Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab

Elements of the Entrepreneur Experience

Ecosystems

Accord or Collision?

The intersection of organizational structure, strategy, and people create the ecosystem that entrepreneurs operate within. They either “start up” where they work and draw on whatever resources exist within the organization, or they choose an organization with intent based on its reputation for creativity and innovation. Every organization provides a framework and set of cultural “norms” that can heighten or diminish entrepreneurship. Every entrepreneur inside works to unpack these constructs in order to find the possible paths forward.

Opportunities

  1. How can we create mindful cultures that make entrepreneurial activity the norm rather than the exception?

  2. How can we identify and break habits that are inhibiting entrepreneurship inside?

  3. How can we design an entrepreneurship habit?

  4. What new organizational models can be built off of cooperative principles?

Inside of a framework

Inside of a framework

Hannah

Hannah finds her way of working similar to entrepreneurs, but within an existing framework.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvvnXgA.html

Entrepreneurs inside self-describe the ecosystem they inhabit as a “framework.” Supportive or dysfunctional, it’s their home base, the construct they work within and their “jumping off point.” The framework encompasses many things: it’s the institutional knowledge accumulated over a period of years, it’s the personal relationships with team members, it’s the mission and goal of the organization—the thinking behind what everyone hopes to accomplish, it’s the infrastructure and resources at one’s disposal. The framework allows entrepreneurs inside to “take what’s already there and figure out new ways to put it together,” to acquire and apply an appreciable volume of organizational knowledge in ways that create new value. Hannah states, “I don't think about it very often, but there is a theory behind what we do.  And that theory is embedded into our programs and how we run our organization. I don't have to create any of that, it already existed, so there is very much a foundation or framework that I can jump off of and work inside of.”

How Far Outside the Norm?

How Far Outside the Norm?

Scott

Scott on his purpose within the organization.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvv3LAA.html

Calvin

Calvin discusses how opposition comes when implementing an idea.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvyUdgA.html

Frameworks also include cultural norms. Entrepreneurs inside can find themselves working in either formal or informal roles within organizations that have strong or weak entrepreneurial cultures. How far outside the “norm” they are can have tremendous impact on their experience.  Organizations with weak entrepreneurial cultures and no formal roles are one of the toughest places to be. Entrepreneurs here are very far outside the norm, have little to no support and spend all their energy battling dissent. For those with formal roles in weak entrepreneurial cultures, a significant amount of time must be spent educating and building allies and then maintaining “presence of mind” as you transform the culture. The lucky few are those in formal or informal roles within a strong entrepreneurial culture. Their norm is one of experimentation.

The entrepreneurial continuum

The entrepreneurial continuum

Jonah

Jonah talks about using co-ops as a way to grow local economies.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvyORQA.html

Jessica

Jess talks about how her work is ideal for her.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvyPVAA.html

New venture creation and working for organizations are considered separate life paths. But entrepreneurs of all kinds see it as a bi-directional path and take advantage of what each context has to offer, sometimes simultaneously. Some employees grow into an entrepreneurial role. Depending on the organization’s culture, this can take a significant length of time. Jess, a storyteller for a community non-profit, spent 13 years before she realized how to bring her work and personal entrepreneurial goals together. Others may begin to realize that their ideas are not aligned with the organization’s framework and be compelled to start their own venture. New venture entrepreneurs often return to organizations to gain different experiences—to inhabit a role that will teach them a new skill, to take on different challenges that start-ups don’t afford, or, to gain the stability and security of an established organization during a life cycle change. Once inside, they continue to think and act like entrepreneurs, which can cause some tension. Given the risk of losing people to the new venture world, some organizations choose to withhold investment in entrepreneurial employees, but the benefits might outweigh the risks. Rob, a bike manufacturer describes it this way, “Some of my most intense disagreements with our Board... have been regarding my interest in fostering entrepreneurship. It certainly is a double-edged sword. On the negative side, we are teaching and helping future competitors. There is also an argument that {it} requires a lot of resources that don’t have a good return on investment, particularly if the employee leaves...I don’t think these concerns outweigh the benefits... being more connected to the business, truly appreciating the opportunity for experimentation, fostering a sense of trust, and counter-intuitively engendering a stronger loyalty to the existing business.”

What other organizations can learn from cooperatives

What other organizations can learn from cooperatives

Jonah

Jonah discusses a benefit of the co-op model.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvyOPwA.html

While we in no way dismiss the unique differences between organization types, entrepreneurs inside corporations, non-profits, government agencies, and religious entities share remarkably similar experiences. Cooperatives, specifically worker-owner cooperative models, present quite differently. Inside a cooperative, there’s an expectation that each worker-owner will be a “full and authentic” participant in crafting a “mutually-agreed policy” for the organization. This mutual accountability becomes in essence “the boss.” Decision-making is set at all levels of the organization, allowing everyone to contribute to and shape the organization and to honor both individual vision and accountability to the group. Cooperatives also tend to measure success in human terms—benefit to the community, happiness, and worker engagement—metrics we don’t usually use for performance.

Many organizations are already taking a page from the cooperative playbook. They are creating new organizational models that give people freedom to identify and act on opportunities and are working to develop new ways to measure value. Valve, a videogame maker in Washington, has no managers or company assigned project work. The organization’s nearly 300 employees enlist each other to work on things of interest to them. Waning interest or an unwillingness for a lead to step up usually results in project termination. The market provides feedback on what works and what doesn’t. LRN, a consultant guiding organizations through culture change, is striving to be a self-governing company. In this model, employees make decisions based on alignment with the company’s mission and values rather than in response to a leadership directive. In both examples, the organizations are supporting behavior over structure; they are working to release human agency.

Being mindful of habits

Being mindful of habits

Mary

Mary talks about the idea contest winners and how their roles have shifted.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvyUUwA.html

Jessica

Jessica talks about creating a culture of ownership.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvv3CAA.html

Organizations and the individuals who inhabit them develop many habits, but there are few places where habits are decoded or deliberately cultivated and rewarded. Lack of entrepreneurial action is often blamed on structure, culture, and the tradeoff between short-term gains versus long-term value, which is only symptomatic of a greater root cause–an organization’s inability (even dysfunction) to break certain habits in an effort to encourage individual entrepreneurial activity. Disengaged employees learn habits that make it hard to be an authentic participant or someone invested in the organization and its mission. Habits reinforce past behavior and make new behaviors difficult to embed. As an organizational construct, habits can greatly diminish the capability of the organization to express an entrepreneurial culture leaving entrepreneurs inside to shoulder the work of building new habits.