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My grandson just turned one and finally mastered his first steps. As I watched him wobble for the hundredth time, I waited to see if he would stumble, but he found his balance and avoided a fall. He went from being an infant to a toddler right before my eyes.
Just as we have to let children fall so they can figure out their balance, people need to try and fail before they can succeed. Maybe we put some soft padding on all the hard corners so it will be less dangerous, but by letting them fall, we test their limits so they can grow into the best person they can be.
The curiosity of childhood still exists within us today. With the proper padding, we can create an environment where people feel safe enough to be curious, take intelligent risks and grow. By nurturing an entrepreneurial spirit within their company, leaders can leverage more of their resources to benefit their employees and the business.
1. Building a world of curiosity
If an entrepreneur identifies problems and looks to solve them, then an entrepreneurial spirit comes through uninhibited curiosity. This requires a world of trust. At our company, we support our team‘s entrepreneurial spirit with online tools and videos. They provide a knowledge base of our product lines and include many videos of my management team sharing our thoughts, vision and world with the rest of the group. Our learning management system allows employees to come in on time and with their way of learning. This flexibility reinforces our trust to improve their skills and fix more problems.
Rather than giving out orders, leaders should encourage journalistic curiosity, asking who, what, why and how people intend to get something done. An entrepreneurial spirit can exist anywhere within a company: Accountants can seek to solve problems in their department just as much as those in product development. Ask questions to identify everyone’s propensity to seek solutions to problems they might encounter in their area. With a foundation of curiosity, the following steps will come more naturally.
2. Presenting the solution
For people to feel comfortable bringing forward new ideas, leaders should create an environment where presenting solutions is something employees can and should do. Establish visible opportunities by inviting everyone to present solutions to identified problems and use designated platforms that allow others to offer critiques for improvements. Encourage open and honest dialogue to build upon ideas and improve them, so everyone sees the process of being accepted for creating innovative solutions.
Our engineering team has an “open forum” where new product development progress is presented. It’s a chance to get feedback from peers. Sometimes the feedback is “that’s dumb,” but sometimes, it’s “that’s genius!” Knowing honest dialogue without judgment will be presented creates an atmosphere of safety.
Foster an environment where people can think out loud, say something that makes no sense and receive criticism without becoming embarrassed or defensive. A key is taking the time to explain why the criticism is being given — elaborating the “why” removes the comments from the person and passes them onto the idea, so no one takes that feedback as a personal attack. When everyone feels safe offering continuous ideas at every opportunity, we create a more entrepreneurial world.
Related: There Is No Success Without Risk
3. Taking ownership
After identifying a problem and presenting a solution to fix it, next comes taking ownership of that task until completion. This is where the fear factor comes in. With ownership comes accountability. The first time someone comes up with an idea and is accountable for carrying it out can be frightening. People start to ask themselves, “Can I do this?”
At our company, we just established a dedicated team for new product introduction so owners of an idea can reach out to them as a resource before launch. This allows for more incredible speed to launch since the product introduction team has failed before and knows the mistakes to avoid. It also empowers employees to know they won’t be going through the process alone, so they feel more capable of taking on the task. With an established group to help people through innovation, even the newest hires to the company have the support to believe they can succeed.
4. Giving validation
Have champions inside or outside the organization who validate your employee solutions on a smaller scale before they face a full product launch. Don’t just throw something to the wolves and implement it too quickly. Look for “friendlies” (people you know and trust who want to see you succeed) to run a proposed idea or concept through a test process and identify potential pitfalls.
These champions can be inside the organization, but this validation should involve a broader group of people from the outside. Seek outside friendlies nearer to customers you trust to complete the whole steps of the product concept and validate it before putting it out on the broad market. If the idea fails here, it can still be innovated into a successful solution, but this extra padding gives people the comfort of a much safer, softer fall than it would have been going straight to launch.
Be assertive. This is not the time for a whisper campaign. Scream from the mountaintops — but do it in a targeted fashion. An entrepreneur knows their target customers and rarely is it, everyone. Make sure the launch team is clear about who the product or concept is addressing and the problems it solves, and establish mechanisms to keep that messaging under control, so it gets to the people who want and need it.
Building an entrepreneurial environment is not a mechanical process. It takes more than following these steps; there will still be mistakes and failures along the way. Success won’t come by process alone — it needs raw spirit. By nourishing this spirit in everyone on their team, leaders drive innovation and let employees feel heard, respected, and invested in staying with a company where they can grow their skills. One person with an entrepreneurial spirit creates companies. Build companies full of people with an entrepreneurial spirit, and those companies move mountains.