Why the Entrepreneurial mindset has become (once again) an existential factor for companies

If the dystopian world of work that I described in an article published in 2016 is not to become a sad reality, we must train entrepreneurs. People who are able to understand the competitive environment in which they find themselves. People who can detect the opportunities that are hidden there. People who have dreams. Aspirations. Judgment. People who are able to make decisions and act when everything around them is moving. To do this, we must develop, from the earliest childhood, what I call the entrepreneurial spirit. This forum summarizes the introduction to the report I submitted to the Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation a few months ago.

The first industrial revolution resulted in a dramatic improvement in production processes. The second industrial revolution made it possible to build modern and, above all, much denser cities and transport networks. In addition to technological advances, it has introduced radical changes in the organization and management of companies. The third industrial revolution, which we are currently experiencing, focuses in particular on optimizing resources through digital technology. 

All industrial revolutions follow the same pattern: scientific discoveries make it possible to develop clusters of technological inventions, which are first adopted by a minority and then by the majority. It is at this moment that habits, practices and business models are disrupted. The old world disappears to make way for the new world. This is Schumpeter’s famous process of creative destruction.

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The main difference between the third industrial revolution and the two previous ones is its speed. The first industrial revolution lasted a century. The one we are living through began less than 20 years ago, and yet the transformations it has brought about are already staggering. 

The convergence of the three trends described below is at the root of the need to develop entrepreneurial spirit.

 

Trend #1 – Companies: how to be as agile as a startup?

Innovation is one of the sine qua non conditions for the existence and survival of a company. It allows it to adapt to his environment. Over the past fifteen years or so, three factors have fundamentally changed the way companies innovate and adapt to their environment.

  1. Inflation, fragmentation of knowledge: in a few decades, we have moved from a world in which knowledge was scarce and in the hands of very large companies to a world in which knowledge is available and in the hands of ever smaller companies. The main consequence is open innovation (1)
  2. Acceleration of innovation cycles: the acceleration of innovation cycles is accompanied by a shift towards an economic model based on services. In the old world, we sell the car. In between the two worlds, the car is sold packaged with additional services. In the new one, we sell the functionality: the ability to go from A to B. The consequence is that companies must not only seek knowledge outside the company (factor 1), but they must also seek it further and further away (geographically, but above all thematically) and faster.
  3. Digital disruption and transformation: Over the past 15 to 20 years, new players have emerged on decades-old, well established value chains. They are completely changing the rules of the game. 

Faced with these three factors, traditional companies are experiencing an unprecedented need for agility. The modern company, which I call Open Organization, differs from the traditional company in its organization, in the type of strategies it implements and in the way it works and collaborates.

 

Trend #2 – Talent: a search for meaning and flexibility

For the talents of the younger generations, work has already changed. These generations are increasingly looking for meaning in their work, in all senses of the word. They no longer simply want to be a cog in the system. Very schematically, in the Generation X world, the company decided who to offer a job to, and in return, the employee offered subordination and exclusivity. In the world of Generation Y, the company must first show what it has to offer, and the young talent will become a collaborator if a win-win model can be found. In the world of Generation Z, young talents are no longer interested in a lifetime contract. They sell their skills simultaneously to multiple companies for the duration of a given project. The barycentre of employment is no longer the company, but the individual of generation Z.

 

Trend #3 – Digital platforms: Exacerbating on-demand work and training

The last fifteen years have seen the emergence of digital platforms that connect the worlds of business and talent.

For recruitment, there are generalist platforms: professional social networks (LinkedIn), job search engines (Indeed) or talent search engines (talent.io). Other platforms focus on certain niches by mobilizing low-skilled people on demand (Uber, Deliveroo, etc.) or on the contrary qualified (UpWork focuses mainly on communication professions), or even highly qualified (Presans focuses on scientific and technical expertise) talents. These platforms facilitate on-demand work. 

For on-demand training, many platforms have also been created (Coursera, OpenClassRooms, LearnAssembly, etc.) and provide lifelong training. These platforms, thanks in particular to artificial intelligence, will be more and more effective, more and more personalized and adapted to the professional background of the trained person.

Some alliances between recruitment and training platforms are beginning to emerge to enable the recruitment of “ready-to-use” talent.

 

Entrepreneurial spirit as an existential condition for companies

The first industrial revolution required the emergence of a set of technical skills to be mastered and applied in order to be able to produce on the assembly-line in the case of workers and manage in the case of managers. 

The convergence of the three trends described above has as a consequence, in particular, a new form of work. For the French entrepreneur and politician Michel Hervé, the companies of the future will increasingly resemble cooperatives of the self-employed. And this new form of work requires specific skills. Especially certain cognitive skills.

Over the past twenty years or so, these new skills have become increasingly attractive to companies. They are related to the way people learn, think and interact. They are often referred to as the skills of the 21st century. According to Jérémy Lamri (2), these skills are a “concept aimed at defining the foundation of skills essential to create value and flourish in a highly digitized economy”; in other words, in today’s… and tomorrow’s world. The four key competencies of the 21st century are critical thinking, creativity, communication and cooperation. Skills that are naturally found in the entrepreneur. Skills that can be developed.

To exist, a company needs one (or more) creator(s). And to continue to exist, for its survival in an extremely changing environment, it needs agility and therefore employees who are themselves agile – able to understand their environment, make decisions and act in an uncertain environment, and are also able to learn and train themselves continuously. It needs employees who have developed the skills of the 21st century. It needs employees who have been trained in entrepreneurial skills.

And so, the entrepreneurial spirit (re)becomes a sine qua non condition – an existential condition – of the company of today and tomorrow. In addition, the entrepreneurial spirit contributes to the discovery of his Ikigai (3), and thus to his personal and professional development. Not everyone is an entrepreneur. On the other hand, everyone can and must develop an entrepreneurial spirit. And thus, avoid dystopia.

 

(1) Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology, H. Chesbrough (2003).

(2) Les compétences du XXIème siècle : trouver sa place dans le monde aujourd’hui et demain, Jérémy Lamri, Dunod (Octobe 2018).

(3) Ikigai (生き甲斐) is the Japanese equivalent of the “raison d’être”. In a schematic and pragmatic way, Ikigai is at the crossroads of what we like to do, what we are good at, what the world needs and what we can get paid for.

 

The short version of this article, written by Albert Meige, was initially published in Management.