A recent New Yorker cartoon shows a young man and woman sitting at a café table. “Just curious:” says the woman, “when, exactly, were you planning to tell me that you’re the product of a 3-D printer?” Perhaps living today has not changed that much, but we do reside in a world of ever-accelerating change. Consider:
- China has introduced a train that does not run on rails. [link]
- The shoelace was invented 3,500 years ago; one company has decided to reinvent it. [link]
- An Indian company has developed a shopping bag that is “100% natural, biodegradable, and edible!” [link]
- You can now buy a foldable yet durable water bottle. [link]
- Medium will overwhelm you with more examples like these. It lists “9 Innovations That Could Become the Next ‘Big Thing,’” “7 Innovations That Will Change the Future of Medicine,” “5 Tech Innovations That Could Save Us From Climate Change,” and even “The 8 Great Innovations of Breaking News.” [link]
While Heraclitus (around 500 B.C.) said that “life is change,” in the digital age, change itself has changed. We have moved from a marketplace dynamic driven by episodic change to one driven by exponential change. In terms of changes in society and human behavior, the impact is similar in magnitude to the move from the field to the factory. As a descriptor, The Industrial Revolution seemed adequate. The Digital Revolution somehow seems to understate things. That’s because today’s rate of change is creating an entirely new context in which human behavior — in our personal lives as consumers, and in our working lives as professionals — must continuously adapt and evolve.
Enter the entrepreneur
Entrepreneurs are masters of change. An entrepreneur is someone who puts into practice some combination of behaviors related to identifying, pursuing and delivering new things — products, services, processes, practices and business models — that create value. My research has identified five types of entrepreneurs, based primarily on their level of openness to new possibilities and their level of comfort in dealing with the unknown.
An entrepreneur is focused when he or she leverages past experience and expertise to exploit a known value proposition. While he may integrate new technologies, it will be consistent with how the firm already operates; the technology enhances the efficiency of the existing business model. A focused entrepreneur sticks with what has been working and adopts a cautious wait-and-see posture in the face of uncertainty.
An entrepreneur is incremental when he or she proactively considers adjacent opportunities in the marketplace to innovate. She takes steps to extend her business model, moves in measured degrees, and leverages expertise, position, network, or other current capabilities in new ways.
By being more open-minded, this type of entrepreneur will intentionally extend current activities (advantages) into new domains that could augment the proven business model. The mindset of the incremental entrepreneur is open to such action when meaningful new opportunities to grow can be identified in adjacent arenas.
An entrepreneur is playful when he or she is keen to embrace uncertainty in order to envision new horizons. The playful entrepreneur proactively jumps into whole new business processes or products as a way to unlock potential when facing ambiguous challenges. He does this by using imagination to explore possibilities beyond the current business model, experimenting with new product and service concepts, delivery techniques, systems and platforms. What makes him playful? Simply put, this kind of entrepreneur eagerly questions the status quo, expands aspirations and explores new horizons. The playful entrepreneur employs behaviors that promote exploration, discovery, and experimentation to fully engage the unknown, taking a chance that engagement with entirely new ways of thinking can reveal promising new opportunities for further exploration.
The fourth kind of entrepreneur is exponential. He or she deploys distinct behaviors whenever they sense the value derived from current product-service paradigms is waning, the opportunities for incremental improvement seem exhausted, or new technologies open entirely new pathways. In short, such an entrepreneur intuits that the best way forward is to become a pioneer — to search constantly for the “next big thing” by regularly exploring potential new marketplace frontiers. Of the four kinds of entrepreneurs, he is the most adept at accepting uncertainty deftly and managing any inherent risks associated with it.
The kinetic entrepreneur
Most entrepreneurs favor a single set of behaviors — focused, incremental, playful, or exponential — and remain honed into that mode. This is often the case based on a track record of success, habit, or a narrow capability set limited to a single comfort zone of behavior. It can also be the result of a reluctance to embrace uncertainty, a risk adverse orientation, or full-on fear of failure.
In contrast, kinetic entrepreneurs are willing to move to and fro among the four entrepreneurial zones. That is, they are willing to be focused when that is the correct mode for the marketplace, or incremental, or playful, or exponential — again, if any of those modes align with the nature of the opportunity at hand.
The kinetic entrepreneur endeavors to master all four behavior sets, realizing that, as the world continuously changes, so too must the entrepreneur wanting to proactively shape it. Moreover, he or she has the confidence and leadership ability to extend the need for change to entire organizations, thereby maximizing the degree to which it can collectively prolong and renew its advantage. Kinetic entrepreneurs are never static. They are committed to moving with the same energy as the marketplace.
While episodic change mostly accommodated our desire to remain in our preferred behavioral mode, today’s constantly evolving marketplace requires us to continuously evolve as well (a form of managerial lifelong learning), and to match our behavior set to the plethora of new opportunities generated by relentless progress.
Which kind of entrepreneur are you? You may have drawn an initial idea just by reading the profiles above. However, you can take a still-under-development beta assessment by going to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/entrepreneurialstyle. Focused? Incremental? Playful? Exponential? Each type of entrepreneur has strengths and weaknesses. Given the rate of change today, it’s not where you are as an entrepreneur, it’s how you can grow until you become a full-fledged kinetic entrepreneur.
Joseph Pistrui ()email@example.com has more than 30 years of management experience and is Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at IE Business School in Madrid.