Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab

Elements of the Entrepreneur Experience

Social Capital

Earning the Freedom to Act

Accomplishing something unpredictable (entrepreneurship at its core) within a prediction-driven structure (most organizations at their core) requires a wealth of the right social connections. Social capital gives entrepreneurs inside the authority to act and to try new things. Acceptance into social networks creates reputation and builds trust, and it provides the currency and leverage that EI need. But, gaining credibility can only be achieved over time and by demonstrating success. Until then, with no proof point of value, consistency in one’s ability to commit, to act, and to follow-through are the only currency entrepreneurs can trade on. Missteps in managing organization personalities can quickly erode hard-earned capital leading to damaged reputations, loss of autonomy and/or the trust of others and jeopardized career growth. And even if these outcomes never come to fruition, the perception of social capital loss can be paralyzing.

Opportunities

  1. How can we mitigate the perceived loss of social capital for entrepreneurs inside?

  2. How can we create intentional social networks for the purpose of designing and shaping opportunities inside organizations?

  3. How can we better utilize social media networks to build social capital for entrepreneurship inside?

Breaking Boundaries

Breaking Boundaries

Jessica

Jessica talks about connecting with people in the industry.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvv2egA.html

It’s a paradox that many entrepreneurs inside have potential access to an organization’s vast resources, both material and human, yet find themselves stymied by the chain of command or isolated within a silo. Most know they must look for opportunities to meet the right people—those who can say yes, provide executive support, offer a fresh perspective, and lend organizational skills and knowledge. To do so, they have developed techniques that allow them to cut across the organization or community, and up and down the hierarchy. It takes a tremendous amount of time and patience. Mark, a software engineer, describes the process this way, “It doesn't mean you can't (or shouldn't) talk to more senior people. I find opportunities to meet the execs. I go to company wide meetings. I make a point of asking questions. I stay after the meeting and I try to get a moment to talk to the presenter. Often the speakers are VP's or EVP's... sometimes I end up on a committee and sometimes I just put myself out there so they know where to find me. After you do all that, report back to your peers, your manager or anyone that might find what you learned relevant. Become a conduit for positive information flow in both directions...” Ed, the director of a new coalition, considers every encounter as an opportunity to get buy-in or to line up future collaborators. Peter, a defense department acquisition analyst, tries to include people who wouldn’t “normally be considered” as network connections. “The more you can regularly connect with folks from other divisions, skill sets, and customers, the increased chances someone can offer you a fresh perspective or connection.” Stepping up and taking risks to explore can draw attention from key people and senior leadership within the organization, but success is critical to converting this into a trusted relationship.

Social technologies such as LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs and corporate social media, are tools playing an increasing role in building social capital. Some entrepreneurs inside are using them to break through organizational boundaries, reaching outside to bring new thinking and ideas to their work. With the introduction of such tools  comes new ways of working—self-organizing teams, cross-pollination between industries, crowdsourcing—that many organizations are not adept with nor adapted to. Peter describes the benefits of connecting with people across the organization, within his industry and outside of his industry. “Leveraging Twitter, LinkedIn, and other websites has been invaluable for collaborating to generate ideas, mature strategies, and implement solutions. Breaking out of the standard roles and org chart communication channels has helped me. Transitioning from the strict command and control org structures to a more dynamic model with self organizing teams, leveraging the web to collaborate, and crowdsourcing solutions and innovations.” Nathaniel feels part of his mission as an entrepreneur inside is to help organizations leverage people power, “Organizations can be powerful structures for coordinating collective action, but in a networked age, they need to radically adjust their practices. Intrapreneurs understand this and develop strategies for innovating within organizational contexts.”

Meeting Opposition

Meeting Opposition

Scott

Scott talks about "embracing the unbelievers."

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvvnCQA.html

Jeff

Jeff talks about uncertainty and enemies along his path.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvvnLAA.html

Jessica

Jessica talks about not being afraid to "ruffle some feathers."

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvv3EAA.html

Opposition to ideas is an expected part of the experience, (in fact, some feel it’s not entrepreneurship inside unless there is opposition), but it’s a developed skill to sort through what opposition is simply resistance to change, and what opposition can help hone and shape ideas. An idea might not fail because it was poor, but because “change was going to be resisted by some people in the organization.  In navigating this nexus, entrepreneurs inside are risking their social capital. Emily, executive director of a cooperative puts it this way, “In order to ensure success in light of this reality, you are going to spend an intense amount of your time navigating social situations - more than most would expect (and definitely more than I expected). For someone that gets great satisfaction out of ‘doing’ and ‘making’—this can be crushing and make you feel as though you are spinning your wheels. Those are times when I almost give up—which brings me to understand success as a constant that exists until you quit.”  As she tries to build a 21st century spiritual community, Rachel feels the first response she receives when proposing a new way of thinking is the naysayers voice—”I've heard why my idea is defective, disrespectful to those who have come before me, etc.  But, when I've achieved success, some of those same folks are eager to claim me as their own, celebrate my creativity and hold me up as the poster child for their institutions.” To succeed long term, entrepreneurs inside must have the support of multiple people, but they can't take it for granted that they will get it. A careful and thoughtful process of gaining the trust and respect of others helps build a path to success.

Learning to Listen

Learning to Listen

Scott

Scott describes his process of moving concepts forward.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvv3MAA.html

Jamien

Jamien discusses keeping everything in writing for clarity for herself, and clients.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvv2SAA.html

Perhaps the ultimate networking tool is developing an ability to listen—to read between the lines and understand what people are and are not saying. Entrepreneurs inside learn to decipher what’s really being communicated by building empathy for the person they are interacting with—understanding what they need, what it costs them to accomplish their own goals, and what they are really communicating by their action (or lack thereof). An empathic and skilled listener can hear past the surface communication and understand how to adjust their own communication to engage others. Amy discusses how she spends time doing research to anticipate outcomes before meeting with others who can lend support. A kind of opposition research, she thinks less about “asking” for support and more about what she’s trying to accomplish to help her be a better interpreter of what’s being said and a better persuader.

When Loss Happens

When Loss Happens

Scott

Scott talks about risks of being in his position within an organization.

http://blip.tv/play/h7YEgvvmcwA.html

Loss of social capital can impact an entrepreneur inside’s ability to do future work. Many learn quickly that letting emotions get out of hand or losing perspective can “taint” relationships. The consequences can be everything from strained relations to losing someone who you rely on. Failing at an entrepreneurial effort in some organizations can result in diminishment of one’s role or “being put in a corner.” Others can be branded as someone difficult to work with, or worse, be bypassed by the organization and replaced with someone else who takes on the responsibility. Chris, a CEO of a hand-crafted shoe manufacturer, discusses the importance of not letting emotions get in the way, “Keeping centered and maintaining perspective is huge! Without those elements you can go off the rails and lose clients and or people you rely on either by them leaving or tainting the relationship. If you handle things calmly then you almost always come out on top or at least get respect and maintain your relationships for the future.”