Why businesses seeking growth should learn to unlock their inner entrepreneur
BY TERRY PULLEN
Circus-master PT Barnum is best remembered today for a remark – “there’s a sucker born every minute” – he never actually made. But the creator of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ was more than just a great showman. Before assembling a collection of midgets, sword swallowers and elephants, Barnum had honed his business acumen in lotteries, real estate and newspaper publishing.Like fellow business icons Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison, Barnum was a generalist who seized opportunities wherever he found them. With the rise of corporations like General Electric (which Edison co-founded) management was gradually defined as a specialist craft and generalists went out of fashion. But in the 1980s, Tom Peters suggested that big corporations needed to hire more ‘skunks’: renegades who innovate by refusing to let bureaucracy stifle them.
The entrepreneur within ‘Intrapreneurship’ has been championed by Harvard Business School’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who argues: “After years of telling corporate citizens to trust the system, many companies must learn to trust their people – and encourage those people to use neglected creative capacities.” Whole Foods Co, the world’s largest natural food retailer, has embraced Kanter’s ideas, dividing branches into teams responsible for their own P&L; new hires are only confirmed after a secret ballot of fellow team members.