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If you’ve been there at the start of any new venture, you don’t need me to tell you how improvisational that process is, sorting out all the questions that need to be answered to find success: Questions about the product and the price and the customer, about the marketing strategy, positioning against competitors and the business model. One of the surest ways to fail is to assume that you already have all those questions answered and you have nothing to learn.
In other words, a true entrepreneur is inevitably an innovator. The same behaviors of exploration and experimentation and learning are needed for both. For a new non-profit or government program, the specific challenges are different and yet the behaviors are fundamentally the same. Unfortunately, as a new venture finds the success that those behaviors and attitudes produce, it often drifts away from them. The need for things like standardized processes and sales projections and quarterly earnings fosters an increasing aversion to experimentation and risk.
It’s not surprising that when a venture becomes successful that there would be a desire to sustain that success. But there’s great temptation to cling to that stability, even as circumstances change. When the marketplace shifts, it’s those early behaviors and attitudes that are best suited to finding a new path to success. Yet, there can be considerable resistance to changing the way the organization does business.
Organizations often go into decline not because they lack competence or skill, but because they’ve lost the ability to adapt those skills and develop the new ones needed to cope with a changing environment…or perhaps to even recognize the need for change.
The good news is that the needed adaptability is often still embedded in the culture of the organization, waiting to be unleashed. Just as we were all born explorers and experimenters, the same is true of new ventures. The challenge is less about introducing entirely new attitudes than about finding ways to restore those things that created success in the first place. It’s about getting out of our own way.
Of course the best strategy is to hold on to that sense of child lke exploration as we mature, as individuals and as organizations. It’s a rare person who manages to do that and an equally rare organization, but those who master it have a huge competitive advantage—because they’re the true innovators.