By John Mullins
The author of Break the Rules explains how to rock the boat without sinking the ship and your career.
These days, it seems, most people want to either be an entrepreneur or work for a fast-growing entrepreneurial company. Even better, because innovation often holds the key to unlocking a company’s future success, many leaders today are seeking to employ people who are more “entrepreneurial” than those who are just marking time at work.
But being a counter-conventional, quick thinker in a slow-moving company can sometimes cause some bumps along the road. So how can you rock the boat as an entrepreneurial employee without sinking the ship and your career?
Why are entrepreneurial career settings so attractive, and so important, today? There’s freedom to break out and try new things. There’s the plethora of career opportunities that fast growth inevitably brings. And, if all goes well, there’s a chance to participate in changing the world, or at least your small corner of it.
Being entrepreneurial in a traditional company can often look like thinking and acting outside of your company’s unwritten rules. These are conventions that you’ll likely only know if you work within those cultures, but there are a few that are more universal.
Two of the most unfortunate, universal practices are the “rules” that well-run companies should only undertake new initiatives when the markets are “large” enough and that the first step in doing so is to dream up an “idea” of something, whether a product or a service, to offer.
Entrepreneurs know that rules are made to be broken and that new ways of thinking can hold the key to supercharged business growth. If you need a little bit of inspiration, consider the origin of one of the world’s most famous brands.
In the mid-1970s, Nestlé was the global leader in instant coffee, with the powerhouse Nescafé brand accounting for 30 per cent of global coffee sales. But after a spontaneous trip to Rome, a Swiss engineer in Nestlé’s packaging department named Eric Favre set out to recreate a machine that brewed perfect, Italian-style coffee. After some stumbling blocks with disappointing test results and low sales figures, Nestlé hired Jean-Paul Gaillard to overhaul the project, narrowing the focus to serve the individual coffee drinker market instead of restaurants, and prioritizing exclusivity with the launch of the Nespresso Club and high-end boutiques in select destinations. It’s now one of the most recognizable brands out there which shows the power of pursuing a counter-conventional approach within an established environment.
Six mindsets to start acting counter-conventionally
After over 20 years of research, I’ve found that there are six mindsets that can help you to think and act more counter-conventionally and more like an entrepreneur. These break-the-rules mindsets will bring fresh perspectives to your company’s efforts to innovate and grow but, perhaps unsurprisingly, they run counter to the conventional wisdom that may well be found in your organization’s handbook. So, you’d better proceed with your eyes wide open!
Here’s a quick summary of what they are and how you can incorporate them into your day-to-day:
- Think narrowly: Instead of seeing that small project as a waste of your time, think like an entrepreneur who views tiny markets as opportunities to establish their brand, focus their efforts and set themselves up for learning and growth.
- Adopt a problem-first, not product-first logic: Think of your boss or your colleagues as your customers, and work out what problems they’re facing. If you aren’t solving a genuine customer issue and are instead focusing on what you can offer them ‘off-the-shelf’, you aren’t thinking like an entrepreneur.
- Say, yes, we can!: If you’re asked by your boss whether you can do something promising that falls outside your current competencies, remember what an entrepreneur would do say “Yes, we can!” then figure out how. That’s how many of our most popular gadgets including Amazon’s Kindle e-reader were created.
- Beg, borrow, but don’t steal: Instead of investing in resources, entrepreneurs will find a way to borrow or outsource them, saving money and time in the process. In a big business setting, look for opportunities to “borrow” knowledge or assets from someone else—be that finding an internal expert or learning new skills online—or use existing resources for new projects at work. Your boss will likely thank you for taking the initiative.
- Ask for the cash, ride the float: It’s an audacious act to ask for money ahead of delivering your product, but it’s precisely how Elon Musk and the founding team at Tesla made millions. If you can provide a product that customers really love, and can get your customers to pay for it ahead of time, you can put that spare cash—the “float”—into growing your project.
- Instead of asking permission, beg forgiveness later: Entrepreneurs are known to plough ahead when there’s legal ambiguity and seek forgiveness instead of permission, so I suggest you follow the same logic—within reason. Entrepreneurs embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and pivot, so why don’t you?
If you’re someone who wants to make the world—or your small corner ther—a better place, in one way or another, as many counter-conventional thinkers have done before you, what are you waiting for?
Learning, practicing, and mastering an entrepreneurial mindset that breaks the conventional rules will give you and the place you work a fighting chance to change the world.
Feature Image Credit: Sunder Muthukumaran/Unsplash
By John Mullins
John Mullins is an associate professor of Management Practice at London Business School and the author of Break the Rules! The 6 Counter–Conventional Mindsets of Entrepreneurs That Can Help Anyone Change the World.