How to Embed Entrepreneurship – Change the Culture or Change the People?

Things are getting trickier. Many of the low-hanging fruit have been picked and happily guzzled by purposeful businesses working to become more sustainable. In a similar way that ‘losing the first 10lbs’ is the easiest part of getting yourself into shape, finding the first 10% waste, carbon or efficiency saving is the easiest step to getting your business in shape (although you should expect fewer compliments!).

Trouble is, as you try to push further things get harder. More has to change and it’s going to take greater investment. Not only have you got to cut out the cake but you’re going to have to sign up to the gym too.

Discovering the breakthrough innovation, the revolutionary strategy or the sector-changing sales proposition that will really unlock value while building a sustainable business takes a lot of work. Smart companies suspect that a big part of the answer comes from within; from inspiring individuals to embrace an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’. And, since smart companies also like to swing by Futerra for a chat, creating space for entrepreneurship within the business is becoming an increasingly common brief for our internal comms team.

But how doyou create space for that radical, daring breakthrough amongst the well-hoovered halls of your well-established global company? There are two strategies on offer; 1. Change The Culture, and 2. Change The People. So, let’s get comfortably Machiavellian and take a stroll through each…


  1. Change The Culture

Those entrepreneurs with their mac’s, sipping on flat whites and scrounging free wifi, seem like a mysterious bunch. A distant cry from your pastel-shirt wearing corporate types who occasionally sport a colorful pair of socks. Can we really create a culture that transforms one into the other? Perhaps, if we can understand how to properly motivate people.

To do that, we first need to first answer a question, “Why do people go to work?” Seriously, like, why bother? “Bills to pay” is a pretty common answer and I’ll wager it was the first one that came to your mind. That perspective is, in fact, part of a bigger idea on human motivation. Unimaginatively called ‘Theory X’ by Douglas McGregor it essentially assumes humans avoid effort whenever possible. However, we need the cash and a job gives a relatively steady, predictable trickle of the stuff. Theory X assumes that if we could get away with less work, we would. We’d clock off early, pull a sickie and retire at 40.

So why do we work so hard?… ‘Consumerism’, extends the theory – those damn marketing people keep waving shiny trinkets in front of us and we can’t help ourselves so we’re forced to put in the grind and get that gold. Clearly, then, to release the entrepreneurial spirit within everyone all we need do is dangle the right incentives and/or threaten people with losing their jobs if they don’t knuckle down to some serious brainstorming.

Well hold on, let’s consider the alternative, Theory Y. It takes a different starting point on human motivation, supposing that work is “as natural for humans as being at play or rest… and that if committed to a goal, they’ll actually seek responsibility” (D. Pink, Drive, 2009). Let’s test this on ourselves: What would you do if you won the lottery tomorrow? Tell the boss to take a hike and then head off to that tropical beach? You beautiful, tired cliché, you. But how long till you got bored? 6 months? 6 weeks? Stop for a moment and think about it. Sooner or later you’d put down the margaritas and start looking for things to do. A project perhaps, learning, reading, writing, all things that look suspiciously like ‘work’.

Perhaps then, Theory Y is a better model and with enough freedom, autonomy and direction towards a meaningful goal we’d happily get to work on solving a big challenge with minimal need for coercion.

All you need do then is stop treating your people as if they’re donkeys that need to be beaten with sticks, bribed with carrots and ‘managed’ into doing your bidding and step back, take away the structures and incentives and simply inspire your workforce. Maybe then, with freedom and purpose in their hearts, you staff’s inner entrepreneur will emerge, thoughts will occur, innovation will happen,

and then, one day everyone will turn up in black turtlenecks. Culture changed. Problem solved.

Or maybe not…


  1. Change the people

Maybe you can’t turn water into wine. It might just be the case that the kind of people who are really good at managing, organizing and getting things done aren’t the same people as the kind who have left-field ideas, visionary dreams of alternate futures and are really good at imagining a different way of doing things.

Psychological research has identified two character traits that reflect different skill sets people tend to develop. People with trait ‘conscientiousness’ tend to be described as hard working, well organized, self-disciplined and achievement orientated. These people are great for managing businesses and executing strategies with efficiency. They tend to work their way up the corporate ladder with relative ease. People high in the trait ‘Openness’, however, tend to be described as creative, curious, interested in unusual ideas and adventure orientated. They’re great at coming up with new and different ideas and are attracted to smaller businesses and consultancy roles. However, they get easily bored in a structured environment and tend not to be so hot at implementing the breakthroughs they come up with. While its far from impossible for a person to strongly exhibit both traits, research suggests that it is particularly rare.

It’s likely, therefore, that many of the people working for your company are high in conscientiousness, are strong implementers and may well be a great source of incremental improvements – tweaking and honing your current way of doing things. However, for breakthrough change, for the radical ideas, you’ll need to collaborate with others and draw a wider posse of characters into the mix.


So what do you think? Is it possible to drive disruptive innovationby changing the culture alone or is it only possible through collaboration and bringing new people in to an organsiation? …or, maybe, it’s a little bit of both?



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