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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.


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