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Jim Dewald is the dean of the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.
Jim Dewald is the dean of the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Three factors that foster entrepreneurial thinking Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” – Yogi Berra, a Major League Baseball player and manager.

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It may seem odd to glean management advice from a paradoxical Yogi Berra quote, but the baseball great had a knack for hitting a point home. I recommend his fork-in-the-road wisdom when faced with the long-term-strategic-plan versus taking-action-as-opportunities arise conundrum. This is a continuing challenge in management. My perspective is that it’s not an either/or choice; rather, when you are at that particular fork, consider doing both.

Indeed, there is a school of study called strategic entrepreneurship, a discipline that combines the stability of strategic planning with the flexibility and nimbleness of entrepreneurship. Scholars seek to understand how firms can be nimble, even ambidextrous, in both setting a long-term strategy and being innovative.

At the core of this concept is entrepreneurial thinking that better enables organizations to take advantage of innovations and shifts in technology and market demands.

Entrepreneurship is most often associated with startups and, in the extreme, the rags-to-riches story of someone who arrives in the big city with $20 in their pocket and becomes a multimillionaire. Luck aside, the success factor has largely been attributed to some rare personality trait that few have.

However, new research is leading scholars to understand that it is a way of thinking – entrepreneurial thinking – that is a factor in their success. Entrepreneurial thinking involves an enterprise-wide commitment. And it is a skill that can be learned and applied in small, medium or large businesses in pursuit of innovative ways to meet consumer and business needs.

There are three major factors that foster entrepreneurial thinking:

1. Culture

It starts with culture. The organization must establish a culture that is tolerant of new ideas, accepts some risk and encourages employees to “think outside the box.” One of the best resources for creating a culture conducive to entrepreneurial thinking is Culture and Innovation: The Secret Sauce, a recent publication from the Conference Board of Canada. It recommends a five-step process that will help shift a company’s culture through recognition, human resources, idea management, walking the talk and collaboration.

2. Engagement

Idea generation and opportunity identification flow from culture. Building in free time for brainstorming, and supporting independent creative time (as Google Inc. does) helps employees to see and develop new ideas that can lead to growth opportunities and innovations.

While some people feel they are not creative on their own, these tools foster entrepreneurial thinking where groups of people can be creative together, a win-win situation for the organization. Compare this to the more traditional organizational style of operating “tight” to the line, and requiring employees to stick to standard routines – approaches that tend to keep thinking inside the box.

3. Action

Entrepreneurial thinking applied to the “how” of moving ideas to action is represented best by the concept of bricolage. Loosely translated, bricolage means making do with what you have at hand. It represents the need to act, to develop an idea through action, and avoid overanalyzing and overplanning.

In other words, it means shunning the corporate muscle to instead experiment, build prototypes, test market at a small scale. Of course some balance is needed, but to be an effective entrepreneurial thinker, the bias must be on action using existing resources. Again, compare bricolage to the more common approach within established companies: the scientists, lawyers and marketers converge in large teams, and suddenly there is a multimillion-dollar “project” to assess the viability of the new idea, which often does not make it to first base.

In short, when organizations want their employees to think like entrepreneurs, they must clear away the internal barriers to entrepreneurship.

As our economic and social environments continue to change at ever-increasing rates, it is critical for business managers to learn the skills of entrepreneurial thinking and to combine them with the more traditional tools of strategic planning to develop new ideas and stay at the top of their game.

It is no small task to hit a home run in today’s fast-changing world of business, but leading firms in many industries are setting themselves up for success by relying on strategic entrepreneurship as their source of competitive advantage.

Take the fork by combining strategy with entrepreneurial thinking.

Jim Dewald (@JimDewald) is the dean of the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business (@haskayneschool). He is a former CEO and recognized business leader who bridges strategy theory and on-the-ground practice.

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