The Wikipedia entry on entrepreneurship says:
Entrepreneurship is the act of being an entrepreneur, which can be defined as “one who undertakes innovations, finance and business acumen in an effort to transform innovations into economic goods.”
Although innovation is an essential part of true entrepreneurship, it is not just founders of businesses who should be innovative. Every leader and executive within an organization (whether for business or not) must be innovative if they want the organization to be very effective. If they are satisfied with just being average, then of course they should just do what the average is doing: they should merely copy and end there.
An effective marketing department, for example, should not just do the same old things that they see from other marketers. They should bring newness and uniqueness to their marketing efforts. Instead, what we see common in Africa are copies of copies of copies.
There was one company in Zambia that said at the end of their advert “We originate, others imitate.” Ironically, there’s been many companies after that that ended their adverts with the same boast — “We originate, others imitate” — even though this very statement is an imitation (of an imitation)!
At the end of every other party event advert on Zambian radio, you hear the admonition “Be there or be square!” No one feels any shame just copying the same sentence completely. They don’t even attempt to change anything!
You see lack of innovation even in such small things as corporate mission statements: “Customer satisfaction is our goal” or another repeated variation of that sentence can be seen when you enter the premises of most companies. “We seek to maximize shareholder value while also meeting customer needs …” and so on. Same words wherever you go. Nothing new, nothing inspiring.
What was innovator Steve Jobs’ personal “mission statement” at Apple? “To put a dent on the universe!” You can tell immediately from just those words that this is not a copycat, this is an innovator, a deep thinker. The official Apple motto, of course is “Think Different.” And everything they do indeed does show this.
The innovativeness of Apple can be seen from their adverts, the designs of their products, their management style, and so on. Google’s innovativeness can be seen from the way they hire new talent, and even from the way they do their lunch! (They have a huge cafeteria that serves any kind of food you can think of, for free, so that workers can have no excuse for leaving the Google campus at lunch — and the seating arrangement is designed to encourage them to discuss ideas during lunch!) When I toured Pixar Animations with a group of students a couple of years ago, I was surprised to learn that Steve Jobs was involved even in the design of their toilets (they experimented with the idea of allowing men and women to use the same bathrooms, just to create an atmosphere of no barriers – but when this didn’t work out very well, they changed it!). Innovators experiment with anything!
In Zambia, even hiring processes are totally predictable. When you see an advert looking for programmers, they will never forget to mention that he should have a degree in computer science, worked for 4 years, etc, etc (sometimes they even demand to see a high school certificate - only God knows why that is relevant if they are looking for a professional position). Google, on the other hand, simply publishes complex puzzles which they know that only a great programmer, engineer or math whiz can solve and whoever solves the puzzle can type that answer (usually a number) into a browser as a url (a web address) and this will take him to a secret web page with instructions on how he should proceed for the next stage of the interview! So, for example, their advert might just say “2 + 2 x 2″.com; if your answer is 8, you go to www.8.com, and you will not get the interview page because 8 is the wrong answer! (If you don’t know why 8 is wrong, forget about ever getting a programming job with Google because their puzzles are a thousand times more complicated than that.)
Why does it matter that a programmer should have a degree in computer science? Even our adverts for web masters say they should have a degree in computer science! How many people have taught themselves such kind of programming without any degree or while having a degree in accountancy? I mean, the founder of Microsoft himself does not have a degree, not just in programming, but in anything, and neither does the founder of Apple Computers, two great software giants; so why is it totally necessary that the people who operate their products should have degrees? And yet our companies think they are violating some holy rule if they ever publish an advert without asking for a computer science degree. And because of this, they lose out in hiring someone who could have probably been ten times smarter than the guy they got. In short, they simply limit the talent pool that they can choose from, and this for no reason except that they did not stop to think for themselves about their job “requirement”: they were satisfied with just following what everyone else does whether it makes sense or not. They never question anything.
Executives in different departments must be innovative. It will give them so much joy to really do something in their own way, from their own thoughts, and to test it in real life like an experiment. If it doesn’t work, they can tweak it or abandon it completely and try another idea, but even failure is more satisfying than simply following trends without thinking. The seismic shift in work culture will result in more effective organizations, whether in the corporate world, the NGO world or indeed in the world of government.