? My work in this area goes back nearly 20 years, to when I was designing and delivering a range of sessions aimed at people across the UK who could start a business – and a high growth one at that – but were not motivated to do so.
Nearly a thousand people from all walks of life took part. To achieve this I started work on how people learned to be enterprising and how companies could create enterprise activity from within. I was not teaching entrepreneurship per se, but identifying how attitudes and behaviour change. Two key things emerged. Firstly, for the entrepreneur there is no such thing as a separation of business and personal issues (“It’s not personal, it’s business”: The Godfather); the two are inextricably linked. The Mafia and most academics and business support activity had got it wrong. Business is a social phenomenon and enterprise activity is learned behaviour. Above all, any activity had to be fun. Fun is what drove innovation. Fun came from not doing the obvious and fun came from pushing it through and profiting from it. Secondly, this enterprise thinking and action process is the same for existing businesses. In short, if you were the managing partner of a law firm or the managing director of a medium-sized business could you get your team to learn to think and act like entrepreneurs? Would it be long and complex? Would it generate significant new income streams? And, above all, would you let it be fun? Over a period of months we put these companies through Cognitive Business Therapy sessions.
We wanted participants to have fun, be comfortable with themselves and learn how to tackle problems and opportunities in an entrepreneurial way. In essence, they as individuals working for a company had to capitalise on chaos. They had no teams, no resources they had to do it all themselves. The results confirmed that yes, you can unlock enterprise potential from within. Yes, you can stimulate new profits from within. And, most importantly, if you treat people as entrepreneurs-in-waiting as opposed to employees or managers, a whole new – and lucrative – world emerges.
Our process succeeded because we opened minds and got people thinking and acting like entrepreneurs, but within a company or organisational context. The fact that we did this post-banking crisis was also crucial, for as one participant said, “We started thinking about the way the world and the market is now – not the way it used to be.” The final outcome was clear for me. Management is dead, long live entrepreneurship. So are you ready to capitalise on chaos and grow your company the enterprising way?
Iain Scott is a specialist in how people and companies learn to be enterprising. He is the creator of www.cognitivebusinesstherapy.co.uk and author of The Accidental Entrepreneur’s Handbook. His new series of Coffee, Scones and Business Therapy starts at Hotel Du Vin One Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow, this autumn.