“I’d really like to take the entrepreneurial journey but the ‘golden handcuffs’ keep me in my corporate job”
“I can’t take the risk of joining a startup or starting my own company! What about the “golden band aid” that ensures all my medical issues are covered?”
I hear these reasons all the time, so can you really be entrepreneurial in the corporate cage, and if so, how?
Certainly I have seen pockets of entrepreneurial spirit within large companies, and often with a bit of detective work you can find and align yourself with one of these groups.
However, you say, “I’m a lone entrepreneurial shark, swimming in a school of corporate minnows, where “group think” is prevalent, and the status quo is embraced every minute of every day, and even though I’ve searched I’ve not found any entrepreneurial mindset within my company, so then what can I do?”
Here are 3 directions I have prescribed as a response to cries for help; all three can be successful, though sometimes they take an odd turn.
1. Work Smarter
Who has increased your efficiency in a large company, meaning achieving more work in the allotted time (even working evenings and weekends as well), thinking you’d be noticed and promoted; but instead you were simply rewarded with more and more work! That’s the odd turn that can happen; and the challenge is not to be discouraged and then only do the minimum to receive your paycheck (as do traditional corporate time-servers, who are the antithesis of entrepreneurial)
The same can happen with being a problem solver; you’ll find you have more and more problems to solve (which can be fun), but no additional compensation for the added benefit you bring to the company gets old very fast! There is a delicate balance between personal reward/self-accomplishment (what you might learn in skills and expertise while on the job) versus what you are being rewarded for by the company. Some individuals self-reward can mean taking advantage of off-site conferences (and the networking advantages there), as well as educational opportunities offered within or outside the company.
2. Showcase Expertise
One way to get noticed is to become an expert on a particular skill that might be slightly tangential to your department, but in an area that could directly impact your group positively. Of course, becoming an ‘expert’ can attract jealousy and malice from your peers “…you think you’re better than us…” so alternatively, bring others in to showcase their expertise to your department or group; you will still benefit as the person who orchestrated the event, and the expertise will be associated with you in future opportunities. It’s a clever strategist who knows when to toot your own horn, or to showcase others.
3. Non-Profit Focus
There are some companies which give their high-achieving employees a block of time each week to work on a non-profit focus. I interviewed a corporate software engineer who had created his own non-profit initiative during his time allocation, and not only did he put in the volunteer time allotted by his company, but in addition every evening he put in one or two hours fund-raising. He also spent his annual three week vacation time every year traveling to Indonesia to dig water wells for local farming communities. In less than five years he had helped to dig 29 wells! In his professional life he benefited from the corporate cage with all of its benefits, yet in his personal life he was an entrepreneurial philanthropist with the accompanying personal rewards.
Most companies seem happy to endorse those who follow non-profit pursuits in their free time; but always be careful that your chosen non-profit focus does not conflict with the corporations directives on volunteer time.
Hope for the future
This may all sound a bit discouraging, but there is hope; as the “Lean Startup” movement is already penetrating large companies. Steve Blank, the serial entrepreneur and customer development advocate who founded “Lean Startup”, is adapting and applying what has been learned in the startup space to big business. He advocates bringing innovation to big companies by focusing on Customer Development and/or Design Thinking (which focuses on the customer’s needs) ~ this is how he summarizes and compares the entrepreneurial innovative mindset of both:
- Customer Development & Design Thinking are both customer discovery processes.
- Customer Development starts with, “ I have a product/technology and now who do I sell it to?
- Design Thinking starts with, “ I need to understand customer needs and iterate prototypes until I find a technology and product that satisfies this need,
- Customer Development is optimized for speed and “good enough” decision making with limited time and resources.
- Design Thinking is optimized for ‘getting it right’ before we make big bets.
Steve Blanks summary is from Driving Corporate Innovation: Design Thinking vs. Customer Development
My favorite antidotes for being thwarted as an entrepreneur in the corporate cage are: to read up and learn about “Customer Development” and the “Lean Startup” movement, understand what it really means to ‘get out of the building’ and talk to customers. And to study what “Design Thinking” is all about
IDEO is a good place to start. Look for ways to implement both these entrepreneurial mindsets in the corporate environment, and finally try and scheme an invite for the likes of Steve Blank or Tim Brown of IDEO to present to your group, department, or corporate management. Get the kudos for attracting and showcasing experts who give actionable advice in bringing the entrepreneurial POV to the Corporate Cage.