Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Disruptive Innovation: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Competitive Advantage

The following excerpt from Finding the Sweet Spot: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work by Dave Pollard has been adapted for the Web. The culture of Natural Enterprises tends to differ dramatically from that of traditional corporations. Much of this cultural difference stems from the fact that Natural Enterprises are flat, nonhierarchical, independent cooperative organizations with a shared Purpose, complementary Gifts and Passions, uncommon core capacities, and a shared vision. Most large corporations are anything but innovative. Because they are risk-averse and driven to sustain large annual increases in profit to keep shareholders happy, they are unwilling to invest in anything with a significant risk of failure, or anything that will take more than a year or so to start generating revenues and profits. So their idea of “innovation” is often a redesigned, repackaged, function-added, or “sequel” product, the exaggerated “new and improved” model that often turns out to be neither. This inability to innovate is largely a cultural phenomenon. What you will find in many large corporations are these behaviors, all of which impede innovation:
  • Employees hoarding rather than sharing knowledge, including knowledge that could yield innovation, to protect their positions and ranks in the company.
  • Employees rarely volunteering new ideas, fearing ridicule, retribution, being ignored, or having credit for the idea stolen by their bosses if it succeeds.
  • Managers safely and instinctively squelching innovative “crazy ideas” of subordinates.
  • Managers, fearing the wrath of shareholders (absentee owners), are risk averse, preferring to buy ideas once they have been successfully developed by others, rather than incubating the company’s own ideas, even though the latter is cheaper and more effective.
  • Employees competing for credit rather than sharing it.
  • Employees, since they are rated on their individual performance, considering teamwork and collaborative activities less important than individual, solitary ones.
  • Managers instinctively delegating tasks in a project to individuals rather than teams (since it’s easier that way to place blame if something goes wrong), and individuals usually preferring individual rather than team assignments as well.
By contrast, Natural Enterprises exhibit the following innovation-friendly behaviors:
  • Decisions are made by democratic consensus rather than by fiat.
  • Persuasion and change occurs by engaging decision-makers in thought processes and finding shared mental models, rather than the wielding of power and authority.
  • Problem-solving teams self-form and self-manage, and select (and when necessary, change) their own leader(s) rather than having leaders imposed on them.
  • Rather than formal permanent roles, positions, and “up-or-out” career paths, individuals move laterally from project to project, wherever their skills and experiences are best suited, and often wear multiple hats on simultaneously running projects, rather than having a single role.
  • Recognition and appreciation are based on the depth of developed skills, experiences, learning, and networks, the things that have value to the enterprise in the future, rather than on past performance or on one’s seniority or title.
  • “Management” from the top down is replaced by “improvisation” throughout the organization.


Recipe: How to Make the Perfect Pancake

When most people think pancakes, they think breakfast. But for Amy Halloran, breakfast is only the start.Halloran, author of The New Bread Basket, is a self-described pancake connoisseur. From a young age, she was entranced by the magic of bubbly batter rising to fluffy cakes on the griddle. Over time, her love of pancakes developed […] Read More..

Inside the Rise of the Local Grains Movement

Our daily bread. Breaking bread together. Bread and butter. These are all common phrases that reflect bread’s foundational role in our diet and in the building of our civilization. The stored energy of grain first allowed our ancestors to shift from nomadic hunting and gathering to building settled communities—even great cities. So why in an […] Read More..

The Limits to Growth and Greece: Systemic or Financial Collapse?

Could it be that the ongoing Greek collapse is a symptom of the more general collapse that the Limits to Growth model generates for the first two decades of the 21st century? Author Ugo Bardi (Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet) examines the correlation between what is unfolding between Greece […] Read More..

Economic Development is Broken. Here’s How to Fix It

Economic development today is completely broken. That’s the argument of author Michael Shuman in his new book, The Local Economy Solution. The singular focus on attracting global corporations is not just ineffective but counterproductive, Shuman argues, especially given the huge opportunity costs. Indeed, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that the best way most communities can […] Read More..

A Mini-Festo for Earth Day – Rebuild the Foodshed

For the past month, author Philip Ackerman-Leist has been on a Twitter MiniFesto campaign – each day sending out a new tweet designed to spark conversation and pass along some lessons he learned whilst working on his last book, Rebuilding the Foodshed. You might also know Philip as the author of his memoir Up Tunket […] Read More..