Are You Born an Entrepreneur?

Passion, Vision, Focus, Courage, Will. These are just a few signature traits of successful entrepreneurs. But where do these traits come from? Are they hard-wired into our DNA or acquired over time, like wrenches in a toolbox?

Thomas Harrison, a former cell biologist turned marketing guru at Omnicom Group explores the link between entrepreneurship and genetic architecture in his book, Instinct. In it, Harrison fleshes out his theories in interviews with founders of large companies, such as Home Depot, Vanguard, USA Networks and Mrs. Fields Cookies, as well as with top executives from JetBlue, Burger King, Harley Davidson and IBM. While Harrison concurs that there are indeed born entrepreneurs, he concedes that others may have latent traits, which can be teased out and developed.

And remember: When it comes to running your own business, having the right genes doesn’t guarantee success. But it probably helps.

Entrepreneurship vs Intrapreneurship

Sue Lebeck noted the following observations on successful intrapreneurship, during Chuck House’s feature presentation for the SVII Innovation Society. Very informative….

An entrepreneur“… is one who has a dream and builds an organization to achieve it.”
An intrapreneur is one who has a dream and tries to achieve it within an already existing corporation.

Entrepreneurs must ensure the technology works, and sell it at a profit.
Intrapreneurs must also get their company to let them do the innovative project to completion
- Change-creators implicitly seek to alter the current smooth operations –
there is naturally going to be resistance from internal players

Intrapreneurial endeavors are best undertaken within a “project organization”
this can operate outside the normal operational rules.
- organized for a specific task
- people are summoned from other work, for a “brief” period
- not a task force, or a committee, but a Project
The Project Team is often not loved by the Operational Team

Innovation projects often require going against the current “best practices” within an organization
- Must prepare the company for the value the project will create
- Must organize the change/transition process
- Must organize the company for success from the project

Categories of innovation
- Leap
- Refine (refine, refine, refine)
- Combine
- Leap again

Some general principles about successful innovation players
- only a few players in an industry will win
- the earliest conceivers are typically not the ultimate marketplace winners
- those who speak, get remembered (e.g. Mead invented “Moore’s Law”; but Moore spoke about it.)

Direct rewards are not always forthcoming in the Intrapreneurial world- if you don’t get traction, you may get fired
- if you get traction, others may try to modify your idea
- if your idea works, others make take the credit
- ultimately, the greatest reward is your Sense of Accomplishment

Few winners, many hidden personal costs- financial or lifestyle sacrifices
- potential harm to family, personal life, career
- uncertainty, stress
- long hours
- often, you have to give up the business in order to see it succeed – have to let someone else take it and manage it to success

Process of Vision and Strategy Forming
- study the world – what might be needed?
- phase 1: try something and test it
- phase 2: set strategy and tune tactics (often people get stuck here, and repeat)
- phase 3: review strategy, and allow new vision to form

Changes occur in the lifecycle of an innovation – these affect the clarity of the original vision- leadership changes
- goal changes
- structural changes

Principles for anticipating (and creating) structural change- seek 10 (nth) changes in technical power
- seek 10 (nth) changes in installed base
- seek “what if…?” scenarios
- understand the dangers of “and if…” scenarios

Trust and Belief
- Laser printer sold 0 units/month for months. Peaked at 6 units/month
- after 9 years, it was rebuilt by the original (trusted) guy; terms: a 2-page contract and a handshake
- price went from $3495 in 1984, to $129 in 2008
- huge success

Timing is everything
- Laser-printer originally introduced on December 7th (Pearl Harbor)
- It was a Japanese-driven product
- it did not, at that time, succeed!

The HP Phenomenon: Innovation and Business Transformation
By Charles H. House and Raymond L. Price (Draft, Stanford University Press)
Principles
- Renewal
- Close to customer
- Transformation
- Staying the course
- Strategic turmoil

Intrepreneuring in Action
Principles
- make a contribution
- FAST experimentation
- easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission
- work “underground” – publicity triggers the corporate immune system
- find people to help – collaborate, cooperate, co-opt
- “know the terriroty” – deeply, zealously, passionately
- come to work each day willing to be fired

Four stages of companies
- pre-stage, seed, serendipitous (couple of people)
- startups, someone else puts in $ (about 10 people)
- one-trick pony (500+ people)
- create something that flows

Innovation often gets driven out of bigger companies
- tragic – because bigger companies have the money to invest

HP has kept going- beyond their peers
- model for success:
– built a creative organization from the bottom up
– let the market judge innovative products (even if current leadership didn’t like the product)
– changed product leadership – 6 times (though noisily, with much resistance from the top)
– gave freedom
– ran a franchising incubator
- people who left HP often started other successful companies

The HP Way
- based on worth of individual at every level
- profit shared across the company
- players endured many shifts and changes over the years
- not perfect, but players felt validated, felt like they could make a difference

About Chuck:

Risk-taking and visionary qualities often show up at a young age- it is sometimes in your blood – Chuck’s mother drove 170 miles on the autobahn in the middle of an attack situation
- Chuck and his friend Spike missed a lot of school in the 3rd and 4th grades
- Sources of stimulation that saved him
– Encyclopedia Brittanica
– TV: Lowell Thomas’ travelogue, “The War in the Pacific” (but the visual in the film did not fit with what he’d read and imagined).
– when 13, thought it an outrage that Santa Barbara and San Diego beaches were at risk, and wrote about it;
teacher doubted it was his own writing
– when 17, philosophized about the potential of transmutation of soul

Example innovation led by Chuck
April 1, 1982 – Chuck earned the “Medal of Defiance”
… “awarded in recognition of extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty”
“In total defiance of adverse market studies and surveys concluding the existence of a worldwide market of no more than 50 total large screen electrostatic displays, Charles H. House, using all means available – principally pen, tongue, and airplane to extol an unrecognized technical contribution, planted the seeds for a new market resulting in the shipment of 17,769 large screen displays to date.”
- used by: first artificial heart transplant; first moon walk; first movie special effects; Engelbart; Kay

The Invention of Collaborative Computing

At Stanford Research Institute in 1960s, Douglas Engelbart led an R&D team that created the first collaborative computing system. Here is a partial list of his team’s major achievements:

  • the first general purpose collaborative computing system for knowledge workers
  • desktop videoconferencing, application sharing, and computer-aided meetings
  • the computer mouse
  • hypertext editing and publishing system, including version control, hyperlinks, content filtering, and online help
  • outline and idea processing
  • distributed client-server computing
  • intoducing the notion of the “Networked Improvement Communities”

It all started with Doug asking “Imagine what it might be like?….”

” Imagine what it may be like to have information-handling “horsepower” available for your personal use, with means for interaction and control so that you could get useful help in your daily activities , and with procedures and environments developed to facilitate its use and take advantage of its capabilities……Imagine waht it may be like? “

Douglas Engelbart, Untitled Manuscript, March 14, 1961 ( Engelbart papers, box2, folder 15, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries )