Magazine Article | July 1, 2020

Thinking Entrepreneurially Inside Your Organization: How Leaders Can Drive Low-Cost Innovation

Source: Life Science Leader

By Dorie Clark

In uncertain times, it’s useful to question assumptions, mitigate risk, and experiment to see how you can do more with less. That might sound like a tall order, but fortunately, those are all entrepreneurial practices that we can hone and apply in corporate settings.

In my book Entrepreneurial you (Harvard Business Review Press, 2017), I write about how leaders can apply entrepreneurial best practices to drive innovation and results in their companies. Here are three key principles you can follow to move faster and do more, even in extremely challenging times.

Start from Zero. Typically, established companies have far more resources than entrepreneurial ventures. That’s often helpful, but it can become a disadvantage if we come to rely too heavily on applying the standard processes and ways of thinking.

Instead, ask yourself: How could you solve this problem if you had no money? What if you had only a tiny number of employees to devote to it? What if you had extraordinarily limited time?

Those creative constraints can often spark new ideas — as in the case of Todd Herman, an entrepreneur I profiled in the book who launched his consulting business by giving 60 free talks in 90 days. It was an enormous effort, but he successfully leveraged what he did have — time and the ability to speak well — in order to compensate for what he didn’t (clients and money for paid advertising).

Create a Microtest. Too often, established companies perfect a product and launch it — only to discover that no one wants it. When we apply an entrepreneurial lens and assume there’s no margin for error, we have to ask ourselves: How can we be sure this will work, even before we build it? That means we need to get creative about running small tests in order to gauge demand — which gives us unique customer insights we can apply along the way. That was the case with Danny Iny, a marketer I profiled in the book whose original online course went nowhere – and in response, he learned to have customers sign up for a pilot program before he even built his next course so that he could see if they were interested in the first place.

Leverage Your Employees’ Learning. Employees often have a wide array of skills they have developed and cultivated outside of work — skills we rarely even know about. In Entrepreneurial you, I profile Lenny Achan, an ambitious nurse who was interested enough in technology to teach himself how to build and market iPhone apps. When the hospital CEO found out, he didn’t punish Achan for his outside activity (as Achan had originally feared). Instead, he promoted him to run social media for the hospital, because Achan had so clearly evinced an interest in that realm. We can all get better at tapping and recognizing our employees’ outside skills and leveraging them for the benefit of the company.

Especially in turbulent times, we all have to think more entrepreneurially. By applying these practices, we can become more nimble leaders — and create more resilient companies.