An Entrepreneurial Religion?

4 Jan­u­ary 2018 | Think­ing in New Ways

You may already be famil­iar with Eric Ries (@eicries) as he has received abun­dant and well-deserved cov­er­age for the “Lean Start­up” move­ment [link]. His book on the sub­ject was a best­seller [link], and you can hear him speak about it on YouTube [link] as well.

Over the hol­i­days, I had the chance to check out his most recent work, The Start­up Way: How Entre­pre­neur­ial Man­age­ment Trans­forms Cul­ture and Dri­ves Growth [link]. It’s well worth your time, for a num­ber of reasons:

  • Ries has become con­vinced that the psy­chol­o­gy and tech­niques used to grow a start­up can be applied to large cor­po­ra­tions, such as Gen­er­al Electric.
  • In this sense, he reveals that he has been try­ing to find ways that “tra­di­tion­al man­age­ment” and “entre­pre­neur­ial man­age­ment” can learn from each other.
  • He also notes, ear­ly in the book, that he has been search­ing for ways that lean star­tups can keep suc­ceed­ing even when they have become large entities.
  • And he declares that he desires to dis­cern what “an organ­i­sa­tion­al trans­for­ma­tion process should look like in order to move toward a lean­er, more iter­a­tive way of working.”

In this new book, one almost enjoys a two-for-one expe­ri­ence as he reviews the prin­ci­ples of his ear­li­er work and then moves rapid­ly into the lessons he has learned from study­ing and work­ing with lean star­tups. The new book also cov­ers the points that need to be con­sid­ered when one scales up a lean start­up, includ­ing two great chap­ters on “Deep Sys­tems” and “Inno­va­tion Accounting”.

For me, what was heart-quick­en­ing was his third sec­tion of the book. Here he talks about “A Uni­fied The­o­ry of Entre­pre­neur­ship” and “Toward a Pro-Entre­pre­neur­ship Pub­lic Pol­i­cy”. Says Ries in this part of his book:

In fact, I think we are bet­ter served by see­ing trans­for­ma­tion as a fact of life for the fore­see­able future. I pre­dict that twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry man­agers will live through as many organ­i­sa­tion­al trans­for­ma­tions as new-prod­uct plat­forms and come to see organ­i­sa­tion­al forms the same way we see our smart­phones — and some­thing dis­pos­able that’s top of the line for a few years, then rapid­ly surpassed.

No weblog review like this can replace the val­ue of read­ing a book such as Ries’ lat­est. But, if you are a read­er who likes to read slow­ly at the begin­ning of a book, then race through the rest, let me pro­pose that you not do that with The Start­up Way. For it’s the epi­logue that was, for me, worth the price of the book. Here, Ries talks about “A New Civic Reli­gion”: We, says Ries, “have to see entre­pre­neur­ship as a core require­ment of all employ­ees, because we nev­er know where new and sur­pris­ing ideas will come from.”

Startup WayRies’ six pil­lars sup­port­ing his “pos­i­tive vision of what lib­er­al democ­ra­cy can deliv­er with the new tools that tech­nol­o­gy is plac­ing at our dis­pos­al” are worth fram­ing. For they lead to a view that man­age­ment itself can, and needs to, change. “Our goal as a move­ment should be this: to change man­age­ment prac­tice to become more adap­tive, more humane, more rig­or­ous, and more effi­cient.” With great insight, Ries insists that such a goal if beyond the scope of busi­ness schools or the broad­ly defined acad­e­my of management.

It is going to require,” says Ries, “a vast move­ment of like-mind­ed ide­al­ists and vision­ar­ies to inte­grate these val­ues into the very fab­ric of their orga­ni­za­tions, in every indus­try, geog­ra­phy, and sec­tor.” To my mind, that would be tan­ta­mount to what Ries titles his epi­logue: A New Civic Religion.

Ries is, at every turn, mea­sured and ratio­nal in this book. But his over­all style tru­ly suc­ceeds in mak­ing the read­er feel that the heavy weight of the sta­tus quo of big com­pa­nies can be light­ened as those man­ag­ing those com­pa­nies become more enlight­ened. Were the world to believe in entre­pre­neur­ship as deeply as some believe in tra­di­tion­al reli­gions, it’s just pos­si­ble that this new year could change jobs and com­pa­nies, peo­ple and soci­eties, lead­ers and followers.

Joseph PistruiJoseph Pistrui (@nextsensing) is Pro­fes­sor of Entre­pre­neur­ial Man­age­ment at IE Busi­ness School in Madrid. He also leads the glob­al Nextsens­ing Project, which he found­ed in 2012.

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