Monday, July 21, 2008

Don't Rock the Boat!

There is an old story that goes: sit down and don't rock the boat, I'm trying to drill a hole in the bottom. Trying to scuttle the boat, or business, may not be intentional, but the action or conduct that does that may be all that people can figure out to do. This is part of the problem of the Entrepreneur inside a company has to face. Businesses die today because, in the now common business vernacular, the DNA is wrong (we know it really is the MEMEs (1) that are wrong but the folks with bad Memes think of it as DNA, how foolish, everyone knows you can't change DNA, Memes on the other hand are fluid and can morph with degree of ease).

The internal entrepreneur's problem is changing the way the business thinks and acts. Like different DNA in a body, he (or she) is attacked as a fatal threat by the rest of the business unless he is shielded or camouflaged.

Protection or shielding does not work that well because it permits all the 'antibodies' to focus on a clear target. An example would be a CEO deciding that he needs to change the course of the business to grow, so he puts a spotlight on the group trying to change the way people think. Targeting, simple targeting. That spotlight makes it clear to all just who has to be wiped out to maintain the status quo. It is the guy rocking the boat that everyone can hate.

Camouflage on the other hand is surreptitious and a bit sneaky, doesn't attract a lot of attention and in the internal entrepreneur's case, lets him win converts, even gets the sympathy vote by the very people who will eventually be changed. By not putting the change mechanism in people's faces you offer a way to adapt that is not confrontational.

Traditionally new ways were developed in a skunk works, a place that was simply not visible where the Standard Operating Procedures could be tossed out and newness could happen. Problem is that skunkworking doesn't allow the newness to infect and drive the oldness to change, It leaves the oldness in isolation. You may get a neat new product but you don't necessarily get a new way of doing things.

The point is that the internal entrepreneur's job is really to adapt the organization to treat the customer in new ways. To do that his act must be visible and infectious to all but not threatening. Quite a trick, takes special guts, and in the end a love for both the business and customers. Because in today's marketplace this has to be a continuous process. Too bad GM can't figure this out.

Question is, can your company figure it out?

(1) DNA are the units of biological knowledge that set the pattern for the entity containing them, Memes are units of cultural knowledge the set the pattern for the way the entity thinks

Barry W Thornton is technologist, who organizes, manages and explains knowledge. Copyright Barry W Thornton 2008 all rights reserved

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Barry, this is a great post. I have been maintaining an intrapreneurship blog based on my successful experiences in Qualcomm. You can check it out here at