Intrapreneurs, evidence and persuasion

November 7, 2007

I was sitting in a presentation at KM World this morning by Barth and Marrs on the subject of Accelerating Decisions. Now there was some interesting stuff here although I was not happy with the linearity of some of the models and the odd dichotomy. I argued two points at the end, but the presenters agreed with me so there may be no real disagreement. The first was that strategy properly understood is an activity in the present not in the future (that will be a future blog). The second related to a question of entrepreneurs and if they use intuition as opposed analytics. Now I was unhappy with the contrast of intuition and analytics. I was also concerned about how you would justify intuition in a corporate environment other than for the CEO. That caused be to reflect on entrepreneurial activity within a large organisation, and some of the methods that work.

Firstly, within an organisation I think we are talking about intrapreneurs (a concept created by Ian McMillan at Wharton) rather than entrepreneurs. Within the general field of startups entrepreneurs may well operate within an environment with they make decisions based on hunches, and pursue their idea regardless of opposition or in some cases evidence. Here we need to be careful about arguing the value of hunches as the number of successes as a proportion of the total attempts is probably within the range of statistical error; some are bound to succeed and those are the ones that get written up. Whatever, that is unlikely to be available as a method to the intrapreneur as they have a lower level of control over their field of operations.

I am not even sure that it is intuition by the way, I think it is more that entrepreneurs see things differently, they make connections between things in novel and different ways. Intrapreneurs do similar things, but they have also learnt how to operate in a corporate environment. Their identification and nurturing is a key need in organisational development and one that is much neglected. Intrapreneurs may actually not have leadership potential for example, they need top cover and to be partnered with more financially orientated and politically connected members of the organisation. They also have to be able to create a form of evidence, or a means of gaining acceptance for their ideas to the point where they are allowed to proceed with them. They do not have the same freedom as the entrepreneur to go with gut feel.

There are some methods that can provide this type of supporting evidence, albeit in a different form from the conventions of business school logic. The focus ist creating credibility or resonance with a senior decision maker, as much as providing traditional forms of evidence. They include:

  1. The use of counterfactuals, testing contradictions with established practices and belief systems. The creation of credible counterfactual can be a powerful means of getting people to do things differently.
  2. Blending of different patterns of ideas. This is the classic taking of a proven approach in one field and applying it into a different and unexpected area. It can also be the blending of different approaches but the principle is the same
  3. The use of metaphor as a means of persuasion, but also as a way to explore new ideas. By creating and exploring a problem in a metaphorical environment new possibilities can be discovered, and critically plausible arguments created.
  4. The deliberate use of conflict and the introduction of increased diversity in a preparatory process to determine the feasibility of an idea (or to generate the idea) with engagement from decision makers.

Now there are others, and I need to expand the above ideas which I will do in the book, and possibly in this blog. For the moment I offer them for comment.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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