How Can We Harness Entrepreneurial Innovation?

Lightbulbs of Thomas Edison and infringers

Every company wants to have the next great product or service. Some of the most disruptive ones lately have come out of the sharing economy—think Uber or Airbnb. The vast majority of these ideas have come from independent individuals who build companies around an idea rather than ideas within the framework of a company. In other words, they are entrepreneurs, and we all wish our organizations were full of idea people like them.

You’d be lucky to have one of these people working for you, generating billion-dollar ideas to invigorate your brand, but because they are often willing to risk complete failure for outsized gains, they understandably go it alone.

The Mindset of Entrepreneurial Innovation

To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be observant enough to find a gap in the market, creative enough to think of something to fill it, and crazy enough to put yourself out there with something no one’s ever heard of. After all, a year ago, the idea of hosting strangers for dinner in your living room might have sounded a bit kooky—but that’s exactly what Airbnb has been piloting this summer. And on top of this, you might still need lightning to strike in order to have that profitable idea, when being both smart and ballsy isn’t enough.

But that doesn’t mean companies can’t harness these traits with the same chance of hitting paydirt. The qualities necessary for entrepreneurship need not be contained in one person or even one team to produce a great idea.

After all, even wunderkinds need help. In a recent Inc. magazine article, Uber and StumbleUpon founder Garrett Camp described the transformation of an Uber prototype after collaborating with people who got it and were passionate about the idea.

And if that means scrapping his #1 idea, then so be it. “I would rather have someone who is super-passionate about the #3 idea on my list than me taking my #1 idea and trying to get people onboard,” he says.

Gaining an Entrepreneurial Edge

When you outsource the traits of entrepreneurs to individuals in a co-creation community, not only do you multiply the chance of lightning striking by the number of people engaged in the task but you also tap untold external know-how. This is how we can harness entrepreneurial innovation.

Some people are good at coming up with outside-of-the-box ideas, but lack the drive and organization to run with them. Others are more analytical, and excel at pointing out strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. Still others might bring more technical expertise and be able to really flesh out a sophisticated concept. They might not be cut out for entrepreneurship, but they all have something to offer in the innovation process.

Co-creation also allows for the best ideas to rise to the surface and gain traction, even if they are not immediately popular. As they say in creative writing, “kill your darlings.” It can be difficult to let go of what you think is your best bit, but ultimately you don’t want to have to write around—or market—a dud idea.

The Garrett Camps of the world may work for themselves—and eventually their own shareholders—but co-creation allows organizations to gain that entrepreneurial edge, identify truly great ideas, and tap outside expertise to develop them.

Lauren Coartney, Director of Community Services for KL Communications, oversees development of KLC’s online-community platform, and manages content marketing for the agency. 

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