Monday, July 21, 2014

Promoting Entrepreneurship in Organizations

Continuing the Twitter based professional conversation between military leaders in the United States and faculty and students at Kings College in London, This week’s topic is Entrepreneurship and how to develop and promote entrepreneurship in organizations. If you’re interested in participating just “tweet” your response with #CCLKOW

To kick it off I will use Professor Howard Stevenson's definition from this HBR blog post by Thomas Eisenmann   "Entrepreneurship: A Working Definition": "entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled."

The motivation for fostering entrepreneurship in an organization entirely depends on who the leader or stakeholders are. We would like to think that the motivation to promote entrepreneurship would be out of service to the organization, but fact is, many stakeholders must benefit for it to be sustainable and not everyone's motivations are "selfless" in nature.

Building on the premise that in an organization, members will be willing to develop new concepts if they are given adequate support, a leader’s role is to encourage and create an environment for the free flow of ideas, which can lead to new innovations. In entrepreneurship, ideas are a dime a dozen, so leaders must also be able to influence others in order to acquire more resources than they control in order to develop and implement the best ideas generated.

The #CCLKOW weekly discussion is one example of entrepreneurship in action. It started with professionals looking for a new platform to connect leaders in conversation since most, if not all, DOD organizations require users to have CAC access to participate in discussion forums. Not every defense/leadership/strategy topic needs that level of restriction. The firewall and CAC-access serve as barriers to conversation and the flow of new ideas.

Another example is from when I commanded a tank company in a Combined Arms Battalion  in Korea during the 2007-2008 timeframe. During this time, Korea was a resource constrained environment because the priority was Iraq & Afghanistan. We were only able to maneuver our tanks and other equipment during Battalion and Brigade-level training exercises. To conduct company level training I turned to the Close Combat Tactical Trainer (CCTT) and utilized it in a way it had not been used previously. My company conducted a 5-day exercise in simulation and we were able to replicate many of the conditions of a traditional training exercise. There were numerous other examples of “entrepreneurship” in our unit and this was largely due to the support my fellow company commanders and I had from our battalion commander.

Of course, not all leaders are entrepreneurial. In fact, some trap their subordinates in "conventional thinking" and do not allow for the free expressions of ideas, or they kill ideas by playing the role of the “Devil’s Advocate.”  In his book, “The Ten Faces of Innovation" , Tom Kelley describes the person who injects into a good, creative, free flowing discussion "Let me just play Devil's Advocate for a minute...". He goes on to discuss how this kills innovation by stopping discussion  " ...every day thousands of great new ideas, concepts, and plans are nipped in the bud by Devil's Advocates.”

This brings us to this week’s discussion questions:

- What are barriers to entrepreneurship in defense organizations or any organization in general?

- How do leaders encourage intellectual curiosity and promote an entrepreneurial spirit?

- How can the military get more entrepreneurial behavior from its members, and how can entrepreneurs inside a military organization act on their ideas, while minimizing risk to themselves and to their respective organizations?

 Respond using the hashtag #CCLKOW

Jonathan Silk is a Major in the U.S. Army. He has served as a Cavalry Scout platoon leader , and has commanded both a Tank Company and an Infantry Company. He is currently an Academic Instructor and serving as the Operations Officer for the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning (CALDOL) at the United States Army Military Academy, West Point, NY. He was a recipient of the calendar year 2009 General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award.

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