The freedom to succeed
You will hear more about the liberating business concept launched by a former blacksmith, with degrees from Harvard and Johns Hopkins, who advises big companies like Exxon and happens to be the grandson of celebrated conservationist Gifford Pinchot.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
It is a concept for finding and releasing the talents of people who have ideas and will take risks to make them succeed. These are commonly called ''entrepreneurs.'' Gifford Pinchot III has coined the word ''intrapreneurs,'' meaning entrepreneurs given the freedom and incentive to do their best in small groups within large corporations. And his ways of tapping their potential, in a phrase from London's weekly Economist, ''could prove one of the great social inventions.''
A Swedish group has already held a school for intrapreneurs. In May and June there will be seminars in Washington, Boston, and Tarrytown, N.Y., Mr. Pinchot's home base, where an American school for intrapreneurs is being established.
Managers will be interested in the details of organization. But for the public there is something exhilarating in the whole view of human possibility behind what could become a fruitful trend.
The details would involve contracting between the company and an individual deemed ready to work on his or her own. Some risk would be required on the part of the individual, an investment of money or extra time, for example. But he would be assured freedom to develop an idea without management breathing down his neck. If successful, both he and the company would share in the profits. And - here could be a true incentive to the genuine entrepreneur -- a certain substantial percentage would be set aside for him to develop his idea further or come up with another one to be pursued with similar freedom.
This is where the general point of view comes in. It sees an entrepreneur not simply in the dictionary definition of one ''assuming the risk for the sake of the profit.'' Rather it defines an entrepreneur as ''a dreamer who does'' - who is not interested in money as such but rather as a measure of how well the dream works. He is less enticed by pure financial incentives than by the opportunity to do what he wants to do. He can be judged less by what he says than by his performance.
Therefore, if corporations want to keep such people contributing to them, they need to provide a climate of cooperation and freedom. Many have been leaving the big corporations as part of a boom in the creation of smaller businesses. In the realm of United States technology this has fostered progress , with potential benefits to the big companies, too.
But there are technologies, such as synthetic fuels, for example, where the bigness of a corporation might be a particular help to the entrepreneur. For to realize the dream dream means not only invention of a product or process but commercialization of it.
So the growth of intrapreneur centers within big companies would provide a useful comparison with the small businesses outside. Managements, of course, would need to ensure that the new centers did not actually worsen the bureaucratic and hierarchic drawbacks they are intended to lessen. It would be counterproductive to have them undercut the valuable movement toward leaner management systems.
But Japan has already shown how lean management is not incompatible with what amounts to intrapreneurship. Small work sections are responsible for tasks in factories. Many industrial components are made by small profit centers within large plants, as the Economist article points out.
Its author, incidentally, is Norman Macrae, known for his signaling of the ''entrepreneurial revolution'' several years ago. Now he heralds the necessity of intrapreneurs. He suggests they can operate not only in the realm of production and marketing stressed by Mr. Pinchot but in services within a company. The typing pool, for example, might be encouraged to profit from efficiency by being allowed to set its own pace and methods to get the job done at a certain lump-sum payment.
The good news is that a wave of entrepreneurs is rising to meet the need, whether inside or outside the big corporations. Many of them in the US are coming from the '60s generation that appeared to have turned its back on the business world. They are creating new ventures all the time. They are confirming what Mr. Pinchot says, that cooperation and freedom have grown together through history, accompanied by growth in creativity and productivity.
Could a new kind of renaissance be on the way?