Intrapreneurs Build Better Typewriters

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I recently wrote about the current slow death of the institution.

It’s  increasingly obvious that the efficiencies we humans have gained in using institutions (to create scale, while minimizing transaction costs and increasing profits) no longer are relevant. The internet have changed this and institutions are obsolete.

Huh?

Yes.  As futurist and director of IFTF Marina Gorbis explains in this talk, there is no financial point in us having institutions any more, and therefore (as we live in a world where money decides) institutions will soon disappear.

“You can think of organisations as a technology for creating scale and minimizing cost. This technology is being disrupted.”

They will likely be replaced with online networks, peer-to-peer solutions or other post-organisational structures.

But the centralized institution as we know it will soon be gone.

It’s like the typewriter. Once an important and ubiquitous technology… And now gone…

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For years I was a believer in intrapreneurship: To use the principles of entrepreneurship to hack or disrupt large organisations from within, while maintaining the actual system, the organisation.

Today I think of intrapreneurs as a bit like those guys who tried to re-invent the typewriter back in the day.

“Hey, Look! We can add another colour to the pad so that you can type in both black and red now!”

“Look! We have invented an electric typewriter. You don’t need to move the paper down with the scroller thingy, now you just plug the typewriter into the wall and press this button!”

These guys had no idea that the typewriter would be replaced with a smartphone soon. They thought that the typewriter would always be around in a different shape or form.

Exactly like people who spend their time managing and trying to change or develop large rganisations today. They think that these organisations will always be around.

But why?

Organisations are a technology like any technology, and it is obsolete. The benefits are no longer there.

Sure, there are social and other benefits, but that’s not enough. If it doesn’t make financial sense it will go.

***

Do you work to make organisations better? As a manager, organisational development expert, change management consultant, intrapreneur or similar?

Be careful. You are likely holding evolution back. You are probably a barrier to progress.

As John Hagel recently pointed out in his excellent 21st Century Global Declaration of Independence:

“We find ourselves now at a crossroads in history. The institutions – commercial, educational, political and civic – that we created in an earlier era in an effort to expand our potential have now become increasingly significant barriers to progress. It is not surprising that our trust in these institutions is plummeting around the world. We see so much opportunity and yet the institutions that are supposed to be helping us are increasingly standing in our way.”

Don’t try to build a better typewriter.

Some of my issues…

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This image came up on Facebook yesterday, with the heading: We can now only watch as West Antarctica’s ice sheets collapse, and a link to an article written by a researcher at  ANU College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences at Australian National University.

And we all reacted in different ways;

“Oh my God! This is terrible!!! But I better keep calm and carry on. We will solve this together”

“Shut the fuck up! Who’s this ANU researcher? Who funded him?”

“Here we go again… Another article about climate change and melting ice… Booooring!!!!

etc etc…

***

Around five, six years ago, these articles had a profound effect on me. I started to really grasp that it was up to all of us (including me) to change ourselves if we were to avoid serious consequences of climate change. And by change I don’t mean starting to recycle or drive or fly less. No, I realised that we needed to change big-time. Change the games we play.

So I decided sometime back then that I couldn’t play the game any more. The game called “Work hard in the current paradigm and all will be fine” or something along those lines. Sometimes, since then, I have tried to re-enter that game, but haven’t been allowed in. I’m not welcome to play and have finally accepted this. I am doomed to observe from the outside. Or build a new game…

Back then, I came across this Buckminster Fuller quote:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

And like most of the people who inspire me and who I play with now, I took that quote to heart. We need new models. But we don’t know what these are. We have to build them without plans, goals and instructions. There are some hints of course, but we have to stay with uncertainty and trust emergence. We have to move together, slowly and blind-folded, towards what feels right, rather than what we think is right, in these postnormal times.

Futurist and writer Zia Sardar defines postnormal times as:

“All that was ‘normal’ has now evaporated; we have entered postnormal times, the in between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have not yet emerged, and nothing really makes sense. To have any notion of a viable future, we must grasp the significance of this period of transition which is characterized by three c’s: complexity, chaos and contradictions.”

We won’t know what these new models that Buckminster Fuller talked about look like. But we start to understand what things no longer work. And these are no longer small things. These are huge, deeply ingrained and trusted models in our societies. Models that have worked until now. Models that have pulled billions of people out of poverty. Models that have increased our life spans with many decades. Models that have given us comfort and wealth. But now they are obsolete. And we have to listen to Buckminster Fuller. We have to stop fighting them or try fixing them. We have to let go of them and start to build new models.

Here are some of the current models which bother me and I think are obsolete:

1. Democracy

2. Hard Work

3. Cars

4. Settling

5. Heroic entrepreneurship (a.k.a. dickhead entrepreneurship)

Over the next couple of weeks I will post on each of these – my issues. Perhaps this will allow me to let go of them slightly. They bother me a lot, but if I write down my thoughts on them I hope I’ll feel lighter.

I believe that we’ll have to replace these five with “something else” if we are to avoid catastrophic global collapse. And the good thing is that many people have worked on this for a while now 🙂

The Mystery Train – A new model for thinking about the future

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Some futurists, including me, are obsessed by process.

Joseph Voros’ Generic Foresight Process, IDEO’s Design Thinking Process, Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, Graham Wallas’ Creative Process and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey are some, which I have obsessed over in recent years.

As you know, a process never describes what reality looks like. Reality is always more complex and messy. The beautiful randomness of  life is too hard to illustrate in a nice linear process.

I tried to illustrate my life at the moment and ended up with this image. I call this process The Mystery Train.

Dare to be Delusional: Beyond Social Entrepreneurship pt. 1

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Entrepreneurial Development

I’ve been thinking and researching a lot about the development of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs over the past three years. Some elements seem to always be there when an entrepreneur is described;

  • Creative destruction
  • Restlessness and curiosity
  • Listening to people but not believing them
  • A touch of delusion
  • Building structures based on resources, to which the entrepreneur does not yet have access

The list goes on and there are thousands of blog posts on this. But which elements are not always there? Which elements are added as the entrepreneur matures or evolves?

For instance, Richard Branson started out selling Christmas trees, student magazines and records, and continued to build an airline, train and mobile phone businesses. In the late 90’s he started discussions with Peter Gabriel and Nelson Mandela how to tackle global problems. Now his focus seems to be on space travel and other “big picture” projects. Bill Gates started out in computing and software, and has now turned to AIDS vaccines, polio eradication, financial services for the poor and tackling other massive global problems.

Why did these mega-entrepreneurs shift their focus towards global problems and disadvantaged people? Was it only because the problems the dealt with in their other businesses weren’t challenging enough? Or is there something more to the development of an entrepreneur?

Moral Development

Laurence Kohlberg was an American psychologist famous (to some) for his theory of stages of moral development. Perhaps his theory can be applied to Branson, Gates and other entrepreneurs who have shifted focus towards tackling global issues rather than selling more products and services? (Sure, both these mega-entrepreneurs still sell a lot of stuff, but it seems like their passions lie elsewhere now.)

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The essence in Kohlberg’s work is that we care about a larger group as we develop. An individual can develop from egocentric (focused on me) to socio-centric (focused on my culture, society or group) to worldcentric (focused on all humans no matter sex, race, creed etc) and onwards to higher, more all-encompassing levels.

  • A pre-conventional entrepreneur (stage 1-2 in the figure) would care only about themselves;
  • a conventional entrepreneur about their own culture (stages 3-4);
  • a post-conventional entrepreneur would consider all human cultures (stages 5-6) and
  • a post-post-conventional entrepreneur would care about all sentient beings (beyond the figure).

At which stages would a traditional entrepreneur and a social entrepreneur work?

Cognitive Development

Another thing that seemed to happen to Gates and Branson is this:  In order to be able to help these larger groups of people they increasingly cared about, they needed to understand how larger systems work. When they started out as young entrepreneurs, they needed to understand a computer, a small start-up, a town in one country, but while developing as entrepreneurs and in their global travels they learnt more about other cultures and ways of doing things. Their cognition (thinking) developed to include larger parts of the world with increased complexity, and today they “get” cultures, social systems, politics and technologies across the whole planet. Their cognitive level has shifted – just like their moral level.

The million dollar question here is of course this: How does an entrepreneur develop to be able to operate across many moral and cognitive levels without building a global business empire like Branson and Gates?

Well, that would be one of the main questions I think should be explored in a school for systems entrepreneurs.

 Schools for systems entrepreneurs

When I read Bridgette Engeler Newbury’s post “When marketing sucks, the future suffers”  a while ago I was taken by a recommendation at the end: “Dream bigger than ever”. “Marketing has always relied on big, inspiring ideas. Daring and brave, innovative and far-reaching. Ways not just to make sales but to transform lives (and the marketplace).”

Over the past year I have started to get increasingly frustrated with social entrepreneurship – a concept of change and way of life, which I earlier believed had real transformational qualities. Perhaps my issue with most social entrepreneurship is the small-scale of it. There are fantastic social enterprises such as Grameen and Kiva, but most of them are small-scale initiatives in local communities. These are important and must continue, but I think that local issues need local and global solutions. Most ideas in social enterprise are modelled on normal business without transformative or international impact. The ideas are too petty.

Meanwhile, right now in Silicon Valley a huge part of our common future is created by the next generation of Bransons and Gateses;  Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg & company. Tech billionaires, whose thinking, morals and worldviews have massive impact on us all and our planet. These guys think big for many reasons. And I believe that most social entrepreneurs must think as big as they do to create real change today.

Social enterprise (as most enterprise) is needs-based. So, one of the early questions a start-up gets from investors or advisors is “what is the customer need you target?” or something similar. The problem in this question (and the answers it leads to) is that this need often reflects a problem symptom and not its underlying systemic factors. Most entrepreneurs tackle symptoms rather than underlying problems.

But as a wise man said; we cannot use the same thinking to solve our problems as we used when we created them. Social entrepreneurship mostly uses such old ways of thinking with polarities like rich/poor, profit/non-profit, sustainable/unsustainable, developed countries/non-developed countries etc. I believe we need more entrepreneurs who think beyond these dichotomies.

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We need bigger thinking.

We need systemic solutions.

We need global and local solutions.

We need networked solutions.

We need more systems thinking entrepreneurs.

We need more deluded social entrepreneurs.

We need to train people to think about crazy, unreasonable and preposterous solutions to our challenges.

We need schools for systems entrepreneurs.

The mission of the Singularity University is to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges. That’s an excellent ‘big’ mission, and we need more of those in our educational institutions.

Still, we need to remember the entrepreneurial development pieces mentioned above; the cognitive and moral dimensions.

If I would run a school for systems entrepreneurs I would therefore steal the Singularity University’s mission but add a couple of things. Perhaps this one:

To develop, inspire and empower networked entrepreneurs to apply exponential technologies across systems of wise innovation clusters to address grand challenges.

Is that deluded enough for you?