Meditations‎ > ‎

Meditations on Public Entrepreneurship

The Ashoka foundation describes a Social Entrepreneur this way: 

Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.

Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to move in different directions.

Social entrepreneurs often seem to be possessed by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are visionaries, but also realists, and are ultimately concerned with the practical implementation of their vision above all else.

Social entrepreneurs present user-friendly, understandable, and ethical ideas that engage widespread support in order to maximize the number of citizens that will stand up, seize their idea, and implement it. Leading social entrepreneurs are mass recruiters of local changemakers— role models proving that citizens who channel their ideas into action can do almost anything.

Nancy Roberts, in her book Public entrepreneurship : a typology (August 1989), provides the following:

Public entrepreneurship is the process of introducing innovation, the generation and implementation of new ideas, in the public sector. Building on this definition and drawing from a logical tree, four types of public sector entrepreneurs are identified: policy entrepreneurs, bureaucratic entrepreneurs, executive entrepreneurs; and political entrepreneurs. Policy Entrepreneurs, outside the formal positions of government, introduce and facilitate the implementation of new ideas into the public sector. Bureaucratic Entrepreneurs occupy non-leadership positions in government and introduce and implement new ideas from their particular vantage point in public organizations. Executive Entrepreneurs from their leadership positions in governmental agencies and departments, generate and implement new ideas; and finally, Political Entrepreneur introduce and implement new ideas as holders of elective office.

Wikipedia Provides the following about Intrapreneurship :

Intrapreneurship is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization.

"Intrapreneurship refers to employee initiatives in organizations to undertake something new, without being asked to do so." Hence, the intrapreneur focuses on innovation and creativity, and transforms an idea into a profitable venture, while operating within the organizational environment. Thus, intrapreneurs are Inside entrepreneurs who follow the goal of the organization. Intrapreneurship is an example of motivation through job design, either formally or informally. 

A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation". Intrapreneurship is now known as the practice of a corporate management style that integrates risk-taking and innovation approaches, as well as the reward and motivational techniques, that are more traditionally thought of as being the province of entrepreneurship.

Over time I've come to realize that my role in most any organization is as Intrapreneur, Public Entrepreneur, or Social Entrepreneur.  I link it a bit with the Academy Duty Concept: "Doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, without being told that it needs to be done" and the concept of leading from below.  

I enjoy the process of innovation, risk-taking, alliance-making, and persuasion it takes to realize a better world through capture of resources for some ideal.  I enjoy the process of creating and causing to create, and of using the entire organizational structure as one giant canvas.  For me, strategy is design.  Design of a future end state that addresses the most important problems faced by an organization or the largest context toward for good to which the organization (or group of organizations) could apply itself; design of the interaction of that system-of-systems to achieve that end state; and design of the sequence of actions to cause that system of systems to behave in a way that will achieve that end state.  It is a thrill to try to lead an organization to dance.

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."-- George Bernard Shaw

Where most individuals are content to optimize their financial and "social capital" return within a given system, a few "unreasonable men" seek to capture control of these incentives to coopt the larger structure.  Those individuals see the entire system (including the current incentives) as designed by individuals and able to be re-designed to achieve higher ends compatible with their own ethical, social and aesthetic sense.

“... what is needed is a vision rooted in human nature so noble, so attractive that it not only attracts the uncommitted and magnifies the spirit and strength of its adherents, but also undermines the dedication and determination of any competitors or adversaries ...” John Boyd, "Patterns of Conflict"

Central to this process is vision and narrative.  The narrative defines the paradigm, the paradigm drives policy, and policy drives planning, programming and resources.  Vision is a central element of a narrative, defining a future more appealing than today, yet achievable.  Vision has tremendous organizing power and the power to attract resources and talent, because people want to spend themselves on a worthy problem.  Hence the calling to be visionaries and storytellers and designers in the process of innovation and leading change.

"Nothing is more difficult than to introduce a new order. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new."--Niccolo Machiavelli

While Niccolo Machiavelli rightly cautions us on the difficulty of planing, dangerousness of managing and doubtfulness of success of the creation of a new system, it is often just irresistible to those born with the entrepreneurship gene.  Like non-entrepreneurs, we are likely to find titles and wealth as appealing, but we might not find them compelling, whereas the opportunity to be the first, to be one of the ones who started something, to give birth to something, to be credited with having been a key thinker, creator, contributor is an irresistible siren's call.  Like a possessed artist, there are visions in our heads that simply must exist in the world, but for us the canvas on which we paint are the policies, organizations, and directions of the systems we inhabit.  

The system of sticks and carrots that work so well for others are dull for us, as if we had an autistic's inability to perceive certain things, we are driven by the thrill of creation and the need to bring about a better future, and the risk of failure to achieve a grand vision or to be judged small and meek by history seems a far worse fate than the ire or trouble likely to arise in a bureaucracy from playing the gadfly or troublemaker on the way to a critical innovation.  

Intrapreneurs are conservative in the sense that they know how long it takes to create organizations and processes as well as how long it takes to understand them.  They think less about "fighting the system" than we do about capturing it.  Usually, the preferred strategy of the intrapreneur is to capture the machinery of the system, to lasso its power, and to direct it toward pastures and vistas that are better for it and consistent with "the better angels of its nature."  Revolution, if necessary at all, is a multi-stages process that begins with slowly emplacing alternate governance structures with "power at the edge" that don't challenge at all unless necessary, and then only after the strategic decision is a foregone conclusion.  While an intrepreneur works within a system, what distinguishes them is their ability to pick and choose the elements (processes, values, goals) of the current, past and future system to link or "short circuit" and typically--especially with regard to values and goals--we don't restrict ourselves to the lowest level, but can choose a "good" at any higher level within our organization or the organizations above it.  Flexibility in linking existing elements of the system to create a new configuration is the central element or competency of bureaucratic innovation.


An excellent source book for understanding how the process of agenda setting works is Kingdon's Agendas.  In it he lays out a simple "Garbage Can Model" where three separate processes interact in a kind of genetic soup: Problems looking for Solutions (and attention); Policy Innovations Looking for Problems, and Politicians Looking for Work.