The Kinetic Entrepreneur

17 Novem­ber 2016 | Track­ing Entre­pre­neurs

In archi­tec­ture, the most overused word today seems to be “icon­ic”. In busi­ness, the word is “entre­pre­neur”. That’s not sim­ply because a Google search of the word yields 217 mil­lion results. The word is used much too loose­ly. I have heard the word simul­ta­ne­ous­ly applied to peo­ple such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, peo­ple who invest dol­lars in a pre-pack­aged “start­up” (such as a new sand­wich shop) and peo­ple engaged in a lean start­up inside Gen­er­al Elec­tric or some oth­er major, estab­lished cor­po­ra­tion.

There is no rea­son to demean the per­son who seeks a brighter future in a well-devised pro­gramme of how to make and sell sand­wich­es, nor the enter­pris­ing team mem­bers try­ing to devise a new busi­ness mod­el for its par­ent cor­po­ra­tion. How­ev­er, nei­ther is quite on the same lev­el as some­one who, with lit­tle if any resources, cre­ates some­thing that is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly unique, daunt­ing, rule-chang­ing (if not game-chang­ing), and burst­ing with finan­cial and mar­ket­place promise.

Per­haps it’s time to go back in his­to­ry. In the 1970s, Pro­fes­sor Howard Steven­son defined entre­pre­neur­ship as “the pur­suit of oppor­tu­ni­ty beyond resources con­trolled”. [link] His suc­cinct­ness stands today, and I would not change a word of his def­i­n­i­tion. How­ev­er, I have come to believe that the truest form of entre­pre­neur is one who is kinet­ic, as opposed to those who should more apt­ly be called doers, dream­ers, or dare­dev­ils.

An entrepreneurial scale

Doers If some­one imports a mod­el busi­ness and makes it their own (the sand­wich shop, for exam­ple), they may be extend­ing what was an orig­i­nal­ly entre­pre­neur­ial idea. But they are actu­al­ly mere­ly per­form­ing an act of busi­ness that is dri­ven by habit, rou­tine, and rules. Are they tak­ing a risk? Absolute­ly: they may be open­ing that sand­wich shop only a few doors from a wild­ly suc­cess­ful ham­burg­er chain or super-pop­u­lar low-cost cafe­te­ria. Yet, what entre­pre­neur­ial doers do (from the very start) is already laid out in a pre­scrip­tion they did not devise per­son­al­ly. More than that, the steps they take every day mim­ic the steps that were tak­en by all oth­ers who have invest­ed in that same busi­ness mod­el. If the enter­prise proves suc­cess­ful, they can be proud of their indus­try, but the suc­cess of the busi­ness is root­ed in a mod­el that was con­ceived by some­one else. In this sense, one might even call doers “uncon­scious entre­pre­neurs”.

Dream­ers We will nev­er know how many more entre­pre­neurs there would be in the world if some of those with some great ideas actu­al­ly act­ed on them. I’ve talked with count­less peo­ple who have laid out many vision­ary ideas for prod­ucts or ser­vices that could prove use­ful and pop­u­lar to soci­ety. The prob­lem is that dream­ing entre­pre­neurs are sat­is­fied with men­tal gym­nas­tics main­ly, and so the elec­tric car com­pa­ny they con­ceived nev­er gets ven­ture fund­ing, nev­er gets a pro­to­type vehi­cle, or nev­er gets into pro­duc­tion — and, if it does, it’s mar­ket­ed poor­ly (if at all). One web­site recent­ly list­ed “10 rea­sons why entre­pre­neurs fail”. It includes not hav­ing a writ­ten busi­ness plan, not gen­er­at­ing rev­enue suf­fi­cient to sus­tain the busi­ness, not think­ing more wide­ly, and not hav­ing intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty. Of the list, the one that echoed loud­est for me with peo­ple I have met is that they were not able to exe­cute the idea — not able to make deci­sions and take risks. [link]

[pul­lquote]We will nev­er know how many more entre­pre­neurs there would be in the world if some of those with some great ideas actu­al­ly act­ed on them.[/pullquote]

Dare­dev­ils Some, of course, are the com­plete oppo­site of dream­ers; they are all action and impru­dent risk. Based on what worked for them in the past (or their study of oth­er entre­pre­neurs), they believe that their knowl­edge, expe­ri­ence or raw con­fi­dence, alone, will pro­pel their new busi­ness for­ward. When Net­flix first start­ed its mod­el of mail­ing DVDs to cus­tomers, it was report­ed that “a cav­al­cade of oth­er com­pa­nies” start­ed doing the same thing. [link] They weren’t entre­pre­neurs, real­ly; they were imi­ta­tors. A recent post on pro­files busi­ness­es that tried to mim­ic the social media suc­cess of oth­ers and failed accord­ing­ly. One exam­ple: Vera Bradley tried to trans­late its line of women’s hand­bags via “Why It’s Good To Be A Girl”, but the younger Face­book gen­er­a­tion did not buy it. [link] Dare­dev­ils basi­cal­ly recall and inte­grate either what they did before (which may be rel­e­vant to a new mar­ket) or what some­one else has done (which sel­dom eclipses the orig­i­nal). Import­ing some­one else’s dreams, deci­sions, process­es and sys­tems into your own busi­ness is of dubi­ous val­ue.

The kinetic entrepreneur

The truest entre­pre­neurs are those dri­ven by curios­i­ty, dis­cov­ery, and sense-mak­ing. They may have devised a dream whole-cloth with noth­ing to sup­port it, but that is unlike­ly. More prob­a­ble is that they looked at how things were being done in the present and used their inge­nu­ity to find a bet­ter way to do the same thing. Or they sensed a need in the mar­ket­place and used their desire to be respon­sive to pro­pel a new enter­prise to life. Inge­nu­ity and respon­sive­ness are the trig­gers to bring Stevenson’s ide­al entre­pre­neur into real­i­ty. The idea seizes their minds. Life from that point on focus­es on “the pur­suit of oppor­tu­ni­ty” even though they lack the imme­di­ate capa­bil­i­ty to trans­form the idea into some­thing tan­gi­ble. For the moment, it is “beyond resources con­trolled.” So they push on.

Kinet­ic entre­pre­neurs real­ize that they must be emer­gent, they must grow a new busi­ness by imag­in­ing nov­el pos­si­bil­i­ties and then gen­er­at­ing not only fund­ing but also cul­ti­vat­ing peo­ple, teams, oper­at­ing pro­ce­dures, and all the rest of any busi­ness equa­tion, from mar­ket­ing to ship­ping-ser­vic­ing. They become active and effec­tive at the job of entre­pre­neur­ing. As A. P. Julian and J. S. Brown expressed it in Prag­mat­ic Imag­i­na­tion: “Effi­ca­cy in the world today required a pro­duc­tive entan­gle­ment of imag­i­na­tion and action.” [link]

What, then, is spe­cial about kinet­ic entre­pre­neurs? In my own expe­ri­ence, the real dif­fer­en­tia­tor is not so much in the action but in the imag­i­na­tion. What sep­a­rates for me the true entre­pre­neur from the also-rans is the will­ing­ness to think dili­gent­ly about:

What’s hap­pen­ing in the world They stretch their sen­si­bil­i­ties by includ­ing as many oth­ers as they can in their emer­gent view of a new oppor­tu­ni­ty. It’s not enough to know what’s hap­pen­ing with their com­peti­tors and their indus­try, they crave knowl­edge about what’s hap­pen­ing in the world of busi­ness and organ­i­sa­tions every­where. Thus, they form a lead­er­ship cir­cle and ask every­one to sug­gest what is hap­pen­ing “out there, in the big world” that affects what’s hap­pen­ing inside the scope of their cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

Tak­ing a def­i­nite stand When they sense an oppor­tu­ni­ty to pur­sue, they decide to decide! Boe­ing decid­ed to stop mak­ing pro­peller air­craft; Apple decid­ed to sell and ser­vice only dig­i­tized music; Star­bucks decid­ed it was not going to com­pete with com­mon cups of cof­fee; Net­flix was not going to open video rental stores.

Shap­ing a new order But before charg­ing ahead and order­ing equip­ment or hir­ing new employ­ees, they form an expan­sive image in their heads about how the new busi­ness will oper­ate. This does not mean that they start invent­ing forms to be filled out or mea­sur­ing the size of cubli­cles; it does mean that they decide how peo­ple will inter­act with fel­low employ­ees, with cus­tomers, and with the world. It’s not about a new busi­ness card; it’s about a new busi­ness con­ven­tion.

Lead­ing with fore­sense After all this intense think­ing, they move from their men­tal plat­form to the “real” work stage. Here is where they demand that every­one involved act with a clear vision of how the new busi­ness should oper­ate, resist­ing any temp­ta­tions to incor­po­rate past norms or cur­rent com­peti­tor behav­iours. Or, in Peter Drucker’s words: “Lead­er­ship is lift­ing a person’s vision to high sights, the rais­ing of a person’s per­for­mance to a high­er stan­dard, the build­ing of a per­son­al­i­ty beyond its nor­mal lim­i­ta­tions.” Kinet­ic entre­pre­neurs are tru­ly about build­ing new worlds, infus­ing them with vigour and life, and enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly liv­ing in them while attract­ing many oth­ers to join them.

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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