The Startup of You v2.0

Through my blogs on startups, meetups and portfolio careers, I was recently interviewed by Peter Judd from News Corp., who is trying to bring the discussion on entrepreneurship, startups and innovation to a wider audience, particularly people who may be looking at a career change. (We both agree that the National Innovation and Science Agenda is not cutting through to the general public.)  Apart from being an advocate for portfolio careers, I also pointed out that entrepreneurship or working with startups is not for everyone. Instead, it may be possible to change your current role to the one you want. Alternatively, taking a new look at your current circumstances can provide some fresh perspective on finding your dream career.

Francis Kenna: The Unbearable Lightness of Seeing (2016) [Photo by Rory Manchee]

Francis Kenna: The Unbearable Lightness of Seeing (2016) [Photo by Rory Manchee]

The impetus following the 2012 publication of “The Startup of You” has done much to fuel the current entrepreneurial phenomenon, combined with lean startup business models and agile product development processes. The drive for innovation in response to digital disruption and lowering technology costs also means that launching your own venture can be increasingly de-risked.

For example, I recently saw some data by Ian Gardner from Amazon Web Services, that showed the “cost of failure” has come down from $5m to $5k, in just 15 years. This is based on a comparison between what it typically cost to launch a new business at the height of the dot.com boom/bust in 2000, and what it costs today. With a mix of open source tools, cloud computing, APIs, SDKs and social media platforms, launching a new business has never been cheaper or easier.

Of course, there is a paradox here: if an increasing number of people, especially younger graduates and new entrants to the workforce, are more interested in doing their own thing and less interested in joining large or established organisations, it’s going to get harder for employers to attract and retain the best talent; on the other hand, without appropriate experience, on-the-job training and personal development, how do these aspiring entrepreneurs acquire the necessary business, technical and leadership skills to succeed in their own ventures?

For some people, it may be appropriate to take their entrepreneurial spirit of adventure into a “traditional” role to test some of their ideas, as well as build networks and get some practical experience. Equally, I can see a huge opportunity for companies to create the right opportunities to engage employees for flexible roles aligned with specific projects or objectives (rather than plugging them into org charts). Companies are also finding new ways of tapping into their existing workforce to identify hitherto hidden and unknown skills and knowledge. Many employers also recognise that leadership roles will increasingly be filled by people who are comfortable with rapid change, increasing complexity and heightened uncertainty, as well as having enhanced soft skills. (There’s even some current thinking that utilising “rebel talent” is a good thing.)

Whether you are starting out on your entrepreneurial journey, looking to reboot your career, or searching for meaningful work that aligns with your values and purpose, there are numerous opportunities (via meetups, hackathons, pitch nights and networking forums) to explore your options before you make a decision. And for companies looking to re-invigorate your workforce and unleash hidden talent, there are many ways to experiment through taking informed risks, by building in-house innovation hubs, running consultative and collaborative workshops, and inviting ideas and inspiration from your existing people, who are familiar with the challenges you face.

Next week: Banksy – an artist for our times?

The Day of the Mavericks – the importance of intrapreneurship

As part of my notes on Melbourne’s recent Startup Week, I mentioned an interesting discussion on “innovation from within”, and the importance of intrapreneurship. There has been a steady stream of articles on the rise of intrapreneurship, an often overlooked skill set or resource that all organisations need to tap into, harness and deploy successfully. But what does it take to be an intrapreneur, and where can we find them?

Idea Machine - image sourced from Vocoli

Idea Machine – image sourced from Vocoli

The panel discussion on “Innovation from the inside out” was mostly about what leaders are doing to foster entrepreneurial-thinking from within their own organisations, featuring Janet Egber (NabLabs), Phil Harkness (EY), Martin Kennedy (GE) and Liza Noonan (CSIRO). Much of this effort revolves around connecting individual purpose with collective purpose (team, organisation, society). For example, at EY, there is a program to “promote purpose-led transformation, grounded in humanity and a call to action”, while GE also places importance on purpose. CSIRO, meanwhile, is clearly undergoing some huge transformational change of its own, with a key focus on “making the treasure chest of ideas happen.” (For a couple of related blogs, see here and here.)

When asked about how to incentivize intrapreneurship, and how to prioritise efforts, Liza Noonan was of the view that the “grass-roots” of the organisation “give us permission” to pursue particular projects. While Phil Harkness talked about the need to develop appropriate career paths, and the importance of change management engagement.

In my own experience, intrapreneurs are likely to display a healthy mix of the following characteristics:

Curiosity – This is critical. If you don’t display any interest in what is going on around you;  if you don’t think about how things could be done differently, better or more effectively; or if you don’t care about how things work, you are unlikely to discover anything new or uncover new business opportunities. This is not only about formal technical skills, this is also about personal outlook. It’s not intended to be disruptive, but maverick thinking is often what gets results.

Creativity – While I am not a big fan of formulaic management methodologies, I do see some value in certain aspects of the Six Hats model – of which Green for Creative Thinking is key here. As well as being a vital part of ideation and innovation, having a creative mindset (coupled with innate curiosity) is essential to problem solving – especially when it comes to “what if?” scenarios, and joining the dots between seemingly disparate data.

Commercial – Intrapreneurs don’t need to be financial wizards, or be the best sales people – but they need to be grounded in the commercial realities of how businesses work, how markets develop, what customers think, and what it takes to launch a new product or service. Being open and receptive to customer feedback is essential, along with an ability to manage solution sales and consultative selling.

Uncertainty – Being comfortable with uncertainty, and learning to be resilient, flexible and adaptive are essential to the intrapreneurial mindset. This may include a different approach to risk/reward models, as well as being able to look beyond the normal business plan cycle into the “unknown” of the future.

Scepticism – Having a healthy degree of doubt and not falling prey to over-optimism can help to manage expectations and enthusiasm built on irrational exuberance. We know most new ideas never get off the whiteboard (which is OK!), so the skill is to challenge everything until proven, but in a constructive, pro-active and collaborative way.

The key to intrapreneurship is being able to find your role or niche in the organisation, from where you can develop your expertise, establish your influence and build a foundation for solid outcomes. While at times it can feel a bit like “right person, right place, right time”, there are strategic steps you can take to manage your own career as an intraprenuer, including networking, self-directed learning, volunteering for new projects and taking responsibility for fixing things when they go wrong, even if they are outside your immediate responsibilities. It’s these sorts of behaviours that get noticed.

I know from personal experience that being curious and asking the right questions can lead to exciting new opportunities (in my case, six years in Hong Kong to establish a greenfield business). I also value the advice of a senior colleague soon after I joined an organisation: “You need to be part of the solution, not be part of the problem” when it comes to organisational change. And some of the best indirect feedback I ever received was from a colleague who introduced me to a new hire: “This is Rory, he’s our lateral thinker”.

Finally, it’s not always easy or comfortable to challenge the status quo from within (which is what a lot of intrapreneurship involves). Intrapreneurship can also feel lonely at times, which is why it’s vital to make the right connections and build sustainable relationships because, in army terms, you don’t want to get a reputation for being part of the “awkward squad”.

Next week: “Language is a virus” – a look at coding skills

Moving #innovation from “permitted” to “possible”

As the dust settles on the Federal election results, the Turnbull government has already been taken to task for failing to get one of its key messages across to the public: how to take advantage of the economic, technological, scientific, social and cultural opportunities inherent in the “Innovation Agenda”.  It seems that the so-called “Ideas Boom” failed to resonate with much of the electorate because, apparently, no-one has explained to them how innovation actually impacts their lives.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 8.39.24 PMUnfortunately, I think it goes deeper than that: the recent campaign debates were limited to concepts of “traditional” job-creation; reliance on conventional relationships between the State, the private sector and individual citizens; and the priorities of (pre)serving the interests of public institutions such as 3-year Parliaments and even political parties themselves. The electorate may (perhaps rightly) feel short-changed by the level of the debate, but voters also need to take some responsibility for not challenging candidates to raise their game: where were the mainstream discussions on climate change, new technology, the future of “work”, digital disruption, scientific advances, and the changing attitudes towards end of life?

There is also a core misconception, that the government is responsible for fostering  innovation, that only public policy (and public resources?) can set the innovation agenda. I don’t believe it is the role of government to “make it happen”, and certainly, such an approach is not going to occur overnight. At best, government can create a framework, highlight best practice, and encourage appropriate activity. Just as I don’t think you can “teach” creativity (only identify, support and nurture it), I don’t think innovation is something to be determined from the outside. As with creative inspiration, innovation has to come from within: from employees, from customers, from suppliers, etc.

The risk of relying solely on governments or other vested interests to shape innovation is that our thinking becomes constrained by what is “permitted”, rather than what is “possible”.

On a related theme, it was refreshing to listen to a panel of speakers at a seminar on “Innovation from the inside out” held during Melbourne Startup Week. The key messages were:

  • how to instill purpose in any organisational change, business transformation or innovation project;
  • how to empower all levels of an organisation to make ideas happen; and
  • how to incentivize intrapreneurship?

This naturally leads to a discussion of developing more adaptable and resilient career paths. If you don’t have transferable skills, or if you not prepared to update your knowledge, or if you think of your career path as a straight linear projection, it will be much harder to cope with the demands of a flexible work environment. If you think of yourself as only ever performing a specific job function, or identify only as your profession or job title, or define yourself only by your formal qualifications, you will only ever think about what roles you may be “permitted” to perform, rather than seeing what career opportunities may be possible. As a careers adviser in the Victorian Government’s Skills and Job Centre network told his audience at a recent Small Business workshop: it’s not the responsibility of the government or your employer to manage your career. Notwithstanding upskilling initiatives and structured outplacement programs, we are each responsible for shaping our own destiny – especially in the increasingly on-demand economy.

Back to the main topic, I’ve been participating in a series of workshops on the Future of Work, Money, Ageing, Death, Democracy etc. hosted by the Re-Imagineers, an on-line ideas playground that builds co-created artifacts to support people-led innovation. The model is designed to help organisations draw on insights from their in-house knowledge and skills, customer experience and feedback, and external expertise to originate new ideas and innovative solutions from within their own resources, and which align with their values and those of their stakeholders. It’s still early days, but all of the discussions have identified some amazing ideas and possibilities.

The team from Re-Imagineers will be visiting Australia during July and August, so if you or your organisation would like to hear about the key learnings from these forums, especially as they impact sectors such as finance, health care and IT, please contact me via this blog, and I will make the relevant introductions.

Next week: Update on the New #Conglomerates