Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Entrepreneurship and Insubordination

Robert Nardelli is quoted as saying "there's only a fine line between entrepreneurship and insubordination". I found this gem in the Oct 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review, in an article by David Garvin and Lynne Levesque. I'll leave the details to your reading pleasure, but there were a few key points that resonate with me, regarding how to innovate within a corporation.

First, quite a bit of innovation is going to lack data, and what you do have is likely to be ambiguous. Another quote: "it's hard to find marketplace insights for markets that don't exist"; this is the innovator's dilemma. You need "Mavericks" that can cope with that ambiguity and drive the organization forward anyway. You'll need to attach them to seasoned operational experts to help them design experiments that validate or negate hypotheses, and change course accordingly. This totally makes sense and seems to bypass a lot of risk and leverages the strengths of the umbrella corporation.

A perhaps counter-intuitive recommendation in the article is to "learn from small samples" rather than statistically significant large focus group learning. Highly successful examples include Intuit's "Follow Me Home" program, where employees actually watch customers use Intuit's products in their natural environment. Nokia, P&G, and Starbucks have similar programs which are leading to new sights.

The article also talks about skills acquisition and building. This is a variant of the build or buy decision, in this case whether you build the team internally or borrow or acquire a team with the right skills already in place. This is a critical decision but generally can be made by evaluating whether you have the competence to grow the needed skills, how critical it is to have the skills on board, and how long it will take to develop those skills.