I should have written this article while I was still deeply immersed in big corporate culture – dare I say drowning in it? Still, it is better late than never especially now that I have learned a few more things; perspective comes with distance.
The company I had been working for had four big pillars – statements that represented and drove their values. One that I personally preferred was, FREEDOM THROUGH RESPONSIBILITY. Another, ENTREPRENEURAL SPIRIT, was stated as a key value yet was rarely, if ever put into practice.
Being an entrepreneur is like being a buccaneer in the open sea, while working for a big company is more like navigating a holiday cruise ship. I am not saying that it is a less responsible job to do. Probably it is more responsible, as you have passengers on board that came to enjoy the journey, in contrast to the crew who are paid to make it happen, not necessarily to enjoy it. The key for your success is to minimize disruption, to make it run smoothly, to deliver experience and results at the same time. Being a buccaneer is different. It involves risk-taking, it’s disruptive, unpredictable, and requires an altogether different skill set. You need to be more single-minded than inclusive; you need to learn through mistakes and learn quickly; and your resilience must be next to none.
Now that I am outside on the open sea far from the island of corporate culture, I can see more clearly the difference (and the irony). While I have all the freedom in the world to do whatever I want to, I realise that I must focus my attention to survive. I have to catch my lunch. It is not enough to just do my job well; I have to deliver results as well. Exploration for the sake of exploration is not enough when you are on the open sea and subject to all the elements beyond your control. Boundless freedom is fantastic, but not having security is frightening. I don’t miss all those endless meetings and internal politics, but now I am the one that must book the meetings. Not only must I steer the ship but map its course as well. This is how I am learning to be entrepreneur.
I think you would agree that there is an obvious difference. Is it wrong for big corporations to state ENTREPRENUAL SPIRIT as a guiding principle? Probably not. But, as a company, you must actively support the development of an entrepreneurial culture; practice what you preach. Give freedom to your people to make and learn through their mistakes. Celebrate failure as much as if not more than you celebrate the avoidance of it.
So, while setting your company’s course on cruise control, understand, accept, embrace that from time to time you should face the rough seas in a small boat, too. That will help boost the spirits of the buccaneers among you and the entrepreneur spirit will be realized.